Gartner Research

Take These 3 Actions to Make Digital Workplaces Happier, Faster and Smarter

Published: 14 September 2021


Digital workplace strategies and technologies have re-emerged as strategic priorities for all organizations. Digital workplace application leaders must build on this momentum to take actions that directly affect employee satisfaction, effectiveness and preparedness for the future of work.


Key Findings
  • Workers dissatisfaction with traditional work arrangements is increasing turnover and reducing productivity.

  • The need to support new working patterns in reaction to the pandemic has enabled leaders to massively accelerate the pace of digital workplace adoption.

  • The digital workplace is now recognized as a critical component in organizations’ ongoing resiliency.


Digital workplace application leaders must take the following actions to help employees work happier, faster and smarter:

  • Develop a technology strategy by prioritizing radical flexibility and steering technology selection and implementation to ensure that IT enables, rather than blocks, flexibility.

  • Set defaults on all applications that guide attention to timely and useful information and minimize alerts that distract or multiply “things to check.”

  • Enable employees to develop new skill sets appropriate to the future of work by introducing a portfolio of training, peer support and experimentationinitiatives.

Strategic Planning Assumption

By 2026, 25% of information and communication that workers process will be algorithmically promoted or demoted (growing to 50% in 2030).


Prior to 2020, workforce IT lacked strategic importance, because technology, productivity and business outcomes rarely align in ways that make ROI clear. The need to support new working patterns has enabled leaders to accelerate digital workplace adoption. IT has deployed many new technology initiatives in six months that they had been struggling to achieve for the past five years. Workforce IT has gone from invisible to essential. Now the challenge is to move beyond the essentials, and use this momentum to drive a real change in how people work. This challenge is to make work happier, faster and smarter (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Make Work Happier, Faster, Smarter

Digital workplace priorities have shifted:

  • Leadership sees a digital workplace as critical to digital resiliency.

  • Technology has proved its impact on how work gets done.

  • People are more responsive to changes in work patterns.

These priorities are highlighted in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Changes in Digital Workplace Priorities

Digital workplace leaders have renewed momentum to achieve their goals, drive digital workplace programs and transform the way people work. People are key to this transformation. Leaders should recognize that people want to be:

  • Happier — They want to enjoy their work, make their work less onerous and confining, and to balance their personal and work lives.

  • Faster — They want to work faster and avoid the frustration that comes with being slowed by distractions and irrelevancies that divert them from their goals.

  • Smarter — They want to work smarter to improve the quality of their output, be more strategic and spend time on high-value, satisfying work, rather than mundane repetition and drudgery.

Digital workplace leaders can use a people-centric focus and new momentum to drive change: working happier, faster and smarter. Gartner’s recommendations can transform these aspirations into tangible actions.


The unhappiness workers have long felt in their roles was worsened by the events of 2020. Remote work patterns alongside traditional “in office” measures of effectiveness and the impact of other societal challenges has meant that employees feel stressed, burned out and lonely. Aside from the human cost, there has been an impact on employee focus, productivity and retention. Workers in nearly equal parts felt their productivity improved, decreased or stayed the same.

To address this, organizations need to rethink the employment deals they provide to their employees. The offers need to be reshaped into more-human-focused deals (see ). Organizations that offer a more-humanized employment arrangement to their employees can increase the number of high-performing employees by as much as one-third.

However, one factor that a digital workplace leader can directly address is the notion of radical flexibility. The principle of radical flexibility is key to move beyond case-by-case flexibility and into negotiating with employees on where, when and how they work.

Gartner research finds that flexibility actually fuels high performance.In a traditional, 9-to-5, in-the-office organization, the percentage of employees considered high performers is 19 percentage points lower than when employees have flexibility over when, where and how much they work (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: High Performers

Radical flexibility in technology choice is also desirable. As shown in Figure 4, 52% of employees say they are looking to grow within the company for their next job move. They are using collaboration applications that theysourced for themselves (and that IT has approved). You want to retain employees who are happier within the organization and are comfortable exercising radical flexibility about when, where and how much work they do, as well as in the tools they use.

Figure 4: Exercising Choice in Technology Selection

A digital workplace leader can take immediate action to support radical flexibility by taking several steps.

