a frame made out of fingers repeating
When creating a digital workplace it's important at times to take a step back and look at the big picture. PHOTO: d_pham

There’s a sweet-sounding buzz in the air. It seems that 2018 may very well be the year the digital workplace starts getting the attention it deserves. And for those of us who have been quietly toiling away in this area for years, it’s about time.

The realization is dawning that companies must start taking the digital workplace experience seriously if they want to remain relevant. Tech natives and a growing number of their older colleagues expect their workplace technology to deliver a consumer-grade user experience.

When clunky, outdated technology gets in the way of progress, people become frustrated. 

A Simple Equation

The math is simple: A better digital workplace experience equals a better employee experience, which, in turn, increases employee engagement. With Gallup reporting that only one-third of employees are engaged at work, that’s music to the C-suite’s ears.

If you’re going to invest in optimizing your digital workplace in the near future — and you should — the first task will be to figure out where to begin. Here I’ll share a simple framework for uncovering and categorizing digital workplace challenges in preparation for your redesign.

The Knowledge Ecosystem

I refer to this framework as the Knowledge Ecosystem. This comes from the idea that the digital workplace should work as a complete system that is intentionally designed around the goal of accelerating knowledge exchange and learning. The word intentional is key. You can gather together a bunch of great technologies, and even configure the systems in perfect alignment to user’s needs. But if the digital workplace is not specifically designed to fulfill its higher purpose, how can success be achieved?

First, here are the elements of the framework:

Community and collaboration tools. This includes most intranets, many learning management systems, chat or instant messaging apps and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Even good old email belongs in this group.

Content management capabilities. The systems and platforms in this category range from the dusty forgotten file server in the back room to tools like Box and Dropbox — any cloud- or server-based enterprise system that can be used to manage the flow and use of documents and other types of content. If your company makes use of one or more content management systems for internal or external websites, include those here as well.

Data and information management tools. This category includes all of your databases and data warehouses, as well as any analytics tools you may use to produce dashboards and reports. Don’t forget to include things like Excel-based data trackers, which often contain critical data not stored elsewhere (more on these later).

The first task will be to map out all of the tools in your digital workplace according to the category to which they belong. Don’t cut corners, and don’t leave anything out — not even those 12 people in marketing who use Leonard’s personal Dropbox account to store their large PowerPoint presentations. Make sure personal Dropbox accounts are listed in the content management category. What about the Excel tracker Serena in HR uses to track all open job requisitions? Add one-off Excel trackers to the data and information management category. You can do this in list form or, for even more dramatic effect, as a visual chart.

Assess the Big Digital Workplace Picture

Now that you have mapped out all of the tools that make up your current digital workplace, step back and take a look at the big picture. Start to highlight anything that is putting the flow of knowledge and information at risk. For example, are there clusters of tools that do the same thing but are only used by a single department? Definite red flag. How about multiple tools used for the same thing by the same groups? This is likely a source of user confusion and missed communication.

You’ll also want to look at the technology itself. Outdated systems used by a small segment of the staff should be on your alert list. Likewise, any shiny new tools that were purchased but never properly configured or rolled out. And finally, be sure to flag the systems that are on people’s most-loathed list. You know, the ones where the mere mention of their name sets eyes rolling.

While this is just the first step in the journey to optimizing your digital workplace, it’s an essential one. Armed with this information, you can now have informed discussions with leaders and staff from across the organization about what they see as their biggest pain points and where they see the greatest opportunities for quick wins. You may even uncover clever ways to reduce costs by consolidating or completely eliminating outdated or duplicate systems. This legwork with help you make a strong case for change and gather support for the work ahead.

Help People Do Their Best Work

As you further embark on your digital workplace redesign, the key is to ensure that tools in each category are thoughtfully selected and configured, working in harmony with one another, and fulfilling a distinct user need. Beyond that, never lose sight of that higher purpose mentioned earlier. After all, the raison d’être of the digital workplace is to enable people to do their best work. Isn’t that a cause that everyone can get behind?