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Defining the Digital Workplace: Core Elements and Capabilities

8 minute read
David Roe avatar
It could be argued that every workplace today is a digital workplace, given the variety of new and emerging technologies now in common use.

It could be argued that every workplace today is a digital workplace, given the variety of new and emerging technologies now in common use. But in reality the digital workplace is more than the sum of its technologies. 

As Paul Miller CEO and founder of boutique consultancy Digital Workplace Group (DWG) explained in the first of this two-part series yesterday, the defining elements of a powerful digital workplace include a digital presence — a set of diverse services, devices and tools that allow people and content to be available wherever we are; Speed and efficiency — "a digital workplace must amplify productivity, efficiency and intelligence"; and clear policy, practice, strategy and governance. 

There are cultural changes in play, too, involving a different form of leadership, greater agility, flexibility and more.

Digital Workplace Experience

This June, DWG and Simpler Media Group, Inc., publisher of CMSWire and creator of DX Summit, will present Digital Workplace Experience. The three-day event will run June 19 to 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

Digital Workplace Experience (#DWEXP17) features a unique agenda of interactive workshops, live tours by real organizations and technology-driven breakout sessions led by practitioners, analysts and industry experts. It's designed to help attendees understand how others are meeting the challenges and effectively guide a seamless digital transformation.

Attendees will take deep dives into subjects within the four conference themes of culture and change, employee experience, intelligent workplace, and strategy and governance. Pre-conference workshops on Monday, June 19, will offer interactive, hands-on training on engaging modern workplaces, planning social collaboration projects and the future of intranets.

We hope you'll plan to attend.

For now, let's continue the conversation about the digital workplace we started yesterday.

The Question

What are the defining elements of a digital workplace?

The Answers

Jane McConnell, Intranet and Digital Workplace Strategies Consultant

Jane McConnell
Jane McConnell

McConnell is a researcher, speaker and advisor to organizations on the digital workplace and enterprise. In addition to conducting annual research for the Organization in the Digital Age reports, she works with management and digital practitioners to define meaningful digital workplace strategies and action plans. She also developed the Digital Workplace Framework, which was first published in 2013 and which has become a digital reference, self-assessment and diagnostics tool for many global organizations. Tweet to Jane McConnell

The term digital workplace is misleading today. It served a purpose seven or eight years ago when people began to use it in an attempt to widen minds, make people think beyond the classical intranet and take into account the larger digital work environment including social media platforms, mobile services and apps and the growing practice of telework.

DWG published an interesting article in March 2015 on the origins of the term digital workplace, starting with Paul Miller and myself in 2009. The author then analyzes definitions from different sources.

Today the term digital workplace is a trap. In spite of attempts by consultants and analysts (myself included) to orient the conversation around new ways of working rather than new technologies, too many people still primarily see the technology dimension.

Three years ago, I broadened and sharpened my focus. I’ve run surveys and published reports on the internal digital work environment annually for the last ten years with input from 300 organizations each year. Since 2014 my interest has been on the organization in the digital age. This is not simple rebranding. It fundamentally changes the essence of what we are talking about. It puts people first, workplace second and technology third. Of course all three blend together.

Every organization today is in fact in the digital age. It is not a goal. It is a reality. Organizations have strong points and weak points, and to facilitate understanding of what this means, I defined a Foundational Framework composed of three perspectives: Mindset, Enablers and Capabilities. Each perspective has three dimensions, which you can see on the illustration.

I’d like to call your attention to the three Mindset dimensions that are weak spots for many organizations today. This is where the greatest challenges lie, as do the greatest opportunities.

  1. Leadership: Influence from any level and from any part of the organization that results in change. This includes community leaders and internal change activists along with hierarchical leaders. Organizations that can enable their people to take charge of their own workplace, develop their digital skills, participate in communities and networks will have a motivated, entrepreneurial workforce. I wrote about this in Seeding an Entrepreneurial Work Culture. These organizations will be better able to serve their customers and attract talent.
  2. Asset: Managing the digital workplace as a strategic asset, essential for the organization. This includes decision-making, provision of resources, and senior-level accountability and sustained commitment. This dimension is improving, but unfortunately extremely slowly. I have 2016 data on slides 21 and 22 showing the slow progress.
  3. Culture: Attitudes, behaviors, styles and expectations in ways of working. This article in the Harvard Business Review goes into more detail: The Company Cultures that Help (or Hinder) Digital Transformation.

The overriding purpose of my Foundational Framework is to enable management and practitioners to understand how people and organizational characteristics are critical, even important than technology, as we move deeper into the digital age.

Neil Napier, CEO and Founder of JobRack

Neil Napier
Neil Napier
Neil Napier is the CEO and founder of JobRack, a specialized online job board for hiring Eastern European freelancers and remote workers for small businesses. He is a digital nomad and has created multiple Software-as-a-Service solutions to help small and medium businesses with lead generation and funnel building. His current focus is helping businesses create better growth systems. Tweet to Neil Napier.

Learning Opportunities

Running an entirely remote company, my definition of the digital workplace is first and foremost location independent. In physical offices, the work gets stored and processed on a computer, but the fact that restraints are keeping them in the office strips its digital element away.

After that, the digital workplace is asynchronous, being that the company time will essentially lose on the importance for digital companies. Some companies do impose working in shifts, but digital workplace shows its true face only when working flexibly. Each member of my team has different parts of the day when they are feeling productive. If I am constraining them to work in shifts, I am in fact taking away their productivity.

The third defining element and the one that has even enabled all of us to start our digital businesses maintain and grow them are cloud-based systems. When the entire workplace is digital, with no hard copies, printed versions, and archives or single stationary POS — if it’s not in the cloud, it’s not accessible to everyone, and it’s surely going to be lost.

The most important opportunity for me is that I can budget my company in a much scalable and cost-effective way. The hiring market is much broader, so one can always find more affordable employees to get on the team and the cloud-based systems keep the operational costs at a minimum.

As for the challenges, our team of 16 employees currently works from five time zones, the majority including digital nomads who travel and change time zones very often. This imposes various challenges on the business processes, deadlines, and communication which we have handled with the help of various tools, systems and communication rules.

James Robertson, Founder and Manager of Step Two

James Robertson
James Robertson
James Robertson is the founder and managing director of Step Two, a vendor-neutral consultancy located in Australia. In this role, he has helped high-profile organizations to develop intranet strategies, both within Australia and internationally. He is also the author of Essential intranets, What Every Intranet Team Should Know and Designing Intranets. He has also written more than two hundred articles and a variety of best-practice resources, including the Intranet Roadmap. Tweet to James Robertson

Every organization has a digital workplace: it's the sum total of all the digital tools, systems and environments that are provided to staff. The real question is: what makes a great digital workplace?

A great digital workplace provides a cohesive, seamless, usable and productive employee experience for staff. Four elements need to come together to make this happen: technology, business, design and people.

Of these, design is the most transformative, where design thinking allows the employee experience to be reimagined, driving underlying technology and business changes.

This highlights that the digital workplace isn’t a thing, a platform or even a set of technologies. It’s about cutting through the complexity of modern business, in a way that benefits the business and helps staff get their daily work done.

(James Robertson will conduct a workshop on June 19 and present a session June 20 at the Digital Workplace Experience 2017 in Chicago)


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