If you think chief information officers and other technology champions in the digital workplace have challenges, you’re right. Practitioners shared many of the challenges they face during the second annual Digital Workplace Experience conference this week at the Radisson Aqua Blu Hotel in Chicago. The conference is a co-production of Simpler Media Group, the parent company of CMSWire, and Digital Workplace Group.

Disconnect Between End User Needs and C-Suite Understanding

Recent research from Gartner validated the struggles of attendees in digital workplace technology adoption, strategy and measurement. The Gartner digital workplace survey found less than 50 percent of workers (both IT and non-IT) believed their CIOs were aware of the digital technology problems they faced. 

Another sobering, though perhaps unsurprising, finding was: some millennials would rather go to Google than IT. About 53 percent of surveyed millennials outside the IT department told Gartner researchers one of their first three ways to solve a problem with digital technology would be to look for an answer on the internet.

And then there's perhaps the greatest challenge of all: ensuring digital workplace environments support a strong company culture, and establishing how exactly culture drives business outcomes.

Technology Moving Fast in Workplace. Can We Keep Up?

Perhaps no one captured the struggles better than Alan McGinty, senior director, Global Workplace Innovation Group at Cisco. In his role, McGinty is challenged to integrate the physical workspace with advanced technologies and policies that support a global workforce.

Headshot of Alan McGinty
Alan McGinty
“My concern is with the accelerating rate of technology and everything that's happening out there that moves faster than we can,” McGinty said. Many others touched on that theme at the conference. In particular, why do we ace customer experience and flunk employee experience when all these tools and technologies are readily available?

Funding, Defining the Digital Workplace, Measuring Ourselves

For many practitioners, the challenges stem from failures to incorporate design thinking into the digital workplace. We roll out solutions fast — and in the cheapest ways — and consider employee experience after the fact. 

Brad Grissom, senior advisor of digital workplace solutions at Southwest Airlines, wrote in a blog post summarizing his experience at the conference that digital workplace challenges boil down to three questions:

Headshot of Brad Grissom
Brad Grissom

Why Can’t We Get Funding and Priority? 

Grissom encourages fellow practitioners to clearly define outcomes instead of outputs when looking for digital workplace funding. “This will aid,” he wrote, “in making efforts more tangible, understandable and relatable to decision makers and check writers in your organization. When you start out by identifying a business outcome, it also makes it a lot easier to show value and the realization of benefits from your efforts as well.”

Will We Ever Reach a Consensus Definition of What the Digital Workplace Is?

Most don’t have a definitive definition of the digital workplace — and that’s a good thing, Grissom contends. We need to think beyond intranets, internal social and the occasional chatbot. “When we get to the point where we have a consensus definition, this space will be dead,” Grissom wrote. “Our inability to define the digital workplace speaks volumes to the ever evolving and growing landscape of ideas, methods, technologies and services that are currently flourishing. Let’s relish in this beautiful ambiguity and use it to initiate positive change in the places where we work.”

Are We Doing ‘Good’?

Organizations that want to truly know how they’re doing with digital workplace efforts should ask themselves a few simple questions, Grissom said. Are we making knowledge workers catch up on emails at night from home, put in a good two to four hours over the weekend to prepare for the upcoming week and expecting them to get things done anywhere on their mobile phones? Or are we providing an environment that allows them to flourish and execute during actual work hours?

Related Article: Why the Golden Circle Is Relevant for the Digital Workplace

Quest for a Unified Experience

headshot of Kishore Rajaraman
Kishore Rajaraman

It often isn’t easy to provide the unified, simple employee experience in the digital workplace. Kishore Rajaraman, who heads up digital transformation in human resources for Microsoft, said employees often find themselves in “multiple fragmented experiences.” New hires sometimes don’t know where to go to find what they need. They have log-in problems. With onboarding as the organization’s first impression for employee experience, Rajaraman said it’s critical to get this right. And as a digital workplace practitioner, that’s where his focus is right now.

“I definitely got a good sense where everyone is and the common challenges,” Rajaraman told CMSWire. “There are silos that are difficult to maintain.”

Learning Opportunities

User Experience Needs to Be Baked In from Day 1

headshot of Stacey Blissett-Saavedra
Stacey Blissett-Saavedra

If there is money that should better be spent in the digital workplace, it should be put toward user experience and design, said Stacey Blissett-Saavedra, CIO of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Blissett-Saavedra works with an internal technology team in her division, New York City’s central team of IT professionals and technologies, and a rotating slate of vendors and contractors.

User experience is sometimes “under-represented” in her digital workplace. Designing solutions is “where we suffer the most.” Why? Because, Blissett-Saavedra said, “when we look at solutions we want to get the solutions out there. And we forget sometimes that in order to make it really successful we have to spend the money in design and UX. We do some research in usability, but the investment in UX is always after the fact. It needs to be incorporated through the entire process.”

Blissett-Saavedra has a design background and acted as director of creative production at a former organization. She encourages IT professionals to seek knowledge and training in design thinking so that it becomes intrinsic in digital workplace strategy.

Related Article: How to Design an Effective Digital Innovation Campaign

Adoption Only Succeeds When You Stick With It

Headshot of Beth Kern
Beth Kern

Beth Kern, communications operations planning manager at John Deere, said digital workplace leaders need to “step up our role” and help software rollouts in organizations become less of a “push and move on” approach.

Kern plans to focus on getting employee input upfront to make for better deployments and systems of engagement. And then during and post-deployment, helping employees with change management and communication. “You run an agile sprint, but don’t just walk away after the sprint is done,” Kern said. “Keep it going. How do you get adoption to be successful?”

Employees don’t care if a new system or strategy in the digital workplace comes from HR or IT. They just want to know how it impacts them, how they should use it and what familiar tool they might lose as a result.

“You gave me Office 365 and you told me what to do with it through one email,” Kern said. “And you’re telling me you're going to take away my shared drive. So how do I use OneDrive instead? Let’s talk about this instead of just turning it off. That's something I'm learning.”

Learn how you can join our contributor community.