Digital workplace trends for 2024

The digital workplace doesn’t keep still and continues to be a fast-moving and fascinating space to work in. Even the traditional intranet which isn’t usually associated with being particularly cutting-edge continues to evolve. The end of the year is usually a time when we think about priorities and plans for the coming year; to a certain extent these are influenced by the wider trends that are going on, the new products that are released, and the working practices digital workplace teams put in place.

For the last five years or so, I’ve made some predictions for what I will think the major digital workplace trends will be for the upcoming twelve months. You can see what I predicted for 2023 – of course, I didn’t perhaps quite anticipate the influence of ChatGPT and OpenAI, but at least I mentioned artificial intelligence! 2024 is going to be another exciting year; here’s what I think some of the headline trends are going to be.

1. Knowledge management continues it resurgence…thanks to AI.

If you’re reading this predictions post, you’re likely to have read others. Most of them are going to say something along the lines of “get ready for generative AI during 2024”. Of course, it is going to be a prevalent theme next year and it will be impacting the digital workplace, in the short-, medium- and long-term.

However, my gut feel is that the impact on the digital workplace during 2024 will not be as profound as many think it will be. Yes, digital workplace teams will start to pick the low-hanging fruit and introduce it, while products like Copilot (see below) will also become available, but those waiting for a dramatic transformation will be disappointed.

Where I think it will make a difference is really in the area of knowledge management (KM) where there are so many use cases where generative AI can make a difference. Expertise finders. Answering questions. Creating, checking and analysing model documents such as contracts. Automated tagging and metadata for content items. Spotting anomalies and conflicts in policies and procedures. Analysing external industry news and events that may pose a risk to an organisation. Making client-specific documents more shareable by stripping out confidential information. Building dynamic topic pages that bring in details of documents, conversations and experts and more.

Having a robust KM practice in place in your organisation is now becoming mission critical: much of the competitive advantages from generative and predictive AI will go to those organisations that have good proprietary data and information in place. It needs to be well curated, redacted and tagged so AIs can get to work for you. If your KM and intranet is a mess – you really need to jump onto this now. Time is running out.

KM is an area that has never really gone away particularly in sectors such pharma, finance and law; in 2024 I can see Gen AI helping to power some excellent KM solutions that will have a major impact.

2. Copilot will start to embed across 2024

Microsoft has a major influence on the shape and direction of most digital workplaces with our collective reliance on Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. Microsoft can be both great and frustrating in equal measures in what they choose to release and not release, but we do need to take into account the 365 roadmap and the general direction of travel. And whatever you think of Microsoft, it’s difficult to deny their influence and willingness to invest in new services and offerings. They are certainly not sitting still.

If you’ve been keeping up with the announcements from the recent Microsoft Ignite conference you’ll know that Microsoft’s big play for 2024 is with generative AI – specifically using OpenAI’s GPT Large Language Model (LLM) – with most deployed using the Copilot brand. Multiple Copilots are going to be introduced across Microsoft’s digital workplace tools – there is going to be Copilot for this and Copilot for that. The ability for organisations to also create their own GenAI tools and apps is also being encouraged through an expansion of Azure AI-related services and even the release of a Copilot Studio so organisations can create their own custom Copilots.

While we will see a lot of attention on Copilot I think we’ll only see it start to embed during 2024. There is often a significant time lag between when Microsoft first makes an announcement and when a release comes generally available, and then there is another lag before organisations actually adopt it, particularly when it comes at a price.

We’ve seen this pattern with Microsoft Viva, where the flurry of activity, doesn’t match the extent to which it has been deployed, bar Viva Engage which is a rebranding of Yammer and Viva Connections which is free. And while everyone will be exposed to Copilot due to the rebranding of Microsoft Bing Chat and Bing Chat Enterprise, Copilot comes with a hefty per user price tag which may limit the uptake during 2024.

3. The “everywhere intranet” continues to emerge

Intranets have been around for over 25 years now and they’re still here, a real mainstay of the workplace technology landscape. One of the reasons they have survived so long – above being a fundamentally good idea – is that they have continued to adapt and evolve, absorbing extra features and functionality, and taking inspiration from external-facing platforms such as social media.

An intranet trend that has been around for a while but that I will expect to continue to accelerate in 2024 is the growth of the “everything intranet”.  In basic terms this is an intranet that can do more or less everything an employee needs to do; the place where employees can find all the knowledge they need, complete tasks such as reading mandatory policies and completing learning courses, collaborate, communicate and more.

The “everything intranet” is essentially a window in the wider digital workplace that is both accessible from the browser or on Teams and is underpinned by a series of smart integrations. In the past, we’ve explored this concept, and referred to it as the “omnipresent intranet”, but it has been hard to achieve. However, the tight integrations facilitated by Microsoft 365 and the growing library of out-of-the-box connectors, and third-party apps, is helping to enable the “everything intranet” to be built in SharePoint. By the end of 2024 I expect more intranets will be able to earn this label and will provide real value for employees.

