Are We Asking the Right Questions of the Digital Workplace

Are We Asking the Right Questions of the Digital Workplace?

4 minute read
Oscar Berg avatar

Maybe you have both, but struggle with adoption and suspect it has something to do with how well they fit together. You're not alone.

But before you try to answer these questions, are these the right questions to ask?

They aren't. What we should be asking is what do people need to get work done. Focus on the work, not the tool. 

Questions in Search of a Purpose

Questions like "where do intranets fit with ESN platforms" serve as yet one more reminder of how deeply stuck we are in technology-centric thinking. The conversation needs to turn to what digital services do people need to get their work done, and how do we design these tools to fit people's work styles and working conditions.

If we start with the employee in mind, we get a clearer view of how the capabilities both intranets and ESN platforms bring can help people work smarter together. People usually need a mix of both.

Employees need access to the kind of information resources and tools usually found on intranets, which serve predictable information needs and routine work. They also need connections with colleagues, to discover information that they didn’t know they needed until they stumbled upon it, and to work together on non-routine tasks.

Look at the intranet as part of an organization’s left brain hemisphere and ESNs as part of the right brain hemisphere. We need both. The task at hand and the problem we're solving determine what we need from each hemisphere.


Work isn't a place for knowledge workers, it's something we do. But most organizations' systems were designed for another reality. They support specific parts of an enterprise, for a reality when knowledge workers were the same thing as the white-collar workers sitting behind desks at an office, working 9 to 5.

Things are very different today. Employees across the enterprise need digital communication technology at work, not just white-collar workers. They need to get work done wherever and whenever necessary.


Shift Your Focus to Service Thinking

If we truly want to help employee productivity, we need to stop designing IT systems as destinations. We need to stop seeing IT systems as monolithic boxes into which we stuff as much features as possible. Instead, view IT systems as ecosystems of services, where we quickly assemble relevant services into applications and provide them to users in a way that fits both their work styles and work situations.

Learning Opportunities

This is the essence of service thinking.

Service thinking shifts focus from the technology to the users and the value that the service should provide. A service is an act that provides value to someone. It fulfills one or several needs of a customer and helps the customer achieve his or her goals. The customer experiences the service as a coherent and consumable whole.

Can you articulate this clearly for an intranet or ESN platform? It would surprise me if you could, because they are platforms not services.

A few years from now users will receive the capabilities we associate with intranets and ESN platforms via situation-aware services, across any device. This transformation won't happen overnight -- it cannot. But if your organization hasn't already started, it is time.

Software giants such as Microsoft have begun this work. It bases these services in the cloud, not on premises. It designs the services for consumers first, and enterprise users second (which, by the way, happen to be the same people). 

If you want a glimpse into the future to base your strategies on, look there. As platforms like SharePoint fade into the background, services that help people do specific tasks move to the forefront. It becomes irrelevant to talk about SharePoint. And no one talks about intranets.

Let's stop wasting time and energy discussing how one platform or type of solution fits with another. Let's understand what capabilities intranets and ESNs typically offer and see how we can provide them as services for employees to get work done.

It's time to transform the digital workplace from a landscape of siloed, monolithic and feature-overloaded systems into an ecosystem of services designed to serve employees' needs. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Derek Bridges 

About the author

Oscar Berg

Oscar is a Business Designer and CEO at Unicorn Titans, a Swedish digital innovation agency. He also writes and speaks about digital transformation, service design, collaboration, the digital workplace and the future of work. He is author of the book "Superpowering People - Designing The Collaborative Digital Organization" and the upcoming book "Digital Workplace Strategy & Design."

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