US Map from space
PHOTO: NASA

The idea of a distributed digital workforce has probably never seemed more relevant than it is at the moment. It’s a constant topic of conversation, and every day I’m exposed to multiple marketing messages promoting one technology or another promising to make my life easier.

But what good is the technology if I can’t find or access the things I need most to be able to work: content and data?

Just Going Digital Isn't Going to Cut It

A few hours before I sat down to write this column I was on a call and heard about an organization that was involved with geographical surveys who had transitioned to a fully distributed digital workforce. And while they had their collection of 2 million maps and associated documents stored digitally, they were almost completely inaccessible, stored in an online file and folder system with no indexing and no metadata attached.

How is anyone expected to get the information they need by browsing through 2 million files? Being digital doesn’t mean being automatically ready for people to be productive.

And it’s not just the systems that drive the usability of the digital workplace, it’s the hardware too. A family member was one of the first people in her organization to transition to working from home and was issued a laptop without a working microphone or camera, yet is still expected to participate in virtual calls using applications like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. None of the IT team had the experience of equipping people to work outside their firewall-protected building environment.

In both these cases the digital workplaces that had been set up, all with the best of intentions, were not usable by the people they were meant to help. Just going digital doesn’t mean you have a digital workplace if it’s not fit for purpose.

Related Article: What Do Employees Need in a Digital Workplace?

The Digital Workplace Is all About What People Do in It

No matter what technology you put in place, at the end of the day it’s about the people who use the technology, the context within they use that technology, and the content they need to be productive.

Recent research conducted by my colleagues at Nuxeo revealed that on average people spend just under an hour every working day looking for information and they search across an average (average!) of nine different systems to find what they need.

It’s not only looking for information that wastes time. In 60% of the cases where people can’t find what they need they, or others, spend time recreating it, often at considerable cost.

The real core of the digital workplace is understanding what people do in it.

What do they need, when do they need it, and perhaps most importantly why do they need it, and what do they need to do with it when they have it?Engineering the systems, workflow and the content to meet the answers to those questions is what forms the foundation for an effective digital workplace.

Related Article: The Digital Workplace Hub: The Next Wave in Collaboration