4. Governance becomes more important than ever

I suspect that in 2024 more of us are going to be talking about the “G word”. And I don’t mean Generative AI. I actually mean “governance” – the set of policies, standards, processes, roles, rules and controls that need to be in place for the digital workplaces to operate efficiently, eliminate risks and establish a strong and consistent user experience. Basically, governance – perhaps along with good strategy and a solid technology platform- is a fundamental foundation of a good digital workplace.

Governance is definitely not sexy, it’s actually pretty boring and it’s often painful to implement. But, it’s also extremely important and in 2024 having it in place is essential. If you want to implement generative AI in a way that is relatively risk free, you need governance. If you want to get knowledge management to work, you need governance. If you want an everything intranet, you need governance. The more complex the digital solution you are tying to implement, the more likely you will need more governance in place, and the more likely you will then get value out of it. I think (and hope) that 2024 will be the year when governance has its place in the sun.

5. Interest in the Metaverse rises again

Before generative AI came and stole all the headlines, the Metaverse was getting quite a lot of media attention. Some of this focused on what it might look like, while other coverage spotlighted Meta’s halting development of its own Metaverse environment. In reading many of these articles, there was a sense that the Metaverse had already run out of steam, was simply too far in the future to worry about now and some organisations had already dismissed it. And then in terms of media attention, generative AI has seemingly stolen the Metaverse’s thunder.

It’s a mistake to think the Metaverse is over before it has even begun; during 2024 I can see there being a resurgence of interest in the Metaverse, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the Metaverse is increasingly used as a term to encompass all virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented reality (AR) developments.  VR, MR and AR are all already adding value in a number of areas including in some industrial settings, and look set to increase, especially with the spread of frameworks like Microsoft Mesh.

Secondly, Apple’s release of the Apple Vison Pro has definitely upped the game in terms of what a VR / AR headset can do. Up to now, headsets have been a little underwhelming, but the Vision Pro is far more immersive than anything up to now. I can see it being a hit in the digital workplace, especially for employees working from home.

Thirdly, generative AI could be a major step in the evolution of the metaverse. Creating immersive worlds has the potential to be extremely expensive and rely on niche expertise, but imagine if generative AI can just create a 3D world or a scene within it, within seconds? Given where we are with powerful AI image generation tools like Midjourney this seems like it could lower barriers to entry and advance the metaverse in ways that previously seemed years off.

6. Organisations continue to move away from in-a-box intranets

One observation that I’ve made in previous years is that organisations are tending to move away from in-a-box intranets, because they can achieve an increasing amount of what they need to do with bog-standard SharePoint (often confusingly known as out-of-the-box SharePoint), and combine this with Microsoft 365 tools like Viva Engage. It’s not to say that in-a-box intranets don’t add value to SharePoint – some of them are excellent – but as budgets remain under tight scrutiny and the Microsoft product roadmap continues to support intranet teams – the business case for investing in them becomes harder to justify, where essentially you’re often paying for the same capabilities twice.

I think the gradual move away from in-a-box intranet products will continue in 2024. However, an intranet wholly based on SharePoint Online does leave some gaps. This is partly why our Lightspeed365 product that offers a distinct set of SharePoint web parts is getting a lot of focus; it fills some of the feature gaps and increases the versatility and options to brand your SharePoint intranet. Lightspeed365 effectively allows you to add onto SharePoint but you’re not paying for any feature twice – it means you get the versatility of an in-a-box product at a fraction of the price.

LightSpeed Intranet example

7. The debate questioning the value of working from home will start to fizzle out

In some organisations there’s still a debate raging about the need to return to the office versus the merits of working remotely, chiefly from home. There tends to be a pattern where a CEO with strong opinions makes a call for everybody to come back to the office, with some employees not happy with a disruption to a working pattern that has generally been working well for them for nearly four years. In most cases some kind of happy medium is achieved with everyone settling into a pattern of hybrid work.

Of course, there are advantages to both working in-person and remotely, depending on the different types of work mode required, the needs of individual employees, and what is trying to be achieved. But overall, remote and hybrid work has proved remarkably resilient as a working pattern with obvious advantages relating to productivity and work-life balance. Many employees want to preserve it, most employers need to offer it to attract talent, and everybody enjoys the increased productivity. We haven’t had an office here at Content Formula for a few years now and while that has some downsides, we’ve never been more successful. Some of the arguments to date that attack remote work simply don’t stand up to much scrutiny, and I expect the debate about either/or will continue to fizzle out during 2024. We simply aren’t returning to the working patterns of 2019.

Happy New Year

And that’s a wrap for another year! Whatever happens, I think it’s going to be another fascinating and important year in the history of the digital workplace. And that just leaves me to wish you all happy holidays and new year. Hope to see you in 2024!

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