Strive for persistent collaboration: When supporting radical flexibility, collaboration is king. It is essential to support remote and hybrid working patterns. Relevant persistence in collaboration is particularly important, whether that involves capturing recordings of audio-visual communications or the ability to navigate through lengthy chat threads. Leaders should enable employees to pick up where others have left off. Off-cycle teams are prevalent, and a functionality that enables hand-offs should be embedded in any technology solutions deployed.

Provide optimized service: Leaders must be sure they are providing an optimized — or even equivalent — service for all types of workers. If an organization offers a 24/7 work schedule, are the systems designed to cope with that? Does the intranet go down for a maintenance schedule in the middle of the night, or is it restricted for VPN access only? Does it assume personalization based on location?

Such issues could affect employees who work flexibly by hours, location or device. If leaders will provide flexibility, they need to provide the technology domain to match this flexibility across all factors. Treating this as an equalization exercise is an effective way to start. Make sure that, regardless of the flexibility offered, employees can access the critical services in the same way. Build and optimize from there onward.

Start locally: To understand how people will react, leaders need to start by embedding radical flexibility in all teams. These principles are often ones that are deemed to happen elsewhere in the business. However, they can be embedded locally in digital workplace teams. An IT organization that is living the principles of radical flexibility can help the rest of the business adapt and build the systems they need, from collaboration tools to talent-planning software.

How do workers actually work faster when they are constantly distracted? Digital workplace leaders must shoulder some of the blame here.

Digital workplace leaders have implemented new technology and innovation at unprecedented levels during 2020 and 2021 to support massive workplace changes. And each new tool may be a perfectly viable solution to a real problem in isolation. However, when added to the pile of existing tools, even a great addition becomes yet another thing to check (YATTC). Examples of these additions include new workstream collaboration channels or notifications from authorizing applications, where individuals and groups have been @ tagged.

Figure 5: YATTC = Yet Another Thing to Check

The result is not necessarily information overload; people’s jobs now require them to manage all of this input. Employees just need all the help they can get in navigating increasing levels of digital distraction, with new channels of information and conversation emerging all the time. Organizations suffer when their workers miss important information or make the wrong decisions, because they didn’t notice the right information, which could have helped.

Our User Influence on Software Decisions survey highlights this:

  • Forty-four percent of users frequently or occasionally made a wrong decision, because they were unaware of the information that could have helped.

  • Forty-three percent of users frequently or occasionally failed to notice important information, because of too many applications or the volume of information.

These distractions create a form of digital friction that Gartner defines as the unnecessary effort an employee has to exert to use data or technology for work. This gets in the way of focusing on the right tasks and making the right decisions. Gartner’s survey data highlights this friction:

  • Gartner’s 2020 Digital Friction survey shows that only one-third of all employees say the technology they use is productive, empowering and easy.

  • In Gartner’s Digital Worker Experience survey, users who described themselves as less productive in 2021 were less likely to say that they “derive valuable understanding from the information to which they have access.” Those who thought they were more productive believe they can derive valuable understanding from such information.

Further findings relate to employees who use technology to build their own solutions. These employees are generally considered the most technically savvy employees in the organization:

  • Forty-eight percent of these employees say they experience high levels of digital friction.

  • Only 55% of these same employees state that technologies help minimize distractions.

If half of the employees that are best placed to develop their own solutions are struggling, what does that mean for the rest of the organization?

A digital workplace leader can start to address these increasing levels of digital friction with the following best practices.

Communicate practices: Every application that an organization uses has a best practice associated with it. Establish and disseminate them around the business. For example, leaders can establish a new channel in a workstream collaboration application, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. on when to use an existing one. Another example is determining when to notify the entire membership of a team in a @tag, rather than an individual.

IT leaders must define these good practices and put in place a network of business champions to help spread them around the organization. (For further guidance on establishing a network of champions, see Quick Answer: How to Build a Champions Network to Scale the Digital Workplace.)

Tune for focus: Again, every application that people use has some configurable parameters that can be tuned for focus. They are rarely reviewed when new technology is deployed, because they aren’t top-line features. Examples here include disabling email toasts (popups) and messaging notifications by default or making sure tools that enable users to track productivity are properly tuned with the correct working hours. (An example of this is the My Analytics application in Microsoft 365.)

