Build Digital Workplaces Fit for the Future

5 minute read
Elizabeth Marsh avatar

That’s rather a tall order isn’t it? Building a digital workplace fit for a future that is unknown to us -- and possibly even unknowable given the unpredictable and disruptive nature of digital progress.

The solution to this tall order lies in pulling out the enduring principles and themes we see operating in successful digital workplace programs, especially those that are not technology-specific. The nature of the organizations and the scope of the programs themselves may vary, but the nuts and bolts of the mechanism, such as clear strategic alignment, user-centered design, strong governance and rigorous measurement, are common to them all.

1. Understand where your organization is at right now

There is a curious notion that the digital workplace will arrive fully and perfectly formed at some unspecified point in the future. All I can say is, it’ll be a long wait!

The digital workplace is here, now: every organization has one, whether it’s a joy or a misery to use. The first step in building that fit for the future digital workplace is to understand what your environment looks like right now: the “as is” landscape. In Chapter 10 of the new book “The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future”, we set out a model to help you do this.

2. Define what 'digital workplace' means in your organization

Getting hung up on terminology isn’t helpful, but understanding what terminology works in your organization (and ensuring that there is a common understanding of this) definitely is. The term “digital workplace” seems to be gaining traction because it speaks to both business and technology people. A simple definition is: the collection of all the digital tools provided by an organization that allow its employees to do their jobs. This includes: intranets, unified communications, microblogging, HR systems, email, mobile applications, collaborative spaces, supply chain and customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

3. Align the digital workplace vision with business strategy

It sounds like teaching granny to suck eggs, right? But research from Gartner has shown that, while social collaboration is now deployed in 70 percent of organizations, there is only a 10 percent success rate. It attributes this to a worst practice approach of “provide and pray.” And the same is true across digital workplace projects. Getting strategic alignment right means engaging stakeholders from across the organization early on and understanding how the digital workplace program can support organizational objectives.

4. Make a powerful business case

Engaging with stakeholders will reveal the metrics that matter to senior executives, in turn guiding the business case. In recent years a critical mass of evidence has emerged around the very real value the digital workplace can contribute to the organization. More than this, it has been shown that an effective digital workplace is essential to the competitiveness of the organization. Benefits including cost optimization, people and productivity, business continuity, corporate social responsibility, increased revenue and accelerating innovation can be powerful drivers for investment.

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5. Keep people at the heart of your vision

If you only remember one of those criteria, make it this one: the only digital workplaces that are fit for the future are the ones that are fit for human beings to inhabit virtually. This may sound idealistic, but for digital workplace practitioners it’s all about a very practical set of tools and techniques that help us understand what colleagues really need. It means applying user experience techniques at the level of the whole digital workplace; articulating failings and assessing impacts (the level of “user experience debt”); putting in place standards for digital workplace design; and working with procurement to prioritize user experience.

6. Win hearts and minds

The digital workplace program will involve a diverse set of stakeholders and priorities, and a perceived loss of ownership or autonomy can lead to resistance to change. Successful programs always show clear evidence of strong leadership, passionate evangelists and/or change champions.

Having a vision that is shared and understood by the stakeholders is also a critical success factor in achieving alignment. In the quest to win the hearts and minds of stakeholders at all levels and in all areas of the organization, don’t assume that everyone will just “get” the vision -- use visuals, tell stories, present clear data and metrics.

7. Measure, learn and evolve

Cycling back around to where we started ... the details of our digital future are possibly unknowable and certainly unknown so far, even if the contours are becoming clearer. So how do we know we’re heading in the right direction? By defining and regularly reviewing appropriate KPIs and metrics for the digital workplace program. Rather than seeing the digital workplace as something we will deliver in one fell (fantastical) swoop,we need to continually learn from users, monitor metrics and assess new technologies as they become available. This is about an iterative rather than a “big bang” approach.

It’s up to us, as digital workplace professionals, to remain restless and to some extent dissatisfied, because it is this that will keep us on our toes: always wanting to understand the new frontiers of technology and constantly relating what we learn back to how people really live and work.

About the author

Elizabeth Marsh

Elizabeth Marsh provides freelance consulting, research and writing services relating to the digital world of work. She has a wealth of experience working with a range of private and public sector organizations.

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