man walking across the plaza
Technology puts the “digital” in the digital workplace, but it’s up to leaders to implement the processes that make it work PHOTO: Andrew Gook

How do you create a successful digital workplace? 

The answer for too many organizations has been to adopt a patchwork of technologies and see which ones, if any, stick with employees. 

Unfortunately, more tools typically introduce more challenges, including confusing overlap, productivity-killing distractions and painful fragmentation. Leaders often respond by — you guessed it — throwing more solutions at the problems. 

It doesn’t help that both traditional stack vendors and emerging app providers keep coming up with new answers for some of the same problems they are helping to create. 

It’s the catch-22 of the 21st century enterprise.

Stop Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks

In the ideal digital workplace, your new systems should change the ways employees work rather than simply acting as a conduit for the same inefficiencies and bad habits your organization struggled with in the past. 

They should be adaptive, offer federated search capabilities that address the new world of cross-border collaboration and provide seamless integration with the tools employees are already familiar with to reduce inefficient context switching. By emulating the ways in which people use technology in their personal lives, your employees can be more productive, more engaged and less likely to bolt when they spot that enticing new job alert on Glassdoor.

First, though, businesses need to start treating their internal initiatives with the same regard as they do external ones. 

Part of that means thinking about the technology itself in new ways. For example, say you’ve decided to replace your 14-year-old, duct-taped static portal with a brand new intranet. Do you really want your updated system to replicate the same workflows as the old one, just because that’s “the way we’ve always done things?” 

When put that way, of course you don’t. But you’d be surprised how often that happens in the real world. Creating a true digital workplace is not all about technology, however. Set yourself up for success by taking the following steps.

Set the Stage for Digital Workplace Success in 3 Steps

Develop an IT, HR and Corporate Communications Partnership

One big reason internal digital transformation has become so unwieldy is that most of the dollars organizations set aside for change management are directed at customer-facing, revenue-generating solutions instead of behind-the-scenes operational systems. 

Of course you want your company’s customers and clients to have the best experience possible when they interact with your brand. But when you fall into that mindset you forget: your company’s customers are another’s employees and vice versa. 

People who are used to seamless interactions with technology in their consumer lives too often face technical obstacle courses at work. That can lead to some costly outcomes, including lost productivity (an estimated $1.3 trillion annual drag on the U.S. economy), lack of engagement (half a trillion dollars and change) and turnover (one and a half to two times an employee’s annual salary). 

As the old saying goes: one step forward, two steps back. A strong partnership between IT, HR and Corp Comms will help decision-makers get a more holistic view of the entire enterprise — and distribute budgets more judiciously.

Get Executive Sponsorship of Your Digital Strategy

If leaders don’t buy in to the organization’s digital strategy, neither will employees. 

Advertising uses a term, “effective frequency” to describe the number of times a consumer must see an advertisement before they purchase a product or service.(Although somewhat controversial, the magic number for B2C is somewhere around 20.) If leaders aren’t using the company’s new interactive intranet themselves — and using it often — to execute a vigorous internal communication strategy, workers won’t have much incentive to use it either. 

Executives should proactively share announcements about important business initiatives, discussions reinforcing the company’s mission or blog posts celebrating new customer wins and employee achievements. Remember the phrase “effective frequency” whenever you need to get the word out.

Create Nimble Processes

This builds on my earlier point about changing the way employees work. You already know it’s a bad idea to import earlier inefficiencies, so think “nimble processes” instead. 

The world of work is changing fast, so your digital workplace must evolve along with it. The term "non-routine work" isn’t just a catchphrase bandied about in corporate boardrooms, it’s becoming the norm as technology continues to take over more and more routine and even semi-routine tasks. You could also call this “agile work.” 

The good news is that, in the future, most employees will be freed to focus on more human endeavors like ideation, innovation and identifying new opportunities than ever before. That’s why the ideal digital workplace should capture valuable corporate memory [PDF] so when someone’s unavailable, others can still jump in and take over — no matter how complex the project. 

Having everything in one place also means you can get the most out of your analytics, further driving success.

Do You Want a Digital Workplace Triumph or Tragedy?

Technology puts the “digital” in the digital workplace, but it’s up to leaders to implement the processes that determine whether your organization’s transformation ends up being a triumph or a tragedy. Following the above steps will put you on the path toward success but, remember, no matter how you proceed, agility matters. 

By tapping into the power of technology to build a strong series of new behaviors among your employees, you’ll be in an excellent position to deliver strong results against your business needs. And isn’t that the whole point of the digital workplace anyway?