architect working on a drafting table
PHOTO: Daniel McCullough

The digital workplace is evolving into an intelligent workplace — and this change can't come fast enough. Technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and we are all struggling on a daily basis to find and digest massive amounts of information. 

While plenty of productivity solutions are available to make us faster and better at our jobs, adding yet another tool to our stack can sound overwhelming, especially considering the number of applications and systems we already use to accomplish our work.

In light of this, the new, or revamped implementation of a unified and intelligent digital workplace remains a priority for many organizations.

To deploy a successful digital workplace, you need a solid plan, or implementation blueprint, in place. An effective blueprint is created with a full understanding of the challenges your organization currently faces in mind. Three common challenges typically drive a company to adopt a digital workplace:

  1. Outdated Technology — Many businesses are underperforming simply because they’re using outdated, legacy applications and systems. Organizations interested in a cloud-based digital workplace are looking for a tool that is flexible, scalable, and easy to govern, with appropriate compliance and security controls. The growth of “Shadow IT” in recent years, where employees with a credit card go out and purchase cloud-based solutions without the approval or control of the organization, is a sign your technology isn't meeting employee needs.
  2. Poor Communication — Employees want, and I’d argue need, a place to consume relevant, curated content that is fresh and constantly updated. They want to be able to easily share the right information with the right people at the right time. They also want the user experience of their workplace (or intranet) to be personalized, relevant and easy to adopt.
  3. Evolving Operational Processes — Many organizations are struggling to manage virtual workforces that are increasingly remote. There is a growing need to drive employee accountability, recognition and engagement to new levels as well as increase information sharing. Implementing a digital workplace can drastically improve access to information and enable better transparency.

Once you understand the challenges your digital workplace must address, you can begin to create your implementation blueprint. The best way to develop this blueprint is to follow a simple three step approach, which involves identification, organization and unification.

Related Article: The Intelligent Workplace Couldn't Come at a Better Time

Step 1: Identify Your Needs

Armed with your understanding of why you are implementing your digital workplace, your next step is to outline the specific capabilities needed. Every successful digital workplace starts with laying out a foundation and infrastructure. What follows are some example questions to ask when working to identify organizational needs. For the following examples — and because it’s an extremely common and effective platform for deploying a digital workplace — I’ll be referencing Microsoft 365.

  • Do you know which Microsoft 365 capabilities are currently available?
    Microsoft 365 is the next generation of Office 365 (which is a component of the larger suite) and it’s rich features are being added to on a regular basis. Make sure you have a solid understanding of both the current feature set and what features will be available soon. The picture below gives you some sense of the breadth of features in the Microsoft 365 platform.

microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 features at a glance

  • Can you utilize the Microsoft 365 features you want while retaining existing investments?
    For many organizations, too much change can be disruptive — so know the limits. You may want to prioritize the features and space out sections of your deployment to give employees time to adapt. Communicating internally throughout the entire implementation process, including sharing goals, timelines, etc., is a great way to avoid drastically impacting day-to-day processes and keep everyone on the same page.
  • Are you interested in controlling your platform’s upgrade experience?
    The core challenge with a cloud-based SaaS platform is you cannot always control when new updates will get pushed through. It’s important to identify if and when this might become an issue, and when you’d need to potentially implement training and usability workshops. Failing to take this into account can result in a loss of credibility and trust in your digital workplace team within the organization, as well as a reduction in platform use and communication.
  • Is the digital workplace the primary role of your internal staff?
    Supportability is a critical factor to drive the longevity of your digital workplace initiative. Do you have the internal skills to be successful and take on new projects, or do you need to consider hiring, or engaging with an experienced digital workplace partner?

Related Article: Digital Workplace Design Needs a Human-Centered Approach

Step 2: Organize Everything

Now that you’ve identified what needs to be deployed and when, and whether you have the internal resources available to do so, it’s time to get organized. This includes getting familiar with content structure, determining governance and user adoption policies, and preparing for updates and changes. Questions to answer at this stage include: 

  • How is your content currently organized?
    Do you know the key topics used to track and label content within your current system? Understanding how your content is laid out will help to drive the sequencing of your deployment. If you're dissatisfied with the way things are currently structured, now is the time develop a better system.
  • Where is all of your content located?
    You’ve identified how your content is organized, but where is everything located? You’ll want to complete a comprehensive content inventory so nothing is misplaced or left behind during implementation and everything remains accessible afterwards.
  • How do you govern the creation of new technologies?
    Governance has always been a key driver of success when moving to a digital workplace. Not only should you understand what you want governed, but you should explore automation options for governance processes in order to make them more efficient. A common question that organization needs to solve with Microsoft 365 is what to use when?

Defining the collaboration spectrum for each organization.
Defining the collaboration spectrum for each organization

  • What does healthy adoption look like for your organization?
    Adoption is a standard measure of success of any digital workplace initiative. It typically evaluates active usage, or engagement. Describing exactly what your ideal adoption looks like ahead of time makes it easy to stay on track. Again, providing goals and timelines is an important part of keeping everyone informed and accountable. As adoption and engagement grows, make sure to continue to define and refine the key performance indicators that impact the future of your digital workplace.
  • What does it take to quickly deploy new technologies and adapt to changes?
    As mentioned earlier, cloud platforms evolve quickly. It’s likely that by the time your digital workplace is implemented, the underlying technology will have already evolved. So, how do you keep up with all the changes? For many organizations, this is a real challenge. One potential solution is to delegate specific areas of responsibilities to a technical committee.

Related Article: The Hills and Valleys of a Digital Workplace Road Map

Step 3: Unify All Systems Into a Coherent User Experience

We've previously discussed how employee engagement is a measure of and important driver of why organizations improve their digital workplace. To ensure strong adoption and ease of use, businesses are increasingly looking at their digital workplace as a place to unify their employees’ user experience. Critique your potential workplace by asking questions like:

  • Can you view all aspects of Microsoft 365 in one location?
    Many digital workplaces solutions, including Microsoft 365, do not always have a unified user interface. Organizations often look to simplify the interface and only allow employees to see and access exactly what they need. Working with an experienced Microsoft digital workplace implementation partner makes it easy to customize your digital workplace to work best for your business.
  • How do you collaborate across communication channels?
    Microsoft Teams, an application of Microsoft 365, is becoming the de facto standard for enterprise organization collaboration. Determine the best way to integrate Teams, or something like it, into your workflow in order to keep communication channels open — whether employees are in the office or working remotely.
  • How can you translate content for international teams?
    For global organizations, language barriers have often been a deterrent for successful intranet adoption. Translation technologies embedded in the digital workplace have come a long way to improve this. You don’t need to create content in multiple languages if you have the right software.

Whether or not you follow these exact steps to develop a digital workplace blueprint isn’t as important as making sure you take the time to create some sort of implementation plan before engaging in a workplace deployment. Having this type of strategic roadmap will make it infinitely easier to stay ahead of your goals, keep everything unified, and handle any challenges during the process. Remember to spend time identifying specific problems before looking at solutions, and to map, organize and prepare.