Prioritize focus innovation: Technology actions are about prioritizing focus innovation. Software and service markets offer services and products to direct the right information to employees. These include:

  • Productivity intelligence powered by artificial intelligence (AI)

  • Knowledge graphs in content services and insight engines

  • Psychological nudge techniques deployed by digital adoption tools

  • Bots within collaboration tools providing interactive interfaces to information and communication

As stated in the prediction above, Gartner sees increasing vendor activity in adding these types of capabilities to solutions. IT leaders should prioritize these features when evaluating new technologies. These innovations and other user experience features, such as subscription, change notification, notification thresholds and device notification selection, should be included in RFPs and be heavily weighted.

Six out of 10 people indicated that they are constantly looking for ways to do their job better — in essence, they want to work smarter. Organizations need to be aware of the ways that workplace technology is evolving and support employees in using it.

Gartner has identified a number of key future of work trends here:

  • Work has become more distributed.

  • More processes are being automated; automation continues to expand beyond workflow and robotic process automation (RPA).

  • Computers have become more conversational.

  • Tinkerers are becoming mechanics.

  • AI has joined the team.

  • Teams are becoming more agile and interdisciplinary.

  • Everything is measured and tracked.

  • Information finds the user.

  • Dumb things are becoming smarter.

  • Services are becoming touchless and virtual.

The encouraging aspect is that, for the most part, the underlying technology platform that is the basis for many of these attributes is already in place. This is the New Work Hub, a collection of evergreen team and personal productivity applications broadly used by the workforce (see ).

For many organizations, their cloud suite is mainly Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace or a collection of specialist applications, such as Dropbox, Slack and Zoom. However, there is a tendency to think of these tools as replacements for general productivity, communication and collaboration. They are considered modern equivalents of the applications people have had for the past 30 years. This is not enough to enable new, smarter ways of working.

When considering the attributes of the future of work, the augmentation services of the new work hub — composability, automation and intelligence — will be the tools that will really change how work gets done. These tools, which include features for development, automation, analytics and AI, will be key to enabling business users to define their own solutions. They will be empowered and emboldened by IT experts, rather than beholden to them.

Leaders need to increase the digital dexterity of all users with a new set of skill profiles. These include:

  • Data mavens, who can find and employ data to inform any business situation. They need to be data-literate to extract insights from structured and unstructured data.

  • Process hackers, who can understand business processes and apply low-code/no-code technology to automate them. This includes opportunities to use bots and virtual agents to integrate other processes and applications.

  • Smart thinkers, who can demystify AI technologies for their colleagues and use everyday AI or everyday Internet of Things (IoT) to build a path to increasingly sophisticated AI development models.

Digital workplace leaders can prepare their workforces for the future of work by doing the following.

Striving for tech democratization: To provide access to the capabilities on offer, leaders need to democratize the technology that will power a smarter workplace. For example, Microsoft 365 includes Power BI, Power Automate and Power Apps. Alternatives are available from a multitude of vendors. Each is targeted at empowering business users to alleviate persistent digital friction by developing their own solutions.

Forming communities of practice: Communities of practice can help develop employee skills. For example, leaders can use the collaboration elements of a new work hub, such as Channels or Teams to establish communities centered around a particular topic. The communities can be used to encourage, develop and guide people to use the tools in effective ways. They can also be a center of gravity for developing governance around such initiatives.

Motivating employees: Leaders must find ways to motivate and encourage people in the use of these new tools. Incentivization does not necessarily mean financial reward. Set up ways for employees to earn recognition from peers, mentors and management. When establishing communities of practice, look for ways to build this recognition directly into the structure.


The survey was conducted to inform CIOs on how to prosper in the post-COVID-19 world. It was conducted online from 14 July 2020 through 14 August 2020 among Gartner Executive Programs members and other CIOs.

Qualified respondents were the most senior IT leaders (CIOs) for their overall organizations or for a part of their organization (for example, a business unit or region). The total sample was 1,877, with representation from all geographies and industry sectors (public and private). The survey was developed collaboratively by a team of Gartner analysts and was reviewed, tested and administered by Gartner’s Research Data and Analytics (RDA) team. Results do not represent global findings or the market as a whole; however, they do reflect the sentiments of the respondents and companies surveyed.

