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The concept of the future of work is something we’ve been hearing about for a while now. It often sounds like a bit of science fiction and seems somewhat pie-in-the-sky, but if you think about it, this transformation has already been tiptoeing its way into our work lives. A few years ago we collectively forced IT’s hand with our insistence that we be allowed to use our smartphones and tablets for work. Now we can work anywhere and anytime using our mobile devices. Meanwhile, IT has been leading the charge in improving the way we collaborate across voice, video, and text-based systems to help us manage the surge of globalization and the challenges of working with people across time zones. And, enterprise social messaging is finally finding its place in our organizations. These are not insignificant changes – especially in such a short timeframe.


But most organizations are still struggling to catch up – both technically and culturally – with activities we take for granted in our personal lives. We video chat with friends on our smartphones, find and reserve tables at the best restaurants at the touch of our finger, and quickly learn to do just about anything on YouTube. We can even automate and remotely control our lights, heat and appliances in our homes using off-the-shelf technology from the local home improvement store. Wouldn’t it be great if our work life was this streamlined?  Wouldn’t you want to work at the company that offered this kind of integrated experience? Smart parking, smart office, smart learning, smart wellness, smart meetings, smart everything.


Shouldn’t our workplaces and our work experiences be “smart”?

Business leaders seem to think so and there are some major new trends that will both compel and assist organizations toward these changes. Trends such as the surge of Millennials and Gen-Z’s that are creating a quad-generational workforce and will soon be in the majority. Or the trend that shows employees becoming less and less engaged and motivated by their work. The major the shift to the gig-economy. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s the whole Internet of Things (IoT) disruption. What does this mean for the organization and for the employees? Here are just a few important items:

  • Dramatic cost savings are emerging in big ticket items like real estate, facilities, and travel.
  • Measurable and significant improvements are possible for worker productivity.
  • Enterprises are focusing on creation of an employer brand to attract and retain top talent.
  • There is a cultural shift from the struggle for a work-life balance to a creation of a work- life rhythm.
  • Onboarding processes and the collection of tribal knowledge must improve to help manage the constant workforce churn.


Industry experts refer to this transformation as the Future of Work or the Digitization of Work. It’s part of the larger Digital Business Transformation that is currently impacting all industries. Organizations that ignore or postpone action must understand the consequences. Ultimately this is not optional and laggards are more likely to become one of the four in ten industry incumbents that will be displaced in the next five years.


The work involved in planning this transformation is complex. It involves rethinking business models, processes, and cultures – plus significant investments in technology and even building design. For leaders in facilities, corporate real estate, HR, and IT, this is a chance to expand the role of their organization – to drive business value using not only people, but also spaces and things. The scope is enormous, often overwhelming, and is prone to fragmented projects that can result in inconsistent user interfaces, unconnected business processes, frustrated users, and missed opportunities. The following diagram shows the six major domains in the digital work landscape.


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Then you must consider these Five Key Actors and Seven Basic Needs of the Workforce across each of these domains as you plan and prioritize:

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So how do you approach something that is so widespread, unstructured, and complex? As with any major initiative, you need a holistic, structured, and architectural approach that aligns technical, social, and business drivers. You will need to create:

  • Clear, cross-functional strategies based on business imperatives, not technology
  • Structured frameworks that identify and consider each of the various participants
  • Clarity in understanding the diverse needs of the participants (including all five actors shown in the diagram)


My colleagues and I in Cisco® Advanced Services have developed an approach to the digitization of work that maps the various connections across initiatives and helps to establish priorities. It includes tools and models such as the Digital Work Landscape, Digital Work Framework, and Digital Work Reference Architecture. These are all described in my two-part white paper - The Digitization of Work: A Structured Approach to Transforming the Workforce Experience - Part 1, Part 2. It provides insights and tools that will serve as guides as you consider how to best utilize collaboration technologies, mobile and location-aware applications, enterprise social messaging, analytics, and IoT solutions to improve your workforce experience.


Please review the white papers and let me know what you think. I would love to hear about your own insights and the plans your organization is making. Feel free to use these ideas as you begin your Digitization of Work deployment. As you progress, I encourage you to discuss your strategy with your Cisco® account manager, client services manager, workforce experience advisor, or channel partner.