Digital workplaces do not exist in isolation — they are part of a much bigger picture.

Frank Buytendijk, Gartner Fellow in Gartner's Data and Analytics group, opened the company's Digital Workplace Summit in London this morning with a recommendation for attendees: think about digital workplaces in the broader context. 

Buytendijk argues digital workplaces are part of digital societies. So when discussing digital transformation and digital workplaces, the conversation must open up beyond the scope of a single organization or company.

Digital Workplace: A Growing Concern

The conference, which opened today, will spend two days looking at how to build digital workplaces, how to implement digital strategies and how to manage work in this new and potentially disruptive landscape.

In his introduction of Buytendijk, Hanns Koehler-Kruener, managing VP at Stamford, Conn.-based Garter, pointed to the growth in the summit itself as a sign of the increasing importance of the space. 

By way of comparison, he noted in three years the Digital Workplace Summit surpassed Gartner's security summits in attendance.

In order to remain competitive, organizations need digital transformation and workplace strategies, Koehler-Kruener said. Many, though, are still struggling to understand what it is they need to do.

Putting Digital Workplace in a Broader Context

One of the biggest questions raised in the morning’s proceedings was one of semantics: what do we mean when we say "digital workplace"? 

For most businesses, technology is not yet an issue, worker engagement is not yet an issue, work practices are not yet an issue — because they are still struggling with this question.

But Buytendijk cautioned there's a bigger question to answer. 

“There is something much more important going on than the digital workplace.” 

Digital workplaces, he said, are merely a reflection of the digitalization of society in general. He defined defined the digital society as “the sum of all digital interactions” between people and technology. 

digital identity

“We are becoming digital citizens and our workplace needs to reflect that. If your digital strategy is not connected to the wider digital society, it is a waste of time. It has to be connected,” he said.

Organizations that ignore external digital trends risk alienating employees who interact with increasing amounts of technology in their day-to-day lives and as a result, bring the expectations those interactions create into the workplace.

“The point is what do you do about it? What is your view of where this is going? Are you afraid of it? Do you complain about threats to your privacy? Do you ignore it? Is your goal as a leader to create the best digital workplace possible? Do you take responsibility for it?" Buytendijk asked.

Changing Relationship Between People and Tech

More than ever, Buytendijk argued, technology is part of our identity. Identity is a combination of the way we look at ourselves and the way people look at us.

digital selves

The line is blurring between the "real world" and the digital, with the two becoming co-dependent. As an example, Buytendijk noted how a withdrawal from social media would impact his identity.

In a way we are allowing machines to represent us, further blurring the lines. Interactions between humans and technology are evolving, he argued, with people no longer differentiating between people and things, but merely viewing them as "interactions." 

This outlook extends to users in the digital workplace.

But Buytendijk questions the accuracy of the term "user." He pointed out, for example, that we don’t call ourselves users of animals, or describe ourselves as users of children.

“The point is we are not users of technology either. In the digital workplace, the worker is an interactor with technology, not just a user,” he said.

Businesses need to consider these changing human-tech dynamics within digital society when looking to develop their digital workplace strategies. We can expect to hear more on digital workplace strategies from day two of the conference.