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The digital employee experience is finally getting its time in the spotlight. 

For years, both IT and human resources (HR) experts touted the importance of offering employees remote work options by delivering seamless connectivity to business-critical applications from anywhere. But while many organizations listened, very few acted. 

IT leaders were focused on investing in other important technology areas like cybersecurity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and doing so in a vacuum. Instead of looking at these technologies through the lens of the digital employee experience and how they could impact employee workflows, many organizations simply pushed the idea to the back burner — leaving it to slowly heat up and, eventually, boil over.

And that's exactly what happened earlier this year. 

When organizations were forced to suddenly shift to remote work, many found themselves unprepared. This triggered individual departments to rapidly implement tactical, make-do solutions to avoid a complete halt of work. It was like watching six years of progress crammed into six months, which was both exciting and unsettling. Unlike a typical large-scale digital transformation, there wasn't time for months of strategic planning and testing. As departments adopted their own solutions with little oversight or governance, it simultaneously created new problems for the organization like disjointed endpoint environments, technology sprawl and, even worse, frustrated end users.

With 69 percent of employees wanting to work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic, addressing these problems and optimizing the digital employee experience must be a top priority in 2021. But that's easier said than done. 

Below are five challenges that digital workspace leaders must address in 2021 to optimize the digital employee experience and restore collaboration and innovation for home-office workers. 

1. Dwindling employee engagement

Until now, many employees weren't used to working from home fulltime and its unique challenges. Work-life balance is much harder to achieve when both are happening under the same roof. According to a recent survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), 37 percent of respondents said they are currently working longer hours and 40 percent said they've experienced burnout during the pandemic. 

But it's not just the longer hours that are stunting employee engagement, the monotonous nature of remote work is to blame, too. Days quickly become filled with back-to-back video meetings, leaving little or no opportunity for off-the-cuff brainstorm sessions with teammates. Organizations must begin to think about ways to virtually foster these moments of informal collaboration and creativity through visual collaboration tools such as Miro and Mural.

2. Breaking down organizational silos

Silos aren't necessarily a new challenge; many large organizations have struggled with addressing fragmented teams and processes since their inception. However, with a highly distributed workforce, it's critical that organizations form a cohesive work-from-home strategy. The goal is to include as many engaged stakeholders across the business as possible to form a plan that outlines which solutions to standardize versus differentiate. As a rule of thumb, organizations should aim to standardize solutions they consider commodities and differentiate when it adds strategic business value, spurs innovation or makes most sense within a specific department. A documented strategy provides clarity to departments and helps avoid shadow IT.

3. Technology and data sprawl

While collaboration and engagement tools are important, adopting too many of these tools can cause end-user confusion and inefficiencies. For example, if an organization has five different collaboration tools, how will end users know the best way to communicate with other teams or efficiently locate content? Does John Doe in Finance prefer communicating through Microsoft Teams, Jabber or via email? These should be seamless processes that don't derail employee productivity.

Additionally, disparate toolsets create a lack of visibility into the application landscape and can have implications on an organization's cloud strategy and data center infrastructure. Some questions worth asking: How many tools are being used across the entire organization? Where is data from those tools being stored? Is it secure? 

4. Limited budgets

IT teams are constantly being asked to do more with less, and 2021 will be no different. According to Gartner, IT spending is down 5.4 percent in 2020 and is expected to rebound slightly with a four percent increase in 2021. In other words, budgets will be tight. The key is to prioritize technology that will help you save money, make money or avoid trouble (i.e. maintain compliance, ensure security, meet regulatory requirements). The digital employee experience will almost always fall into one of those categories, if not multiple.

Additionally, as offices begin to reopen, organizations face a big question: How do we balance investing in the digital employee experience with the re-entry requirements of our physical office space? 

To determine this balance, it's important to evaluate the percentage of your workforce that will return to the office versus the percentage that will remain remote. Globally, 37 percent of employees say they want to continue working full-time from home after the pandemic and 32 percent say they want to split time between working from home and the office. Surveying your employees about their preferences and needs can be an effective approach for collecting meaningful data. The goal is to develop a reasonable number of questions that will encourage employee responses while providing enough context to reveal actionable insights. Painting a clear picture of where employees will be located and what's most important to them can also help organizations decide where to allocate budget. 

5. Cutting through the OEM noise  

When organizations are ready to start exploring specific solutions, it can be overwhelming. The market is flooded with digital workspace offerings, each promoted as a one-stop shop to improve the digital employee experience. Organizations must do their due diligence to cut through the OEM noise, distinguish individual products from holistic solutions and ensure they've laid the proper foundation to realize a solution's full potential. Consider asking yourself the following questions before choosing a solution:

  • What business outcome(s) am I hoping to achieve with this solution?
  • How do my end users conduct work, and how does this solution directly improve those workflows?
  • Is my existing environment healthy and equipped to fully support this solution?
  • How will I measure the success of this solution?

Mapping your path to an optimal digital employee experience

As work-from-home mandates continue into 2021 and employee burnout and crisis fatigue intensify, organizations must continue prioritizing the digital workspace to keep employees engaged and productive. This requires a highly collaborative approach with alignment across key business stakeholders, as well as a deep understanding of digital workspace solutions to develop a holistic strategy. 

At WWT, our digital workspace experts help organizations achieve just that through our proven, consultative approach. We get to know your business inside and out, to not only help your organization develop a strategic plan forward, but test, validate and execute that plan to ensure success in your unique environment. But our work doesn't stop there. The digital workspace should continuously evolve as new employee needs arise. Our team can help monitor your environment to ensure it's fully optimized for the best digital employee experience. 

At the start of 2020, Forrester reported nearly two-thirds of organizations were unaware of what employees needed to stay engaged in their work. Almost a year later, I'd like to think that's changed. This year has taught us all a lot about employee engagement, flexibility, adaptability, and most importantly, the value of the digital employee experience. Organizations that can overcome these five challenges will not only derive maximum value from their employees and technology investments but be better prepared for the future of work. 

Start envisioning the best path to an optimal digital workspace in 2021. Request workshop