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Into the future: the digital workplace

Into the future: the digital workplace 

Over two weeks in May 2015, an Avanade survey invited 500 C-level executives and IT Decision Makers to partake in an online study. With interviews in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States, the results provide a globally calculated prediction of the future workplace.

Between digitization, constant innovation and technology that is advancing at a breakneck speed, it’s safe to say that nothing about the offices we know today will go untouched.

We talked to Kaytek Przybylski, Vice President, Canada Service Lines at Avanade to discuss what awaits businesses in the age of the Digital Workplace – and why some are struggling to take the leap.

KaytekHeadshotIT in Canada: When asked about the biggest challenge they face, most companies responded with the inability to easily integrate or analyze new data sources. Why are companies struggling with this?

Kaytek Przybylski: I think the main reason is that over time most of these organizations have built up a variety of different systems to do their jobs, to perform their business function. That landscape looks different in each of these companies. It has evolved over time; some of them have acquired different companies, some of them have purchased systems, some of them have built their own systems. When you try to stitch that all together into a cohesive view of the workplace… It’s not a straightforward, easy to do thing. You have to think it through and do a lot of careful analysis. It’s very doable, and we help clients do it all the time, but it is not an easy, one-size-fits-all exercise.

ITIC: Canada – in fact, all the countries –  puts upgrading IT networks as the most important goal for the future, above investments in access to business insights and information and investments in social collaborations. Why are IT networks so important to businesses?

KP: It was a very interesting finding. The way I interpret that is the IT networks really form the foundation of being able to do all these things that we talked about in the digital workplace. You have to be able to access your resources securely, you have to have a certain amount of network capacity and latency needs to be at a certain level. You have to establish that foundation before you can start to do some of the higher value-add things on top of that foundation. I think a lot of organizations realize that and are prioritizing their activities accordingly.

ITIC: All the countries surveyed indicated that today’s teenagers are going to have to be hired in roles that do not already exist. How can schools and organizations adequately prepare today’s young people for the future?

KP: If you think about a social media analyst, that role didn’t exist five or ten years ago in a lot of organizations. Now, many companies have people who are monitoring their social media presence. That’s a good example of a role that didn’t exist, and I think you’re going to see more of that as digital becomes more prevalent in the workplace. But even people who will be performing those types of roles, they’ll all still need a fairly good basis of understanding of how business works, some of the core fundamentals of different industries. Even if you’re a social media analyst, but you work in the telecom industry, or you work in a sales function, you still have to have a lot of those foundational skills and I think schools and different course curriculums will play a key role in establishing those skills. They will also evolve their curriculums, materials and courses available to talk about these new technologies, but I think the foundational skills will be there for many years to come.

ITIC: The survey shows that the thing future Canadian workers expect the most from their jobs will be a greater work/life balance, while other countries primarily want increased mobile connectivity. What does “greater work/life balance” mean, and why do you think Canadians in particular are coming to expect this?

KP: Work/life balance is an interesting thing. It means different things to different people. Some people would say, “If you let me check my email remotely so I can take my kid to daycare in the morning, that gives me greater work/life balance”. And some people might say, “I shouldn’t be asked to check my email remotely at all. That’s my greater work/life balance.” [It’s] very different to different people. What we’re seeing were some different cultural things coming out in the questions. I do believe a lot of organizations are providing these capabilities for people to do their job from different locations. If people have more flex in their personal lives, or have to be home a specific times, or have appointments, they can do some of their job not physically in the office. That offers the possibility for greater work/life balance.

At the same time, some people are critical of that because then there’s this expectation that you connect to work at odd hours and you never really switch off. So there’s a big debate, but I think the technology and these digital workplace solutions enable [workers] to do their job in a more flexible way. A lot of companies are taking advantage of that, and a lot of employees appreciate that.

ITIC: There was a question that asked whether technology leads to new skills, or whether skills lead to new technology. Most countries believe technology leads to skill. Why do you think this is?

KP: I think what’s happening is there are people at the front-end of the technology, and then there’s the majority of people who adopt the technology a little bit later. Some of these early adopters, if you will, help to shape what the technology does, how it’s implemented, what the features are and they kind of set these patterns. They kind of shape that through their business, and then everyone else has to learn.

[For example] how you interact on social media – certain companies now request that their employees use LinkedIn profiles. It becomes skills that people have to be familiar with using. The bigger group has to learn to do this because the bigger path has been set.

ITIC: All the countries agreed that today’s office will one day become obsolete. What do you think the offices of tomorrow will look like?

KP: If you think back to several years ago, to the 90s and the 80s, the majority of work was done in an office setting. There were cubicles, you had a desk, you went into work, did your job, went home. Today, it depends on your industry, but it’s a lot easier to change that up. A lot of organizations don’t even give people dedicated desks in an office anymore. You can work from home, from a Starbucks, from a school, from your cottage.

This idea of everyone getting into one location from 9 a.m to 5 p.m and working and then going home – I think that isn’t the only way to do it. There’s still going to be some of that around; I don’t see it completely disappearing. But I think more companies are going to offer [mobility] and more workers are going to expect that. 

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