Digital Workplaces Start With the Big Picture

5 minute read
James Dellow avatar

Delivering a truly transformational digital workplace comes down to this: the successful creation and execution of an integrated vision for people, place and technology. 

Developing different elements of your workplace independently is a waste of time if you fail to bring them together to create the best possible employee experience. But this immediately creates a barrier to change for businesses pursuing this goal — who exactly should own and lead this integrated digital workplace program?

Does an employee-centric approach mean human resources or internal communications should take the lead? Already people assume these functions are the natural home for rolling out platforms of engagement like Workplace by Facebook. But this underplays the increasingly sophisticated interest that facilities managers are taking in how the physical environment contributes to productivity, performance and well-being. 

Progressive CIOs are also embracing the problem of improving the user experience of enterprise software. 

The reality is there is no natural home for the digital workplace in a traditional structure that is built around business functions rather than outcomes.

Pitfalls of Single Team Ownership 

The danger is if one team leads the digital workplace, their natural biases will favor one aspect over others. 

For example, business teams are increasingly adopting the agile project management practices pioneered by software teams. But to make agile work you need the right combination of:

  • Culture and capability to use agile effectively
  • Technology to support co-located, remote and distributed teams
  • Fit-for-purpose physical spaces and services for those work practices which will also attract the right talent

Workplace by Facebook also exemplifies this situation, as it has great potential to support an employee experience that can be anywhere an employee is and contains acutely location-aware features. By limiting Workplace to a communication platform, you may receive only one third of the benefits it could deliver for your digital workplace.

But can you think of a single business function that could deliver all those features or outcomes?

You Need the Big Picture

One approach might involve creating a team to lead the digital workplace program, but even within that special task force you still find yourself dealing with how to align different business disciplines towards a common outcome. 

So regardless of how you address digital workplace leadership and governance, it is important to establish a vision.

A caveat: these types of strategic artifacts are prone to being ineffective. The process of developing a strategic vision is prone to resulting in nothing more than lip service to the stated goals. 

But in the case of a digital workplace, a multi-disciplinary program absolutely needs a strategic map to guide the activities and encourage collaboration across the functional siloes of the business. 

The right vision will bridge the gaps between the islands of expertise we need to connect. And without such a map, experience tells me the different teams will naturally settle on delivering the project within their sphere of control and accountability, rather than focusing on the bigger picture.

Learning Opportunities

As a human-centered designer and digital workplace strategist, I also advocate that digital workplaces should be designed in a way that is inclusive and participatory. A strong leader or a group of influencers who can champion the case for investing time and effort into research and design is a critical success factor. But again, the first step will be to gain their input and support for the digital workplace vision you are creating.

Test New Approaches to Work

The final aspect, which also transcends any one function or team, is the importance of modeling behavior that reflects the vision. 

You do not need to wait until the digital workplace has been achieved in full to start this. One of the most exciting aspects of the digital workplace is that while the supporting physical workspace should be part of your scope, the ease of access to technology means it's possible to explore new practices and workstyles we want to establish. 

These pilots give people in the business permission to experiment with new ways of working, which can feed into the design process. Leaders and influencers play an important role by demonstrating how the business wants to work within the constraints of the current workplace design, guided by the future state vision.

What might this look like? Australian telecommunications company, Telstra, is a great example of a company with a strong vision, called “Future Ways Of Working.” Telstra also made extensive use of Yammer to change their culture. 

This vision was eventually reflected in their flagship office in Sydney at 400 George Street:

Learn more of the backstory from Nicole Birbas, who was previously the general manager of the Future Ways of Working program at Telstra. 

Telstra's efforts were featured in Step Two’s intranet awards and David Thodey, Telstra's former CEO, also provided insights into its use of Yammer in a three-part interview with Laurence Lock Lee of Swoop Analytics.

Start With the Vision

Eventually you will reach the point where the rubber hits the road, forcing you to deal with the inevitable tactical issues related to technology implementation, adoption of new work practices and ensuring benefits realization in your new digital workplace. 

But it all starts with a vision, which helps align a coalition of expertise and leaders behind a common goal: to create a high performing, integrated digital workplace.

About the author

James Dellow

Passionate about changing the way the world gets work done using digital technology, James has spent much of the last decade specializing in human-centered IT solutions that help people connect, communicate and collaborate with each other. His professional experience includes working in a variety of information and knowledge management roles and as a consultant with a wide range of government, professional and blue chip companies.

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