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We've had digital workplaces as long as we've had PCs and email — they just haven't been very good PHOTO: Andre Charland

Hands up — who has a digital workplace?

Let’s try this again: Hands up everyone who has a digital workplace? Everyone put your hand up. 

That’s better!

The term "digital workplace" is relatively new, and is only now gaining interest and momentum. Yet organizations have had digital workplaces since the earliest days of PCs and email, they’ve just not been very good. 

Our goal now must be to deliver good — or ideally, great — digital workplaces.

What Is a Digital Workplace?

At Step Two, we have a very practical definition for the digital workplace:

“A digital workplace consists of the set of tools, platforms and environments for work.”

This is a very broad definition, encompassing every digital tool and system within organizations. It includes everything from Outlook and Word, to SAP and SharePoint. It covers how staff login each day, the devices they use and how they connect to the projectors in meeting rooms.

It reflects a staff-centric viewpoint, recognizing that staff don’t understand what all the different systems are behind the scenes, they just want to get on with their work.

It’s clear from this definition that organizations have had digital workplaces since the earliest days of mainframes and PCs, we just didn’t call them that.

What’s also clear is that the digital workplaces we’ve been providing to staff have been pretty terrible. Different applications and systems have proliferated, inconsistent in their design and often plagued with usability issues. We've even struggled to achieve basic things like single sign on.

So while every organization has a digital workplace, it’s just not good enough. We need to do better and we’ve now got the technologies and skills to achieve it.

What Makes a Great Digital Workplace?

If the definition of the digital workplace is a simplistic one, a much more interesting definition is what makes a great digital workplace:

“A great digital workplace consists of a holistic set of tools, platforms and environments for work, delivered in a coherent, usable and productive way.”

This is a definition worth striving for. And it’s the attributes of a great digital workplace that guide what to deliver, and how to design it.

The starting point is to create a strategy that looks holistically across the various platforms and tools in play. While it’s impossible to orchestrate the deployment of every tool, a great digital workplace will only start to emerge when all the key players are sitting around the same table, working towards a common vision.

A holistic perspective also highlights that the digital workplace isn’t just a single platform or tool. Office 365 and other cloud tools are introducing new ways of working, but they aren’t the digital workplace. Similarly, the digital workplace isn’t just a new name for the intranet, although it does play a key role as the enterprise front door.

Once digital workplaces are considered as a whole, organizations can then start to design great employee experiences.

These make it effortless and easy for staff to get their work done. While there will always be many different systems running within businesses, the complexities around key tasks are hidden behind the scenes. Not every platform must look and work the same, but a great digital workplace ensures staff are never confused about where to go next, or where to look for information.

Delivering these coherent, usable and productive experiences for staff starts from their initial induction, right through to when they leave the organization. They must be considered when applications are custom-built and whenever new products are purchased. While they focus on the front-end experience for staff, they have a big impact on the underlying technology decisions.

Onwards to a Great Digital Workplace

There are many different definitions for the digital workplace, including the one put forward by Step Two. While the wordings vary, all encompass 'everything digital' within organizations.

So it’s time to pick whichever definition suits your purpose. But consider that the start of the journey, not the end. The challenge is to deliver great digital workplaces, that help staff get their work done, as well as providing productivity gains for organizations as a whole.

With new technologies and skills, I’m confident that the next few years will see a genuine transformation in how work is done. I’m looking forward to participating in that journey!