Smiling employees stand around a table. Table has a plaque on it.
PHOTO: Elliott P.

It goes without saying that organizations want to establish new, more productive ways of working. However, actually executing this remains a problem. A Gartner report this month found that by 2021 only about 25% of medium and large organizations will "successfully target new ways of working in 80% of their initiatives." Gartner referred to distributed decision-making, virtual and remote work and redesigned physical workspaces as some of the ways organizations are trying to establishing those new ways of working.

Be an ‘Orchestrator of Change’

The problem, according to Gartner and others we caught up with this week, is establishing change leadership. “Digital workplace leaders must realize that their role as the orchestrator of change is fundamentally moving away from previously ingrained leadership practices that view employees as a group resistant to change rather than involving them in co-creating the path forward,” said Carol Rozwell, distinguished research vice president at Gartner.

Related Article: 6 Signs Your Digital Workplace Needs a Change

Adoption Is the Goal; Change Management Is the Method

So, what challenges and blockers face digital workplace practitioners with initiatives for better ways of working? Brad Grissom, digital workplace strategies contributing author for CMSWire, said typically he sees more focus on rolling out the product rather than changing behaviors and improving ways of working. “People know that they should focus on the latter, but it is harder and they fall back on what is ‘easy,’ which is talking about a product and product features.”

As a practitioner (he’s a customer success manager for Microsoft), Grissom said he’s working on learning more and more about change management. “Change management needs to be viewed as a core competency for digital workplace practitioners. Too often, we’ve focused on ‘adoption’ when we should have been talking more broadly. Adoption is the goal; change management is the method.”

Technology and Behaviors Together Enable Change

Many practitioners say technology is not the solution to effective change in the digital workplace. Rather, they say it’s behavior and change management. But technology is a huge component, according to Isabel De Clercq, author of Social Technologies in Business and founder of connect|share|lead. Technology and behavior should not be seen as separate entities because they are forever intertwined, she said. “How are you going to nurture asynchronous knowledge sharing in communities if you don't have the right tools to do that? You cannot do that in email. You need a better tool."

De Clercq does recognize it's not just because you have the tool that behavior in the digital workplace will change. "You have to make people dream about possibilities in a positive way," she said. "And then you have to give them training. You have to help them believe in online communities.”

Related Article: 5 Strategies to Manage Change In a Digital Workplace

Get to Know Your Users

Another way to get your employees to adapt to change in the digital workplace is to get to know them better, according to Hanna Karppi, digital workplace manager at Sigma IT Consulting. “A thorough user study is a key success factor when implementing digital workplace tools,” Karppi said. “Getting to know the everyday routines, pain points and challenges of the users will help you not only pick the right tactics and actions for change management, but also build trust in the organization.” 

When people feel they are involved and get to express their wishes and concerns it is easier to get them onboard with change. User studies will also help you get money and resources for digital workplace projects if you can clearly show management the inefficiency of current digital workplace technology and processes. And, of course, you must demonstrate all the opportunities and improvements you can get by implementing new tools and ways of working.

Set Clear and Measurable Goals — And Follow Up

Implementing a digital workplace should not be seen just as a project, but as a continuous development of new ways of working, Karppi said. “Its effects should also be measured and followed up on continuously. Setting up goals before the implementation will not only help with measuring the ROI but also to plan the future development and possible corrective actions if the adoption is not on a desired level.”

As for the goals — measure them. They should be tangible. Clearly state what kind of behavior is wanted from the employees. The goals should be connected to the company strategy so it is clear the new tools and way of working support the business, Karppi said.

Related Article: Start Digital Workplace Change Management on Day 1

Encourage Community Participation at Employees’ Comfort Level

When talking about supporting change in the digital workplace, De Clercq referred to phrases such as “knowledge sharing” and “lifelong learning.” Part of that is encouraging participation in things like online communities. Employees, however, should not be pressured to log on and start posting. De Clercq supports a model called “consume, contribute, create." It encourages people to participate in online communities at their comfort level. “You don't have to start posting yourself,” she said. “There's a lot of value in consuming information that passes by. But we have to do it in a very conscious and in a very directed way. That of course starts with knowing which topic you're interested in.” Bottom line: you can be a consumer or a contributor in communities and knowledge-sharing settings and still get value out of it.

Find and Foster Champions

Finding those who are positive toward change and having them as your partners in the change process are more valuable than anything, according to Karppi. “Ambassadors, champions, coaches ... they have many names but one task: to act as examples to their colleagues and encourage them with the new tools and way of working,” she said. “Digital champions can be anyone despite organizational status, age or role. Some like to highlight the role of managers, but I believe peers make the biggest difference. If a colleague I trust and connect with uses new tools and recommends them to me, it is very likely I will give it a try."

Once you find your digital workplace champions, don’t forget about them, keep champions involved and rewarded. “Those who lead the way should be recognized and listened to when it comes to other change initiatives in the company,” Karppi said. “People who can influence their colleagues are extremely valuable to the organization’s success.” 

Related Article: The Changing Nature of the Workplace

Make it Fun

Driving change is always hard. If the purpose and benefits are unclear and the change implementation itself is not fun, it will be even harder. Remember that implementations in a digital workplace are about improving people’s work life, Karppi said, and giving everyone tools for flexible work, opportunities to collaborate and share like never before can save time for important tasks.

“So make sure you make the implementation and launch fun,” Karppi said. Morten Dal, formerly an internal communications manager at Pandora, shared with us last year that when his team implemented a digital workplace tool, they played music during go-live along with the gamification and cake-cutting ceremonies. “Get people excited about the change and show them benefits of the new way of working," Karppi said. "A well-known fact is that fun is one of the easiest ways to change people’s behavior for the better.”