James Robertson, 2019 contributor of the year on CMSWire: "Spend time in call centers, in the field, in the hospital; wherever work gets done. Then take those insights into your projects"

A fair amount of planning needs to go into building a dry stone wall, as the builders don't have the benefit of mortar to hold all of the disparate pieces together. The same can be said for creating a digital workplace, where managers are tasked with bringing together multiple elements to deliver a stronger whole to employees. James Robertson has experience with both. 

As founder of Step Two consultancy, James uses his extensive experience in the intranet world to help organizations create practical plans to improve their intranets and digital workplaces. His experience is also evident in his monthly columns for CMSWire, where he advocates for an increased focus on the digital employee experience.

'Spend Time With Employees'

What's your proudest accomplishment — personal or professional — from 2019?

Building a dry stone wall (think English countryside) at our farm two hours south of Sydney. Oh, and breathing more life into digital employee experience (DEX) as an emerging topic.

What gives you hope in the tech world today?

The enterprise big tech companies have finally started to focus on empowering the individual staff member, rather than just meeting the needs of IT or compliance. We're finally starting to treat our employees as responsible adults!

Which of the articles you wrote for CMSWire this year was your favorite and why?

I'm all about giving practical advice that teams can make use of, drawn from what I'm seeing around Australia and around the globe. On this note, my favorite article from 2019 is "Don't Call Your New Intranet the Digital Workplace," as it makes clear that words matter when planning and designing solutions.

If you could wake up tomorrow and be an expert in one thing, what would it be and why?

I'd love to wake up as an expert in electronics, harking back to the experiments and projects I did as a kid. I could then properly join the "maker" community, and bring together physical and digital solutions, most likely for use around the farm.

What is your favorite part of the work you do?

Hanging out with intranet teams. It's no exaggeration that intranet folk are pretty much universally nice, with a genuine focus on making life better for staff. I've been in this field for more than 20 years, and if it wasn't for these lovely folk, I would've left a long time ago ...

What's an important story you'll be tracking in 2020?

I'm interested in — and worried about — the emergence of what I'll call "digital workplace overload." We're madly deploying new platforms and tools into our organizations, adding on top of what's there. Office 365 alone delivers new tools every week (!).

I fear that employees are shifting from being apathetic about work tools to feeling overloaded, and overwhelmed. We need to make things easier in 2020, or all these new platforms are for nothing!

What advice would you give someone starting out in your field today?

Spend time with employees — the ones who do the real work. Spend time in call centers, out in the field or in the hospital — wherever the work gets done. Take the time to really listen to and understand how employees work, and then take those insights into your projects, and into your heart.