people on a train
Digital workplaces have, at least in theory, enabled many workers to do their tasks from anywhere. PHOTO: Chilanga Cement

Work has changed — and the evolution is far from over. Culture and technology are rapidly transforming, pressuring businesses of all kinds and all sizes to adopt workplace strategies that better align with new ways of thinking and doing.

Welcome to the era of the digital workplace, an amorphous term created to crystallize this changing world of work.

Gartner defines the digital workplace as "a business strategy to boost employee agility and engagement through a more consumerized work environment." Deloitte defines it as "the natural evolution of the workplace," encompassing "all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace" — including email, instant messaging and enterprise social media tools and virtual meeting tools.

But the promises of the digital workplace remain ephemeral. Last year, Prysm, a Silicon Valley video wall designer and manufacturer, hired Forrester Consulting to evaluate the adoption and use of collaboration technologies and tools in the enterprise. The responses from 1,000 IT and facilities workers in the US and UK show the workplace revolution remains incomplete:

"Workers find in-office technologies stunted and ineffective, to the surprise of technology managers providing the solutions. Most offices lack compelling solutions for collaborating with colleagues, customers and business partners, any of whom might be in person or remote at any given time."

Where do we go from here?

Digital Workplace Experience

This June, Simpler Media Group, Inc., publisher of CMSWire and creator of DX Summit, and strategic partner and boutique consultancy Digital Workplace Group (DWG) will present Digital Workplace Experience. The three-day event will run June 19 to 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

Digital Workplace Experience (#DWEXP17) features a unique agenda of interactive workshops, live tours by real organizations and technology-driven breakout sessions led by practitioners, analysts and industry experts. The conference will help attendees understand how others are meeting the challenges and effectively orchestrate a seamless digital transformation.

Breakout sessions will take deeper dives into subjects within the four conference themes of culture and change, employee experience, intelligent workplace and strategy and governance. Pre-conference workshops on Monday, June 19, will offer interactive, hands-on training on engaging modern workplaces, planning social collaboration projects and the future of intranets.

At a time when digital excellence and employee engagement are more often aspirational than actual, the conference promises to fill a pressing need.

Creating a Digital Culture

In a recent CMSWire series of interviews with digital workplace specialists, some common elements and themes emerged. One of the most consistent is the belief that the best digital workplaces take a synergistic approach to fulfilling the wants and needs of people through processes and technologies.

The key message is that digital workplaces need not just a change of technologies, but also a change in work culture.

Sharon O'Dea, an independent digital strategy consultant, specializes in intranets, social media and digital engagement. She defines the digital workplace as the place where work gets done, connecting people through an ecosystem of tools so they can be productive, informed and engaged, wherever they are.

“First, it’s a means of communication top-down, bottom-up and, increasingly, peer-to-peer. Content in its myriad forms, from published pages to snippets of conversation, is the lifeblood of the digital workplace and the digital workplace is what makes that content accessible, findable and usable,” she told CMSWire.

The digital workplace should also provide a gate to an organization’s knowledge while at the same time enabling organizations to that intellectual capital to be effectively captured and shared with others as more of it is produced.

“Great digital workplaces also enable collaboration, whether that’s through conversation (using unified comms tools) or more complex co-creation of artifacts such as documents on platforms such as Jive or SharePoint,” she added.

“Digital enables people inside a business to collaborate effectively regardless of location. And as organizations become more fluid, great digital workplaces enable that collaboration to happen with external partners and suppliers too.”

In short, the digital workplace brings together all the systems and tools an employee needs to get work done — on their own, with others and with those outside the company.

She said successful digital workplace transformation makes businesses more flexible, agile and responsive, giving people within them access to the tools they need to get work done from any device and any location.

But where organizations are working in this way, they also need to make people feel connected to the organization and engaged with its mission and values.

Humanizing the Digital Experience

Boston-based harmon.ie has recently sharpened its product focus to take this into account by pulling its existing Collage tool into Outlook.

The aim was to humanize the digital experience. In respect of the digital workplace, David Lavenda, the company's VP of Product Strategy, said too many businesses overlook "making people productive" in a quest to enable technical components such as the cloud, mobility, data analytics and collaboration technologies.

“While many proponents focus on automation to replace people and lower costs, the real benefit of technology will be to help a skilled workforce make better decisions and be more competitive. The digital workplace that considers the humanization of technology will ultimately be the winners in the race to be competitive,” he said.

Digital Technologies

Michal Tsur, co-founder and general manager of New York City-based video platform developer Kaltura, said effective digital workplaces use technologies to supplement, amplify, simplify, improve on or substitute for the physical workplace.

“It starts with the devices that can access the digital tools and continues with an understanding that all tools need to be easy to use and operate,” he told us.

Tsur said there are three specific groups of tools:

  • Communication tools for managing video, audio, text and other rich media, both in real-time and for on-demand consumption
  • Collaboration tools that allow multiple people to collaborate, using these data types
  • Content and information knowledge management tools that enable users to manage, search, analyze and obtain personalized recommendations

“The critical elements that are orthogonal to the tools are the principles of real-time, identity and entitlement, personalization and engagement that make the digital workplace more efficient and productive,” he said.

(For more information on the digital workplace, considering attending the Digital Workplace Experience 2017 in Chicago.)