motorcycle desk
People's experiences in their out-of-the-office life are setting their expectations for the workplace PHOTO: Henri Bergius

References to ‘the digital workplace’ have become increasingly frequent in today’s organizations looking to … well, what exactly? 

In the course of my recent work with a broad range of businesses, it has become increasingly clear that there is no single understanding of what the digital workplace is and what it hopes to achieve. 

More Questions Than Answers?

In fact, many definitions of the digital workplace seem to raise more questions than they answer: Does it focus on internal practices, processes and employee requirements? Should it include all interactions with customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders? And most important, how does it replace, leverage or enhance our current digitally based working processes?

From these questions, the broad outlines of two components — workplace as strategy not location and seamless employee experiences — have begun to gain traction as possible common denominators that form the basis for describing what we currently mean by digital workplace. 

Digital Workplaces Are Seamless

One concept that seems to be getting traction in a broad range of organizations is that the digital workplace isn’t a location so much as a strategy that functionally supports and manages all the relevant aspects of an organization’s business. 

Under that scenario, envision the digital workplace, not as a single technology or platform, but as a sophisticated mash-up of legacy and modern technologies that rely on integration to deliver innovative and seamless approaches to business communication, processes and workplace collaboration.

Moving Beyond Intranets

Take the retail sector for example. There, the challenge revolves around providing a digital workplace capable of binding a broad group of diverse, geographically far-flung employees. 

It’s tempting in such environments to see intranet technology as the key to facilitating greater employee engagement, but that solution overlooks the fact that a true digital workplace must also seamlessly integrate existing operational systems. Employees must feel empowered to move without friction from one area to another without having to sign on to different systems or sacrifice instant access from both desktop and mobile devices. 

Digital Workplaces Integrate Work and Personal Experiences

A second overarching concept that seems to be gaining credence is that of a digital workplace that uses consumer-based technologies and associated user experiences to adapt to employees’ personal needs. 

What that means is that social media experiences are fast becoming the norm for the digital workplace. And because social media platforms have become so ubiquitous, they have rapidly become the templates that define the experience employees expect when using digital technology. 

Without necessarily realizing it, employees’ personal expectations about navigation, access to frequently used functions, engaging design and ease of use have influenced the technology they now expect in the workplace.

Demanding Personalization

What’s more, employee expectations about personalization now overlay their definitions of the digital workplace. They simply assume that their work environments will be configured, not only to reflect the culture of their organizations, but to facilitate their own sense of self-expression as well. 

This blurring of boundaries between work and home life means that the digital workplace must support not only employees’ work styles but their professional and social interests, too. 

Integration and Experience Will Define the Future

The evolving definition of the digital workplace can still mean many things to many people. Overall, though, those definitions seem to be converging on the digital workplace as a continuum where organizations increasingly adopt digital tools and prioritize integrating those tools into an expanding interactive environment.

 Add to that the challenge of integrating the same digital experiences that employees enjoy in their personal lives and there is plenty to think about. Organizations that can meet both challenges will be well on the way to realizing the promise of a proactive and fully engaged digital workplace.