Lessons Learned from the Digital Workplace Experience Fall 2021 Conference

Tammy Grant gives her virtual presentation at the Digital Workplace Experience conference fall edition.

Reimagining the workplace was a common theme during the final session of the 2021 Digital Workplace Experience conference series, produced by Reworked and Simpler Media Group.

In his opening keynote address at the fall virtual conference on Oct. 14 and 15, Adam Grant, organizational psychologist at The Wharton School and bestselling author of “Think Again,” shared where he thinks workplace collaboration goes awry, why good ideas don’t get put into practice and how employers must rethink their workplace culture. It comes down to having an experimental mindset as a leader.

“My favorite alternative to preaching, prosecuting and politicking, is to think more like a scientist,” he said.

The conference brought together over 20 speakers to share insights on topics such as innovation inside the workplace, the evolving intelligent workplace, collaboration and digital transformation. Access to recordings of the fall sessions, as well as all the presentations from the four-part 2021 Digital Workplace Experience series, is free after registration.

In addition to two days of sessions, Reworked and Simpler Media Group also recognized the finalists for the 2021 Employee Experience Leader of the Year award during event, and named Tom Dewaele, vice president and global head of employee experience at Unilever as the winner of the award. 

Here are five takeaways from the fall finale of the event series:

We’re Only as Good as the People Around Us

Mike Prokopeak, editor in chief of Reworked, kicked off the conference by discussing the conference theme: “Future Workplace: Emerging Technology, Innovation & Intelligent Platforms.”

“To be honest with you,” Prokopeak said on Oct. 14, “that theme is actually already a bit out of date. It implies that the future is somewhere off in the distance. If there’s anything the last year-plus of innovation and change has shown us, it’s that the future of work is now.”

The world’s seen a massive investment in workplace tech and the convergence of work and home, Prokopeak said, and “there’s no time like the present to be doing the work that you’re doing.” And that means investing in agility, experimentation, rapid prototyping, integrating systems and processes, and, above all, learning what is demanded of us for work — now.

“It’s the human element of work that is most important,” Prokopeak said. “And also the most complex and challenging part of this ongoing transformation: we’re only as good as the people around us. The team we build, the people we develop and support, and the mission we choose to pursue together. … It’s the values we share, the dreams we pursue together, and the quality of our relationships that will define whether or not we succeed. Tech will only get us so far. It’s what we do with that tech to work better, to fulfill our purpose as organizations and benefit individuals that will make all the difference.”

Related Article: 7 Takeaways from the Digital Workplace Experience Summer Conference

Employee-Centric Model is Needed for the Modern Employee

Jaime Neely, chief culture officer at Trend Hunter, encouraged employers to consider the toll the pandemic has taken on employee wellbeing.

Her company’s innovation assessment found that among the 60,000 professionals they surveyed globally:

  • 38% feel their ideas are not heard or acknowledged.
  • 47% feel they aren’t provided the time and resources to pursue their ideas.
  • 52% don’t think their company adapts quickly enough to remain relevant.

“It may be hard to say but what we know with certainty is that the workplace is forever changed,” Neely said as she shared Trend Hunters’ “4 E’s of Modern Work Culture,” which include:

  • Evolution
  • Engagement
  • Experience
  • Excellence

Workplace leaders need to be cognizant that work never ends for most people today, with endless notifications and pings from always-on collaboration tools. This wasn’t always the case in the workplace.

“There wasn’t any email or mobile phones or Slack notifications,” she said. “And this meant that for the most part, work actually stayed at work. And there was a very clear, dare I say, healthy separation between work and life. Today, however, it feels like there’s hardly any semblance of separation.”

Neely spoke about millennials and Gen Z’s dominance in the workplace over the next 10 years — something for which workplace leaders must adapt. These generations “bring very different expectations and norms with them that they expect in the workplace,” she said. The modern employee expects the right to choose when and where they want to work, she said.


Workplace Learning Never Ends

Tammy Grant, senior expert for learning for McKinsey & Company, shared with attendees some data and lessons for reimagining the future of work and learning in 2022 and beyond. Her overarching point? Companies need to be reskilling and upskilling their employees. All of them.

“We have lots of jobs out there, and we have lots of people looking for work,” Grant said. “… As many of you probably know, jobs are being redefined by technology. And the thing is that people don’t necessarily have the skills they need to fill these new jobs.”

The idea that you’re going to be in the same job for the rest of your life? Thing of the past, Grant said. We know that people need to upskill, so why aren’t we doing it? A lot of adults haven’t been trained in how to be lifelong learners.

Employees in today’s workforce should be able to:

  • Add value beyond what can be done by automated systems and intelligent machines.
  • Operate in digital environments.
  • Continually adapt to new ways of working and new occupations.

McKinsey research found four main categories of skills:

  • Cognitive
  • Interpersonal
  • Self-leadership
  • Digital

“So,” she said, “continuous upskilling and reskilling is a must. Learning now probably has the amount of shelf life as a glass of milk sitting on your counter. By the time it gets out and released it’s probably out of date. So the constant need to reskill is upon us.”

Related Article: 6 Takeaways from the Spring Digital Workplace Experience Virtual Conference

Change Is Coming to the Digital Workplace

Sarah Kimmel, vice president of research at Simpler Media Group, shared key findings from the 2021 Q2 Edition of The State of the Digital Workplace report, including where organizations are in terms of implementing the core elements of their digital workplace.

The percentage of organizations reporting that their digital workplace is now “fully implemented” has doubled from last year, jumping from 15% to 31%. The overall proportion of organizations we can consider to be in implementation or post-implementation has also increased from under half (49%) in 2020 to over two thirds (67%) in 2021.

Kimmel also reported that those organizations stating they are either at a “mature” phase or “mid-way” phase toward digital workplace maturity have grown from 58% to 69%, and those “not yet started” or “not sure” have shrunk from 8% to 3%.

Related Article: 10 Takeaways from the Winter 2021 Digital Workplace Experience Conference

Communication Matters in Digital Workplace Tech Rollouts

Michelle Braden, vice president of global talent development at WEX, was transparent about her personal experience with implementing new workplace technologies in her company. She said that it was a learning process implementing new technology, and while it was challenging to get things rolled out during the pandemic, the reaction that resulted from the new technology made it worthwhile.

Braden reinforced that communication is crucial when it comes to implementing new workplace technology. She said that it will ease any confusion that may arise due to assumptions made by employees. Braden said that it is as easy as explaining what’s coming and why it’s coming. Holding out on this information will confuse employees and cause unneeded headaches for the company leaders.

“Communications,” Braden said, “articulate the value of the change.”

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