maps and legends
People looking for a single solution to the digital workplace should stop. Because we're all solving different problems PHOTO: Milada Vigerova

Since before the turn of the century, people have been looking for a way to make a digital workplace. 

From portals to collaborative platforms to Enterprise 2.0 tools, a continuous wave of tools has appeared, each seemingly searching for a problem to solve. Every single one of the technologies has been ideally suited for some organizations, but no proverbial silver bullet has emerged because we are trying to solve more than one problem. 

Enchanted by Sirens

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus wanders the Mediterranean, trying to find his way home. At one point in his journey, he comes across the island of the Sirens. Their song was said to enchant sailors, leading them to steer to their deaths upon the rocks. 

Odysseus had his crew tie him to the mast so that he could hear the songs while his crew filled their ears with wax.

As they sailed by, Odysseus struggled against the ropes, beseeching his men to set him free and turn toward the island. The sailors ignored him and the crew safely proceeded beyond the range of the song. 

The song was so enchanting that had Odysseus been free to act, his crew would have died.

The Lure of the Perfect Digital Workplace

In many ways, Odysseus's brush with the Sirens describes the search for the perfect digital workplace. 

We all hear stories of how a tool has helped another organization become more productive and collaborative. Wanting our organizations to also be more productive and collaborative, we evaluate the software and maybe even begin a project. We may see results during a proof-of-concept but when it is rolled out to the larger organization, usage all but disappears in six months.

This is not uncommon. We feel like we’ve failed but it wasn’t the software that failed. We didn’t take the time to understand what we are trying to accomplish with the software. 

It is easy to say that we want to improve productivity, but what does that mean?

Define the Problem Before You Suggest a Solution

It boils down to identifying the actual problem to be solved. 

Want to improve productivity? Define the metrics that measure productivity. Is throughput the problem? Is net margin? Is it a combination of metrics? Identify those key metrics, determine how they could be manipulated and identify metrics that would shine a light on any manipulation of the metrics.

Then measure your organization. Go back several years to try and get a sense of what normal is for your organization. Are their seasonal fluctuations? Was one year bad because a key partner went out of business? 

Seek to understand the numbers and identify what constitutes the normal baseline.

Finally, sit down and determine what is holding the numbers back from improving. Are there roadblocks? Are their miscommunications or a lack of shared understanding? Are people continuously having to learn how to solve the same problems over and over?

Once you have identified the problems, you can determine the solutions. It may be as simple as a change to the current process to streamline efforts. It may be that a tool is required that allows a central collection of communication in written form so no confusion can arise. Perhaps a full-blown digital cockpit is required so staff have everything they need for their job on one screen.

Solve the Problem and Iterate

It is critical that we, as technologists, do not push technology. When we do that unnecessarily, it destroys our credibility. 

We need to avoid singing the benefits of a tool and ignore the siren songs from vendors. While there are lessons to be learned and value to knowing the tools that are out there, our first task is to define and measure the problem.

Identify, prioritize and act. As you start to gather successes, the benefits of a new tool will become more obvious. People’s willingness to adopt a recommended tool will increase as your successes add up.

A digital workplace is the ultimate goal, but not every workplace is the same. Not everyone can go digital in the same manner. 

You need to understand the pros and cons of the existing analog workplace before you can chart the journey to a fully digital world.