If you work for a medium to large organization that's been around for a while, chances are there's plenty of room for improvement in your digital work environment. Take comfort in the knowledge that you're not alone.
My experience, working with medium to large organizations across industries, has shown that most of the problems fit into three main themes:
What would a bird's eye view of your digital workplace show? The answer, more often than not, is fragmentation and inconsistencies.
Organizations introduce new systems, tools and features on a regular basis, often with little to no guidance for employees on how to use them and little consideration of the complex systems, tools and features employees are already dealing with.
What's more, the systems and tools often offer overlapping functionalities and have badly designed user interfaces. Very little effort goes into customizing them to fit employees different needs, work situations and work styles.
All of these are symptoms of a technology-centric approach, which adds complexity to employees' jobs rather than reducing it. As a result, employees don’t find the time or energy to adopt the tools and develop new ways working.
For a long time organizations created digital work environments to optimize personal productivity, routine-based work and, to some extent, teamwork. While doing so, they neglected the fact that knowledge work increasingly relies on collaboration in networks, across locations and organizations and stretching far beyond traditional teams.
The rise of the digital workplace has also left employees feeling isolated and unaware of what is happening at work. Interactions with people in close proximity decreases, while interactions with people only known via email increases.
Furthermore, business software that specializes in specific business functions has manifested organizational silos, resulting in a lack of openness, transparency and sharing across silos, as well as a lack of common tools and ways of working.
Knowledge work — even computing — used to be tied to a specific location. We are in the middle of the shift: from working with a PC on a desk during office hours, to working from anywhere, at any time, using the device that best fits the situation and task at hand.
Digitally enabled knowledge work is no longer the sole domain of the knowledge worker. More people perform digitally enabled knowledge work, many of whom would be categorized as blue-collar workers. They never sat at a desk behind a computer, and never will. Yet organizations have failed to recognize this fact and create the necessary conditions for flexible working.
In many ways, employees today are more powerful as consumers than as employees. As consumers they have access to the latest devices and services that are attractive and easy to use. That's not often the case at work. So employees bring their private devices and software to work, in some cases paying from their own pockets for the tools they need.
It shouldn’t be this way. Employees should have the tools they need to get their jobs done. They shouldn’t have to cope with really bad ones or struggle without. They should have the flexibility to do their job wherever and whenever it needs to get done.
The Root Cause ... and the Fix
So what is causing all of these problems?
In my opinion, the lack of alignment and coordination among the service providers introducing these digital workplace systems and tools is the root cause.
This, in turn, is the consequence of a lack of shared mission, vision, value proposition/offering and incentives among the service providers.
Adding to the problem is inside-out thinking, a technology-centric mindset and the tendency of IT departments to see risk minimization — such as ensuring information security — as their overarching mission instead of enabling value creation.
Value is created when employees can use systems and tools to get their work done, collaborate to solve problems, innovate and so forth. They need digital tools and a digital workplace that empowers them to do this in the best possible way.
Individual service providers need to unite under a common mission, vision and value proposition and join forces to reduce the complexity, disconnectedness and inflexibility that hinder value creation.
This, to me, is what the digital workplace is really all about.