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As digital transformation strategies are put in place, many organizations are looking to technology to fill in the gaps in the workplace created by the pandemic and by the emergence of remote workforces that look like they may become a permanent fixture of the digital workplace.

There is a vast array of apps and platforms now on the market to enable communication and collaboration as well as tools enable the automation of work processes and menial tasks. It is no surprise, then, that new research from the global research company Information Services Group (ISG), shows that, above all else, enterprises are looking for support for online conferencing solutions and automated IT support bots.

The 2020 ISG Provider Lens Digital Workplace of the Future Archetype (subscription required) report also finds that the continuing pandemic has highlighted the need for workplace transformation at many enterprises, although the need differs from company to company.

Despite the widespread availability of enterprise communication and collaboration technologies before the pandemic, it seems many had not yet started the process of transformation and are now desperately trying to catch up.

In fact, according to Jan Erik Aase, director and global leader of ISG Provider Lens Research, the global pandemic has accelerated the shift to many digital technologies, which would otherwise have taken years to implement, and workplace technologies are no exception.”

The ISG Provider Lens Digital Workplace of the Future Archetype Report looked at four different types of clients, or archetypes, that are looking for digital workplace technologies and looked at 27 providers to deliver services to those groups. The groups ISG identified include:

  • Cost and operations optimizers
  • Employee experience explorers
  • Collaboration productivity solution focused*
  • Next-gen workplace

Across the board, the research also found a surge in demand for video conferencing solutions such as Zoom, Cisco Webex and BlueJeans and for comprehensive workplace tools such as Google’s G-Suite.

On top of that, many enterprises want chatbot-enabled service desk support, but are still figuring out the best way to implement this technology, the report adds. Chatbot-enabled service desks have become an essential feature as many employees work from home and have limited ability to speak with a service desk agent virtually or in person.

There is more in the report, which provides a global view of the workplace now and offers insights into what workers and managers are finding the most challenging.

Microsoft Makes Teams Into a Workplace

Considering the ISG report, it is no surprise then that  Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft has announced that it is adding many more communication and collaboration apps into Team meetings. If Teams already has about 900 possible integrations, it seems Microsoft is not happy with that and is enabling workplace apps like Asana to integrate directly into these meetings.

Up until now, Teams has been largely for communicating through different public channels or private chats. There are all kinds of variations of this, but essentially it was impossible to integrate commonly used apps into the meetings.

Now, though, Microsoft is adding 20 new apps into meetings so that you can work and discuss work in these channels.  DevOps teams, for example, can use apps like Jira Cloud and GitHub to build, test and release software directly in Teams. HR and Finance teams use market leading apps like Workday and Adobe Sign to streamline common workflows in Teams, while customer service and support teams use ServiceNow to respond to and manage support requests in Teams.

Microsoft is also making its Power Platform available in Teams. Here is what this means: 

  • Power Apps for Teams: Allows users to build and manage low code apps within Teams.
  • Power Automate: A simplified workflow designer and several templates to help anyone get started automating routine tasks inside Teams
  • Power Virtual Agents: Easy to build and deploy bots to support a range of scenarios, like IT helpdesk, operations FAQs, and HR issue resolution.

The result is an easily customizable workspace — whether that is adding SaaS apps from the Teams app store, or creating custom apps, workflows, or bots to use in Teams. It also takes Microsoft another step towards creating a single place to work.

Google Offers Better Data Controls

But Microsoft is not the only one that has been pulling its productivity spaces tighter together. Google has also done a lot of work recently on Gmail and this week has just announced another step forward.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has introduced a new setting that allows users to control whether data within Gmail, Meet and Chat can be used to serve up suggestions across its suite of products.

"Think: tabbed inbox, Smart Compose, and Smart Reply in Gmail; reminders when your bills are due in the Google Assistant; and restaurant reservations in Google Maps," it wrote in a blog post written by product manager Maalika Manoharan.

Although the ability to turn some of these options on is not new, Google is now bundling it up into a more user-friendly feature, saying it gives clearer choice over the data processing that makes them possible.

"This new setting is designed to reduce the work of understanding and managing that process, in view of what we've learned from user experience research and regulators' emphasis on comprehensible, actionable user choices over data," the blog reads.

The introduction of the simplified data processing is a response to the ongoing concerns about privacy and the way personal data is being used in different applications. With so many alternatives on the market now Google — and other companies — have been forced to act or lose audience.

In this case Google is offering users more control of their own data across Gmail and the rest of Workplace and to reassure enterprise managers that if they use these products the data will be safe.

Google reiterated the user remains in control of their data. It said the smart features served up are the result of automated algorithms, not manual review. It also says that the new setting will be offered alongside the existing options to enable or disable each of these features individually.

Dropbox Builds in Collaboration Space

Also, this week, San Francisco-based Dropbox unveiled the next iteration of its collaborative workspace — Dropbox Spaces — in addition to several new features that help teams get organized, collaborate, and keep work moving securely from anywhere.

Spaces, when it was introduced last year and took the concept of a shared folder full of files and brought it into the modern cloud collaboration era.  With the pandemic, Dropbox says it has accelerated development and is launching a 2.0 version of Spaces.

The service started out as enhancements to Dropbox’s shared folders, but 2.0 can encompass all types of content and tools. It is now a standalone product — as of today it is available in a closed beta, but Dropbox says the new version of Spaces should be widely available in the spring of 2021.Dropbox Spaces 2.0 has several new workflow features and new enterprise security features and certifications. These include:

  • Project Spaces: Create a project space to bring the internal team, external clients, content, timeline, and project tasks all into one organized place.
  • Tasks: Prioritize what needs to be done and keep projects on track.
  • Content: Quickly find, add, and manage relevant project information.
  • Meetings: Easily join, organize, and follow up on meetings from Spaces.
  • Updates: Stay up to date with a shared team view of work in progress and project updates. Attach files to posts in the updates feed, respond to comments with text, an emoji, or link to a file.

These features make it easier for people to work as a distributed team and support better governance and compliance. They also underline the fact that Dropbox is moving further into the enterprise collaboration space away from being a service for sharing files for consumers and small companies.

Asana Unveils New Integrations

Finally this week, San Francisco-based Asana, which develops a work management platform for teams, announced the addition of new and expanded integrations with Atlassian Jira (Server Edition), Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom to its app ecosystem. The ecosystem consists of 200 integrations already.

The company has also introduced increased admin capabilities and more ways for teams to work securely with automation, enabling IT teams to effectively deploy and manage their software at scale. There are four integrations worth noting:

  1. Zoom for Asana, customers can now attach Zoom call transcripts to Asana tasks for quick reference or to give teammates further context,
  2. Asana for Slack integration enables users to share milestones, projects and portfolios as unfurls within Slack channels
  3. Asana for Microsoft Teams, which was launched in June 2020, enables users to create tasks directly within Microsoft’s recently launched Teams meetings feature
  4. Asana for Atlassian Jira (Server Edition)

Coupled with Asana’s current integration for Jira Cloud, Asana for Atlassian Jira (Server Edition) enables teams to create and link Jira issues from directly within Asana tasks

In the coming months, Asana also says it will deliver more ways for teams to create ules-based automation with essential enterprise integrations, including Teams, Slack and Zoom, to customize and automate work happening across those tools.