Digital Workplaces: A More Level Playing Field for Smaller Businesses

by Yaj Malik, EVP and Managing Director, Sage Asia

The concept of a modern day digital workplace is going through some revolutionary thinking. Recent technology and behavioural trends such as bring your own devices (BYOD), Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual teams are driving a dramatic transformation to the workplace. Increasingly, we are seeing a transition from individualised, physical workspaces to a digital ecosystem with no physical boundaries.

Yaj Malik, EVP and MD, Sage Asia

It is understandable that both employers and workers alike are having reservations about what the future holds for workspace design. For employees, especially millennials who grew up familiar with computers, mobile devices and the Internet, it seems natural that a modern-day workplace needs to provide for seamless digital lifestyles that blurs the line between their personal lives and professional work spheres.

At the same time, employers who are eager to attract and keep millennial talent, are concerned with providing them with a workplace that is conducive for creative thinking, collaboration and open communication as well as efficiency and productivity. This is crucial too as millennials currently make up more than half of the global workforce, according to a recent survey by Deloitte,

The pressure to keep up with preferences and workstyles of the millennial workers can be challenging for employers. Technological trends evolve at Internet speed these days, and workstyles – they can be a very subjective thing.

Small and medium business owners and leaders in smaller firms especially, may feel that they do not have the resources to keep up with the technological curve. Often faced with lean manpower as well as limited budget and resources, these business decision makers also have to weigh different business priorities. Some businesses may choose to forgo the digital workplace altogether, much to their detriment.

Here, Yaj Malik, executive vice president and managing director at Sage Asia, shares some digital workplace trends that small and medium business leaders will want to take note of, and why the digital workplace is an opportunity that they would not want to miss.

Mobile-first work environments

First, the digital workplace may not be such a bad idea for small medium businesses. Recently, a global study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has revealed that ‘mobile-first’ working environments lead to a direct increase in employee engagement. The same study also established links between the support for mobile technology and employees’ productivity, creativity, satisfaction and loyalty levels.

Generally, millennial workers expect the same convenience at work that they experience in their personal digitally enhanced lives. They want to be able to access their work files just as easily as they get to their twitter feeds. They want to be able to pay a company supplier in a straight forward manner, just like how they can check their bank account balance these days, and not waste time.

This has contributed to the consumerization of IT, which represents the movement of IT being introduced in the consumer market before spreading to business and government organizations. Mostly because employees are using the prevalent ‘consumer’ technologies and devices at home and then introducing them in the workplace. This has thrown up a plethora of trends like the mentioned BYOD, and these days, even BYOA or bring your own app.

Ideally, small and medium businesses need to have a workplace that is simplified and built around the forces shaping consumer technologies - social, mobile, apps and cloud. Simply put, millennial workers expect to be connected easily and conveniently, and they want to be able to work anytime from pretty much anywhere.

Allow for virtual teamwork

Creativity and collaboration are key to the modern workplace. The digital workplace needs to be able to provide room for individuality and creativity, and at the same time, provide a platform for cooperation and collaboration. Here, collaboration increasingly refers to co-working virtually.

Employers have to offer means for discussions and teamwork in the virtual space. Digital tools these days allow for not just discussions and conferencing, but also cyber working spaces where team members collaborate in real time, co-create or edit content, share files and information, etc.

The key is to use technological tools to our advantage, and allow people to work smarter and be more productive. Technology cannot and should not be an added chore where workers need to invest too much time to learn to use or adapt to.

Security in the digital workplace

There are many studies out there that points an accusing finger at millennials, calling them a generation of workers who are casual about data privacy and security – a generation who are so used to sharing personal information and images on social media that they do not think much about it.

Stereotyping or not, my advice to small and medium businesses is to focus on putting in place necessary security protocols and tools, and adapting to the workstyles of the millennials. This means that cybersecurity solutions for the digital workplace needs to be able to co-exist and adapt to workplace behaviours of millennials (or any generation of works).

Cybersecurity solutions that are catered to the millennial mind set offers agility, flexibility, mobility, and a personal touch. These qualities improve life for all of us, regardless of our age or generation. One example is a profile or role based access control to company networks. Profile or role based login allows IT to configure different levels of security controls for workers with different work roles. An employee in finance department who compiles the company’s quarter sales performance figures will have different levels of security access to the company’s network from that of a staff in frontline sales for instance.

Change as opportunity

Finally, more generalisations regarding millennials:

Mobile is the platform of choice for the millennial generation. They have less tolerance for poor user experiences means that the importance of creating great online experiences is higher than ever. They prefer to be in control, so favour website self-service solutions over assisted service; give millennials the power to resolve their own problems. They will talk about your brand on social media, so engage them in the conversation and learn from it.

Most importantly, small and medium businesses need to see the transformation to a digital workspace as an opportunity. We all know that there is a large amount of data being generated and collected each day. Data that will be driving tomorrow’s business environment and economy. Smaller businesses need to, if they have not already, put themselves into this data-revolution to stay competitive and relevant.

The millennial worker-friendly, digital workplace offers small and medium businesses access and connectivity to data–driven business environment. An environment where market changes come fast, and decision making needs to be faster. It opens businesses up to an environment where consumers are connected and well informed, and workers need to be able to engage them from across multiple channels – whether it is in the physical or virtual world. It is a future business environment that allows for small medium businesses to engage larger competitors on a more level digital playing field.