UK office workers hopeful about the “promise” of digital, despite mixed results of COVID-driven changes to workplace technology


New research from Citrix has revealed that while the majority (76%) of UK office workers experienced changes to both their workplace technology and culture in 2020, these changes left almost a third (30%) of those employees more frustrated at work.

Despite this, employees remain hopeful about what a better use of digital technology can offer. The majority (92%) are confident that their own employer’s workplace technology and work culture either already delivers, or will eventually deliver, on the “promise” of digital, i.e., increased productivity, more innovation and a better employee experience.

The poll, conducted by 3GEM and quizzing 1,000 UK office workers in large businesses, questioned employees on how their workplace culture and technology had changed in 2020 and the impact of these changes on productivity and employee engagement levels. The survey also gauged whether these COVID-driven changes had influenced their views on how technology could affect the future of work at their organisation. To gain an accurate understanding of how their workplace technology set-up and working practices changed due to COVID-19, this survey only polled office workers who have worked with their current employers since at least 2019.


Mixed results of COVID-driven digital investments

Major changes were implemented and felt by the UK workforce in 2020: 78% of respondents stated that their employer provided funds for new technology or changed the technology they made available for staff to do their jobs last year. Working styles also evolved, with over a third (36%) admitting remote or flexible working was not an option before 2020, yet was encouraged last year.

The poll revealed that for many, these changes brought welcome improvements. Before COVID-19, two-fifths (42%) of UK office workers described their workplace technology set-up as “adequate” only, as it didn’t let them fulfil their potential. Yet, for those who experienced changes to workplace technology in 2020, six in 10 (59%) agree it improved their work experience. Similarly, of those whose companies enabled and encouraged remote working during 2020, almost two thirds (64%) feel it improved their work experience.

However, UK investments to change workplace technology and culture brought mixed results. While more than half (53%) describe their workplace technology before COVID-19 as “premium” – it enabled them to be as productive as possible – this dropped to 45% when describing their current working scenario, reflecting a step backward last year. Additionally, 38% admit that alterations to their workplace technology last year either didn’t change, or simultaneously improved and worsened, their work experience.

The findings suggest that COVID may also have exacerbated the digital divide between organisations. Those businesses which already offered “premium” or “adequate” technology pre-COVID were able to make changes in 2020 which improved the work experience for their employees (66% and 53% respectively). However, only 38% of employees who had worked with “substandard” technology pre-COVID felt changes in 2020 improved their work experience.


The impact of technology on employee experience

Nearly half (45%) of UK office workers agree that despite changes during the COVID pandemic making them more productive, they are more fed up with work than ever before. Two thirds (64%) admit workplace technology is a key factor in their job satisfaction, yet poor workplace technology has left 45% feeling disillusioned with their employer and their future at the organisation. In total, just 9% believe the digital tools and technology set-up currently available to them allows them to reach their full potential.

When asked about the impact of workplace technology that does not enable them to get their job done efficiently, two fifths (40%) admitted it leaves them feeling frustrated with their employer. This rose to 74% amongst respondents who had described their pre-COVID workplace technology as “substandard”.

Beyond these frustrations, 28% acknowledge that workplace technology which hinders efficiency stops them wanting to ‘go the extra mile’ for work, and leaves two fifths (18%) considering looking for an alternative job which offers a better tech experience. Additionally, three in 10 (29%) admit it cuts into their time to think more creatively and innovate.

“Many UK businesses successfully invested in workspace technology and working policies that enabled truly collaborative and productive remote working for their staff last year. Yet, in some cases, COVID-driven changes to workplace technology clearly fell short,” says Mark Sweeney, regional VP of UK and Ireland, Citrix. “Deploying flexible technology which delivers a consistent employee experience anywhere and removes the friction from work is key to boosting staff productivity and engagement. Business leaders must prepare for a future where hybrid workforces are not reliant on the office on a daily basis, and set staff up for success no matter where they are working.”


Workforce optimism around the “promise” of digital tools

While not all digital investments in 2020 led to an improved employee experience, UK workers remain hopeful about the “promise” of digital. The majority (89%) are confident that their employer’s workplace technology and work culture will eventually live up to employee expectations, or already does.

Nearly three quarters (70%) agree that the COVID pandemic forced a revolution in employee experience – requiring employers to embrace new technology and remote working. Three quarters (75%) of staff at companies that implemented changes to both workplace technology and culture in 2020 are feeling more engaged with the business as a result. Looking ahead, six in 10 (61%) are excited about how technology will help to create a better ‘future of work’ at their organisation.

To truly harness the value of digital tools and technology to enable them to reach their full potential, almost half (47%) of UK office workers say they need faster access to all information, such as search functions that help them find documents quickly – whether in the cloud, in an app or on their desktop, unrestricted by location or device. Over a third (34%) selected single sign-on, choosing the ability to log in once and access all their apps, data and desktops in one unified experience. Respondents also flagged the importance of flexible technology (30%) and smart technology which automates repetitive tasks (27%) as key, by respectively offering the same work experience from anywhere on any device, or freeing them up from admin tasks which can be automated.

“Businesses need to act now to create a positive employee experience. It’s time to deliver on the ‘promise of digital’ and live up to employee expectations. The pandemic has forever changed the way that employees view and approach work. If companies cannot enable this new vision of work through providing the right digital tools, they risk a disengaged workforce or, at worse, a wave of talent leaving the business,” Sweeney said.