“Digital Workplace Trends 2013,” a report based on surveying 362 organizations worldwide, shows that digital workplaces are in very early days.

shutterstock_112142450.jpgAn effective digital workplace enables the workforce to communicate, collaborate and conduct business efficiently wherever they are -- at the office, on a customer site or on the road. Employees need to connect to other co-workers, find information and access enterprise services. In other words, they need social, mobile and the cloud.

Concern about information security is one hurdle. Middle management resistance to social collaboration is another. Yet, the vision of a seamless, social, mobile work environment has seduced many organizations.

Potentially Transformative

The digital workplace is not just for desktop-based knowledge workers. Thirty percent of organizations with a majority of the workforce on the floor or in the field have a specific program dedicated to the digital workplace or have integrated it officially into a company-wide transformation program.

When asked about the impact of the digital workplace on his organization, Brian Holness, participant in the Digital Workplace Trends survey and Information Manager at GDF SUEZ Energy International says:

We are starting to see bottom line impact. An example is gathering and presenting insurance underwriting information that is fundamental in driving for a reduction in power station insurance premiums. This is due to improved operational risk management based on better information management.”

Beginning the Journey

Seventy percent of organizations say top goals for their digital workplace initiatives are to “increase organizational intelligence” and to “achieve efficiency and cost savings.”

Digital managers report varying states of progress towards an effective digital workplace inside their organizations: 25 percent are “thinking and talking about it,” 40 percent are “moving in that direction” and 33 percent are “beginning implementation.”

Erik S. Meyers, survey participant and Head Global Online and Employee Communications of BASF SE offers advice to companies starting the digital workplace journey:

There are two keys to success in my opinion. Recruit the CEO or another Board member as a sponsor and demonstrate business value. You need to link it to strategy over and over and over again.”

Middle Management Resistance

Whereas 60 percent of the majority of companies are struggling to gain traction in their social collaborative initiatives with their top management, the early adopters have passed this milestone. Their pain point is middle management: 55 percent cite middle management when asked: “What parts of your organization demonstrate the greatest hesitation or resistance to integrating social collaboration into the way of working?”

This is not surprising because once the top people are on board, the hard part begins: integrating social collaboration into activities and processes across the organization. That’s where middle-level managers have their role to play as change agents and so far this is not yet happening. Although 22 percent of early adopters say: “We are rethinking how we do things in many areas,” only 3 percent of the majority make the same statement.

Disruptive and Slow to Take Off

Certain social capabilities disrupt the way organizations work, challenging hierarchical management. HR no longer controls the definition of expertise: experts emerge in discussions in internal social networks. Communication no longer completely controls the message, the target and the timing: employees share information and make announcements spontaneously in blogs and discussion groups.

In early adopters, the gap between deployment and adoption is approximately 40 percentage points for “user-generated content,” “co-creation of content” and “finding people, expertise.” A good example is enterprise social networks, deployed in 70 percent of the early adopters. However, only 25 percent say that over half their employees have signed in at least once, and only four percent report that over half their people use the social network on a regular basis. Most organizations report far lower figures.

Primary Influencers: Peers and Colleagues

When it comes to changing the way of working, 62 percent of organizations said that people are primarily influenced by the behavior of peers and colleagues. Only 35 percent cited senior management behavior as a change driver and even fewer, 25 percent, cited line and operational managers.

These figures make sense because social initiatives happen gradually, in pockets throughout the organization, as different teams and groups gradually adopt new ways of working. Most senior leaders do not yet “walk the talk” even in organizations where they are vocally supportive of digital workplace initiatives. Finally, it is clear that line and operational managers have not yet been affected by social collaboration initiatives in their organizations. For them it is irrelevant to their job context.

Mobile: Strong Interest, Low Deployment

Another key feature of a digital workplace is access anytime, anywhere, freeing people to work wherever they are. Mobile has become a hot topic. Yet, access to work tools by mobile is just starting. Fourteen percent of organizations express “interest and significant investment” in mobile services for the workforce. Although low, that figure is twice the percentage of the previous year’s survey.

Mobile services actually provided today are limited: 30 percent of organizations offer no mobile services; 36 percent have the basics of email, calendar, news and directory; only 20 percent give the workforce access to enterprise collaborative and task-related services.

Cloud: Relevant but Hesitating

The primary reasons for moving some enterprise information and services to the cloud are the cost model, flexibility and availability outside corporate walls. Sectors where over 60 percent of organizations say the cloud is relevant for them include education, industrial manufacturing, professional services and construction and engineering.

However, there has not been a rush to the cloud. Only half the organizations are actually using or planning to use the cloud for specific services such as collaboration, document management, social networking and enterprise systems. Enterprise social networking is the highest with 33 percent already in the cloud and another 13 percent planning to put their social in the cloud.

“Security and data safety” is the overriding concern for 75 percent of organizations when it comes to using the cloud. The next highest concerns as cited by 40 percent of the participants are “regulatory compliance” and data location.”

Future Investments

Forty percent of organizations place mobile services at the top of the list of investments planned for the next 2013 and 2014. This is followed closely by a social network platform at 35 percent. Cloud computing, cited by 15 percent, was the lowest rated item on the proposed list of investments. Early adopters are emphasizing other areas as well, with 25 percent planning investment in advanced analytics and over 20 percent in sales and customer-facing applications.

New Technologies, New Ways of Working

Change management is an area that is too often under-funded. The more advanced the digital workplace, the more money spent on “education, training and change management.” The majority spend 13 percent of their overall budgets; early adopters spend 18 percent organizations that are the most advanced in their digital workplaces, that is to say the top 10 percent of organizations surveyed, spend 22 percent.

Gloria Burke, survey participant and Director of Knowledge and Collaboration Strategy and Governance for Unisys stresses a fundamental truth: “Most important of all, remember that technology is just an enabler. People drive the success of social collaboration.”

Image courtesy of Kuzma (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read a different perspective on the digital workplace, try Oscar Berg's Six Core Digital Workplace Capabilities: Designing with the Workforce in Mind