woman working on a laptop
Businesses put huge effort into managing the effects of physically moving offices, but fail to do the same when shifting to cloud-based working PHOTO: #WOCinTech Chat

An office relocation is happening. 

Medium and large companies alike are migrating to cloud-based digital workplaces, with Office 365 being the destination for many.  

But before your company jumps on board, you need to prepare. After all, do you know how this change will affect your business?

We are heading to what I like to call digital open-plan working, taking away the familiarity of local files and content fixed to our machine, and working "out in the open." 

Like a move from cubicles to an open-plan office, we should prepare for more than just the physical changes. Infrastructure and legal requirements will be tackled, but what about the elements that affect how we behave and interact in the digital open-plan office? How can you plan for this?

From a Desktop to a Shared Computer

Businesses put huge effort into managing the effects of physically moving offices, but assume shifting to cloud-based working is straightforward. 

It's not.

With a physical move, we understand the behavioral changes involved, which we try to support through change management — it's no different here.

Changing to a digital open-plan office and shared content will initially be hard to stomach for many people. Start by asking: what new expectations does it bring?

Like open-plan working, you need to make the impact clear to employees. Articulate how you expect people to share documents and have conversations. With the higher visibility cloud-based working entails, how can you ensure people feel safe working?

Make these expectations crystal clear. Most importantly, expectations of management should be set to encourage trust in how and where their teams work. That what employees publish is actually valued and listened to.

The Opportunities Open-Plan Working Offers 

With open-plan working, we move from individual working or small networks to wider networks. Therefore, the whole team needs to actively share their thoughts. After all, if our work is visible to a larger audience, it increases the opportunities to improve it.

But let's not stop there: let's use the power of connected networks to be proactive. Ask questions, post insights, question the status quo. Convey the benefits visibility offers — employees need to understand its importance.  

The most effective strategy to achieve all this is to start small and simple. Build up around people who already embody the desired behaviors. Let them blaze the trail, showing that it's OK to be seen. 

A mix of senior, mid-level and junior staff is ideal — influencers at all levels. And remove the hierarchical blockers to them doing so.

Digital Workplace Governance Brings Clarity

Cloud-based digital working means we will also meet our colleagues in new places. 

Whether it's as part of an Office 365 roll-out, meeting in Groups, SharePoint or Yammer conversations, or as part of adopting other digital tools using a mix of wikis, social collaboration tools and content management tools: With so many new forums, employees need to know what they should do where. Where do they go to discuss a project? Where do they go for an informal conversation on work in general? Where do they go to ask questions?

This form of digital workplace governance is not about do's and don'ts. It's simply about giving clarity on how to best use the different tools. Don't underestimate the importance of this: simple guidelines cut through digital workplace chaos.

Where Does Your Intranet Fit?

The intranet has traditionally been the starting point of the digital experience. It's where employees access information and a number of tools to get their jobs done. 

But what happens in a fully digital workplace? Is the intranet the starting point, or is your cloud platform the new point of entry? How does it all fit together?

Understanding the purpose of your digital workplace and how it relates to your intranet is a vital, yet often overlooked factor. There can be a significant amount of overlap. 

The way employees access information and tools is more complex. Information becomes more real-time, more associated with a person than an artifact. Accessing tools becomes irrelevant, as they make themselves available to us, from any device.

Ask the hard question: do we actually need an intranet in a digital open-plan office? 

The fluidity of cloud-based digital working makes employees less reliant on centralized information being pushed out to them. Content is becoming more conversational. 

Social collaboration tools, like Yammer, become the cross-silo means of communicating and interacting with the wider business. 

Personally I believe the traditional intranet can have a place as a starting point, a portal to enter your digital workplace. After all, we tend to pass reception on our way in, saying hello to colleagues. Possibly bumping into a client. An Intranet can bring relevant, or even unexpected things like the experience of walking into the office.

The intranet is also an easily identifiable place for the centralized management of formal documents and corporate information. 

Whether you should retire your intranet or not, you need to be clear as to what you expect from both your digital workplace and your intranet and how they relate. That way you can make the decision on how to maximize your investment.

Reaping the Benefits of the Digital Workplace

The opportunities for productivity, performance and innovation from a digital open-plan office are significant. Yet to make them work requires two things: 1) clarity and guidance on the purpose of the tools and 2) a culture of collaboration. Without these things, your tools will be just that — tools. Empty desks in an unused open-plan office.

Bring in the buzz, get the benefits.