2020 Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health, Ginger;2020 Gartner Coronavirus Employee Sentiment Survey on Returning to Work — Responses in Context of “as a Result of Coronavirus Outbreak

The 2020 Gartner ReimagineHR Employee surveys were fielded in May and July of 2020 to 5,000 employees in the Asia/Pacific (APAC) region (Australia, China, India and New Zealand); Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA; e.g., Germany, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K.); Latin America (LATAM; e.g., Argentina, Chile and Mexico); and North America (U.S. and Canada) regions. It was administered as a web-based survey.

2021 Gartner Digital Worker Experience survey was conducted online during November and December 2020 among 10,080 respondents from U.S., Europe and APAC.

Participants were screened for full-time employment, in organizations with 100 or more employees, and required to use digital technology for work purposes.

Ages ranged from 18 through 74 years old, with quotas and weighting applied for age, gender, region and income, so that the results represent working country populations.

The 2020 Gartner Digital Friction survey was conducted via an online survey platform from January through March 2020, with a total of approximately 4,500 employees who used technology in their daily work. The survey was developed collaboratively by a team of Gartner researchers, and was reviewed, tested and administered by Gartner’s Quantitative Analytics and Data Science team.

2021 Gartner Employee Survey Technology was conducted online between November 2020 and December 2020 among 3181 respondents from Multiple Industries, working in organizations with more than $50 million in annual revenue from North America, Europe, Latin America and APAC.

The respondents were the employees who use the technology — i.e., employees working in entry-level positions, midlevel positions and department heads. The study was developed collaboratively by Gartner Analysts and the Primary Research Team.

Gartner’s 2021 User Influence on Software Decisions assessed workers’ view of technology, comfort with it, how they might advocate for software or subvert “corporate efforts,” and their roles in growth from trial to purchase to workgroup use to department to enterprise.

The research was conducted online from April through June 2020, among 4,953 respondents in organizations with at least 100 employees in the U.S. (35%), France (23%), Germany (22%) and Singapore (20%). Industries surveyed include manufacturing and natural resources, banking and securities, retail, government, insurance, healthcare, communications, media, services, education, utilities, technology and transportation. Respondents were required to be full-time workers or staff (i.e., not managers), who use technology products and services for their day-to-day work. They were also required to not be in vendor management or procurement.

The survey was developed collaboratively by a team of Gartner analysts and was reviewed, tested and administered by Gartner’s Research Data and Analytics (RDA) team.

Disclaimer: Results of this study do not represent global findings or the market as a whole, but do reflect the sentiments of the respondents and companies surveyed.

Gartner Recommended Reading

Access Research

Already a Gartner client?

To view this research and much more, become a client.

Speak with a Gartner specialist to learn how you can access peer and practitioner research backed by proprietary data, insights, advice and tools to help you achieve stronger performance.

By clicking the "Continue" button, you are agreeing to the Gartner Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Gartner research: Trusted insight for executives and their teams

What is Gartner research?

Gartner research, which includes in-depth proprietary studies, peer and industry best practices, trend analysis and quantitative modeling, enables us to offer innovative approaches that can help you drive stronger, more sustainable business performance.

Gartner research is unique, thanks to:

Independence and objectivity

Our independence as a research firm enables our experts to provide unbiased advice you can trust.

Actionable insights

Not only is Gartner research unbiased, it also contains key take-aways and recommendations for impactful next steps.

Proprietary methodologies

Our research practices and procedures distill large volumes of data into clear, precise recommendations.

Gartner research is just one of our many offerings.

We provide actionable, objective insight to help organizations make smarter, faster decisions to stay ahead of disruption and accelerate growth.

Tap into our experts

We offer one-on-one guidance tailored to your mission-critical priorities.

Pick the right tools and providers

We work with you to select the best-fit providers and tools, so you avoid the costly repercussions of a poor decision.

Create a network

Connect directly with peers to discuss common issues and initiatives and accelerate, validate and solidify your strategy.

Experience Information Technology conferences

Join your peers for the unveiling of the latest insights at Gartner conferences.

©2022 Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Gartner is a registered trademark of Gartner, Inc. and its affiliates. This publication may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without Gartner’s prior written permission. It consists of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization, which should not be construed as statements of fact. While the information contained in this publication has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartner research may address legal and financial issues, Gartner does not provide legal or investment advice and its research should not be construed or used as such. Your access and use of this publication are governed by Gartner’s Usage Policy. Gartner prides itself on its reputation for independence and objectivity. Its research is produced independently by its research organization without input or influence from any third party. For further information, see Guiding Principles on Independence and Objectivity.