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While no two digital workplaces are the same, they do face some common challenges and tests along the way PHOTO: rawpixel.com

If you've ever looked for inspiration while designing a digital workplace strategy, you've probably come to a realization: every organization's digital workplaces looks a little different. 

Examples and best practices can be industry specific, and in cases even proprietary. So defining your plan requires an understanding of the specific needs of your organization in order to establish priorities. 

What digital workplaces do share in common though are some specific challenges. 

At the Microsoft Inspire Conference this year, CEO Satya Nadella described the modern workplace as a combination of context and motivation, and explained why an integrated simple system is needed for collaboration and teamwork to thrive.

But to reach this ideal state of the digital workplace and to realize the benefits in productivity and frictionless work, we must first examine the current digital workplace challenges to help define our path forward. 

Challenges of the Digital Workplace

Let’s break down the concept of the digital workplace by identifying some of the top challenges that arise when designing implementation roadmaps. These challenges may present tactical next steps in moving towards a digital workplace.

Application Integration

Businesses are renewing their focus on enterprise architecture, assessing their IT infrastructure to take advantage of cost savings the cloud and SaaS offers. Many are taking an approach which integrates legacy on-premises line of business applications with cloud-based productivity tools.  

This need for application integration and enterprise architecture in a hybrid realm is becoming a more frequent occurence.

Security

More applications/systems and sharing creates a greater landscape to secure.

With greater surface area to protect, security is becoming more and more challenging to ensure. With changes occurring at the enterprise IT layer, the security landscape must adapt to cover a different scope of parameters.

The need to collaborate with external partners and to have secure, supported means of doing so is a top demand — and an area where significant productivity gains could be achieved. However, securing and managing this external collaboration data remains the biggest challenge for many.

Simplicity in a World of Complexity

It's human tendency to want to be as thorough as possible. And often that drive towards thoroughness adds needless complexity to what could otherwise be a simple process.  

Users expect simplicity, automation and seamless integration. A simple systems that handles complex problems is the ideal for the digital workplace. Emerging IoT, AI and data transformation capabilities are making the creation of such solutions possible. 

Alignment/Uniformity

No one solution fits all. Some solutions and systems can be global, but depending on your process, culture and responsibilities, the digital workplace will look different for different audience types within your organization.  

An audience analysis is a great place to start in identifying how to address the needs of each respective group.

Document Management

Like it or not, someone in your company (or perhaps many people) has a personal Dropbox subscription or equivalent cloud content management system. They are storing your company’s IP in their personal account. If they exit your company, the IP leaves with them.

Organizations still overwhelmingly favor on-premises file shares. Moving from these file shares to a cloud content management system is as much a cultural change as it is an IT project, but it’s one that must be done.

Training and Adoption

Whenever a new technology is rolled out, they're accompanied by a lot of buzz around user training, support and adoption campaigns. However, more often than not, users complain they were never taught how and why to use a new system, and that they were never given any governance structure around how to leverage their technology for their work.

Training is an interesting conundrum. No one ever has time for it while managing their daily work responsibilities, and yet negative feedback is the norm when asked about training for new systems.

Providing multiple training channels can help address many different learning styles and preferences — and give employees the flexibility to choose when and how they train. Adoption campaigns should be used to build excitement and awareness about the new system, but are also a great time to communicate governance strategy principles for a system.

Process Reengineering/Automation

Process automation campaigns are a great way to initiate your digital workplace. Making simple paper-based processes electronic with approval, routing and tracking leads to some quick wins and can improve productivity for everyone involved.

Larger line of business process reengineering will take more concentrated effort, and will involve discussing many of the challenges included on this list, but the potential for wins and transformation make the effort worth it. Measuring out the cost savings and benefits will help determine ROI for investment. 

Process automation is an area you can't afford to ignore.

Governance

Your digital workplace will touch many different areas, including process automation, collaboration, customer and partner engagement. Due diligance and compliance measures help clarify governance requirements for these areas. 

However, for areas like content management, knowledge base repositories and collaboration spaces, governance rules aren’t always as easily (or clearly) defined. Consider the policies and terms users will engage with in these areas. These aspects of the digital workplace can have as much impact on due diligence and compliance as the more formal work processes and as such, should not go neglected. 

Defining the purpose of the work load, acceptable usage scenarios and lifecycle can be a great way to initiate governance planning.

Your Digital Workplace Will Never Be Done

As always, digital workplace challenges and solutions will continue to evolve as the concept itself evolves. You're digital workplace will never be "done." Technological advances and new security threats will throw new challenges in your way, which you will have to respond to in your digital workplace design. 

Creating a digital workplace roadmap is a great place to start. By acknowledging your challenges up front, you'll highlight priorities and determine your next steps more easily. Going back to Satya Nadella’s description of a modern workplaces, aiming for a simple system that bring things together is a great vision to strive for.