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Digital workplace technology has transformed organizational systems into a connected ecosystem where people function in unison with technology. While some security challenges remain, tasks are now shared between the human workforce and computers, with positive results for productivity and business efficiency.

Here's how digital workplace technology evolved in the locked-down workplace and how experts expect it to continue as things open up again in 2021.

Collaboration Tools Are Here to Stay

In a post-vaccine workplace, many of the safety protocols and technologies adopted in 2020 will likely phase out but the collaboration tools that made remote and hybrid workplace models viable during the pandemic are here to stay.

Many businesses aren't going to wholly adopt the work-from-anywhere approach long term, but all will need to be technologically compatible with it if only because every other business will be, said Andrew Gross, director of enterprise unified communications at Rockleigh, N.J.-based Crestron, a developer of audiovisual automation and integration equipment.

In 2021, he said, the unified communications industry will redouble its focus on digital collaboration technologies by merging its functionality into every other area of work. Even in a post-vaccine world where people can gather without worry, the most economical way to rapidly transform a room into a dynamic collaboration space is to bring audiovisual technology into it.

“Think of videoconferencing platforms and enablement products as the modern equivalent of the AV cart — except every room and every employee will have their own tools for the job,” he said. There is also no reason to expect the move to digital collaboration tools to slow down and it no longer makes sense to build any room that is not considered accessible for remote participants.

Last year, companies were faced with many unforeseen challenges when the pandemic first prompted stay-at-home orders. From technical and security issues, to ensuring teams had the appropriate software and hardware technologies, to simply trying to manage team communication and efficiencies within a distributed workforce, they were forced to figure out a new way to work, and with little time to plan for it.

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Communication Tools Infused With Real-Time Data

With this increase in remote work and a hybrid workforce, organizations started looking for ways to invest in the most practical tools that enable team-wide communication and collaboration from anywhere, said Dana Corey, general manager at Wilsonville, Ore.-based Avocor. This transition is forcing AV/IT managers to rely on data to support their plans for business continuity and return to the office.

She pointed out that workspace intelligence analytic solutions are a critical component to this movement as they allow these decision-makers to take immediate action to re-evaluate the meeting room, communications hardware and software ROI. This will also guide future planning, which is especially helpful for the return to office and hybrid work strategy planning happening right now.

The technology landscape across digital enterprises will change over 2021 in places that may not have needed changing until now, said Brandon Brown, CEO of Sacramento, Calif.-based, which develops marketing software for e-commerce brands. One place, in particular, that he sees this happening is through an increase in the use of blockchain technology for everyday transactions, through online currencies like a central bank digital currency.

This type of transaction would allow the user to see exactly where their transaction is going and ensure what they’re buying is legitimate, such as concert tickets from a third party. It also could help the ticket seller provide better security at their events because they can track where their tickets are going and ensure no unintended party is receiving one.

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The Internet of Things Accelerates

What about the ongoing development and use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and related technologies?

Pablo Listingart, founder of Winnipeg, Canada-based ComIT, an IT training provider, said that it quickly became apparent that connected devices played a large role in COVID-19 strategies. Using the IoT, organizations were able to adapt across multiple sectors, from health care apps and wearable devices that facilitated better telemedicine capacities to the adoption of automated tools to fuel a more productive remote work experience.

While IoT devices and the connected approach were not new innovations of the COVID-era, the accelerated increase in connectivity is changing the future. He points to four ways this is going to impact the digital workplace:

1. E-Commerce Customer Experience

Connected intelligence is helping many consumer-facing businesses make the seamless switch to virtual customer service. The IoT provides live access to any performance data. Connected devices can detect customer issues and clarify support operations by transmitting user data directly to the team that needs it, whether it’s a support team or a manufacturer’s customer service. In the future, these developments can help service providers and product retailers fix problems before they become problems.

2. Data and Consumers

When IoT devices partner with artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, huge amounts of data are able to be both gathered and processed quickly. As a result, a company’s consumer-facing performance can reach new heights and they can make real-time, relevant recommendations based on what it’s found.

3. Better Remote-Work Management

As remote teams continue to navigate their workday from home, day-to-day operations have never been so spread out. The reliable performance of remote-work equipment has become paramount. Productivity completely relies on cloud sharing platforms, video conferencing technologies and file sharing software. With IoT integration, company technicians can remotely monitor and troubleshoot performance of devices. The technology can report on its condition, usage and offer real-time data to a company associate. Even a faulty video-chat could be managed in real time.

4. Security

IoT in the workforce can be used to facilitate safer food delivery, more efficient retail strategies and more distance-friendly access to essentials. While it works to keep us safe, there remains a lack of consumer confidence in IoT device security. IoT devices have undergone extensive trouble shooting but a connected world is more vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches. As IoT technologies continue to see widespread use across new industries, the conversation around security, comfort and privacy will carry on through 2021.

IoT in the Future

There are two other IoT advantages for the digital workplace that will carry over into the future, according to Texas-based Austin Data Labs' Sachin Raja. They are:

1. Workplace Safety

This has been one of the strongest use cases for IoT in most industries. With the pandemic, there is no dispute over this being the top trend of the industry. Simple things, such as ensuring a strong facility access control system with real-time reporting on count and identity of personnel goes a long way. Additionally, thermal and visual screen tools are making it more efficient to follow local regulations while keeping the economy moving and individuals safe.

2. Intelligent Maintenance

Maintenance downtime and cost create massive overhead for companies. Increasingly, large manufacturers are layering agile solutions over their ERPs to mine years of insight plus combining spatial data like sound, vision and air quality to proactively identify risk and convert unscheduled downtime to scheduled maintenance based on smart suggestions.