Key Takeaways from the Digial Workplace Experience 2018 conference

I attended the second and third days, June 19 & 20, 2018, of the Digital Workplace Experience conference.  Here are my notes from the event.

I’d say the key themes of the conference were artificial intelligence in the workplace, change management, and worker experience.

We’ve seen some of the major players in the industry – Microsoft, Amazon, Google – invest heavily in artificial intelligence, and we are now seeing significant interest in how that applies to worker productivity and the employee experience.  I suspect we are in the hype phase of this trend, but it is interesting to see what’s been done so far. Liberty Mutual created a chatbot to answer common employee questions.  LiveTiles has a tool for enabling power users and above to create chatbots.  One of the calls to action from one of the keynotes – by someone at LiveTiles, as I recall – was to start thinking about how chatbots can improve the worker experience at your organization. One key piece of advice from the conference was to not expect one chatbot to handle all kinds of requests, but rather have many simpler chatbots that are specific to a particular domain.  In other words, don’t expect your pizza-ordering chatbot to also be able to tell you how many days of time off you have left.

On the theme of change management, two messages were clear.  One is that you need a sustainable process to respond to the constant change in the digital workplace.  Remember, Microsoft releases on average about a change a day to Office 365. So you need a process that can sustainably keep up with that kind of rate of change.  The other message was that change agents are a critical component of your change management process.  In fact, these two concepts – change agents and sustainable change – are intimately related.  You must have an ongoing process to recruit and train/nurture change agents in order to have the people needed to drive change throughout your organization in a sustainable way.

The third theme was about worker experience. On one hand, there were strategy discussions that aligned closely with what I’d read in Jacob Morgan’s the Employee Experience Advantage book.  On the other hand, there were product vendors promising to drive employee engagement and measure the employee experience.  Some of these were tools for building better intranets.  Two vendors I talked to were selling software that measured the health of end-user PCs and Mac (i.e. desktops and laptops.  Both claimed that device health and application health were the way to measure the end user experience.  It’s not.  First, these vendors were only able to measure laptops and desktops, and not mobile devices.  At this point, mobile devices are so critical to end-user computing that they can’t reasonably be ignored.  Second, an end user’s device can be perfectly healthy while the user is working on some horrible, mind-numbing, soul-crushing, disengagement-driving task.  Surveys and conversations with users will measure their engagement much better than measures of the health of their devices.

Aside from the vendors offering to measure end-user computing laptop/desktop device health, the other common sub-theme of the worker experience theme was integration. Bring disparate corporate systems together into one pane of glass – one app.  One example was about bringing all a user’s to-do’s into one view, regardless of if those tasks originate from the CRM system, the expense report system, the helpdesk ticket system, or any other system that has tasks.

All the slides from this year’s conference are at One deck that I’d highly recommend reviewing if you are interested in the cultural aspects of the digital workplace is Brian Solis’s Culture 2.0 deck.  Among other things, slide 27 says “You are designing work experiences for a world that loves to vomit rainbows.”  This is an outcome of the fact that we have more and more young workers (and SnapChat users) as a part of our multi-generational workforce.

The conference also featured art in several presentations an in one piece of conference hall artwork (pictured below, the “culture wall”), from gapingvoid, a company that designs cultures.

The conference will return in 2019.