Why the Best Digital Workplace Teams Don't Get High on Tech

5 minute read
Elizabeth Marsh avatar

“Not another new system.” “I don’t have time.” “There are so many tools already.” If any of these is a common refrain in your organization, it may be a symptom that the digital workplace team is high on technology.

Part of the problem is that shiny new technology tends to make the headlines and attract eyeballs, but we don’t always get to hear the more human stories about what makes those technologies tick.

Take Barclays as an example. They’ve made news -- and deservedly so -- with their highly adopted, award-winning My Zone app. Frontline staff have all the knowledge and interaction they need and want at the tips of their fingers, via personally owned devices or company issue iPads. All of which is no small feat in the financial services industry.

The hallmark of a great digital workplace team

I got to hear the team behind Barclays My Zone speak earlier this year. And here’s why the story gets really interesting for me: as one after another of the team got up to present -- practically quivering with excitement about the story they had to tell – it became clear to me that this team wasn’t excited about the technology itself so much as what they were doing to help their colleagues work more easily, effectively and enjoyably. In short, they demonstrated what for me is the hallmark of a great digital workplace team: they weren’t high on the tech, they were enthused by what it can do for people.

It’s a hallmark I come across again and again in pioneering digital workplace teams from organizations as diverse as Barclays, Automattic, Virgin Media, Cisco and PwC. For sure, there are many factors that make up a successful digital workplace program, but keeping humans firmly at the centre of that vision is critical.

Use technology to help employees do what they do better

Not getting high on the tech starts with focusing on what employees need: gaining an understanding of the challenges they face and what would make a real difference. There are no shortcuts here. Only by rolling up your sleeves and doing the research can you find out what really matters.

One of the key strengths of Virgin Media’s Flexible Working program is that, rather than talking about technology features, the team focused on how the technology could help people get work done more easily. They enabled simple, everyday tasks, such as audio and video conferencing seamlessly integrated into the intranet.

At the outset of their Connected Workplace program, Cisco mapped employee needs with research, identifying five core work styles, including highly mobile, campus mobile and workstation anchored. Having established a clear picture of how people work across the organization, they were then able to map technology to work styles.

Learning Opportunities

These approaches eschew the common mistake of getting excited about technology (“Have you seen this social stuff? We have to get social on our intranet”), then trying to retrofit user needs to justify it.

Align technology with what the business is trying to achieve

If the best digital workplace teams start with users, they also appreciate the importance of understanding business goals. Altogether too many technology projects fail to materialize promised benefits because the focus has been on tools and features rather than how the technology supports existing challenges and organizational objectives, as well as finding new ways to create value.

At PwC, a central challenge is how to get the best of its collective knowledge to clients everywhere in the world. The answer was to connect staff and enable them to collaborate seamlessly. The end result of setting this goal was the launch of “Spark,” a global social and collaboration network, which has received high levels of adoption, won awards and is gradually transforming the way PwC works.

The team behind Microsoft’s much admired Workplace Advantage program did extensive research into both user and business needs before coming up with its agile working proposition. An understanding of the business need to work in new ways and to attract the best talent led the team to develop a set of core principles -- such as attention to human factors – that underpin the program to this day.

Not getting high on the tech is a road to success

The powerful technologies that are rapidly transforming our workplaces are thrilling, and digital workplace practitioners must be up-to-the-minute with the latest trends and new developments. But we also mustn’t lose sight that the Digital Renaissance of Work is all about people.

Not getting high on the tech is a matter of priority. In shifting our focus away from technology, we uncover two key success factors for any digital workplace program: meeting employee needs and enabling business goals. There are more, but with these two in your toolkit, you’ll be able to make sure that the digital workplace program isn’t technology-led and doesn’t risk failure because of not meeting real needs across the organization.

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.