Brian Solis on stage during his keynote at the June 2018 Digital Workplace Experience conference at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.
PHOTO: Jeff Callen

How would you summarize the state of the digital workplace? Jason Blackwell, human factors engineer at IBM, nailed it when he shared a statement from his company's CIO, Fletcher Previn, during the 2018 Digital Workplace Experience conference: “When did it become OK to live like the Jetsons at home, but like the Flintstones at work?” It was one of the prevailing themes at the conference of digital workplace professionals last month at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in downtown Chicago. Questions liked these abounded during the second annual conference, co-hosted by Simpler Media Group (CMSWire's parent company) and Digital Workplace Group (DWG). Why can't we deliver superb employee experiences like we do in customer experience? Why is there such a disconnect between executives' ideas of employee engagement and that of actual employees? Brian Solis during his keynote said executives rank the priority of employee engagement at 8.3 out of 10 but employees rate engagement at 5.5. 

Digital Workplace Experience attendee and speaker Jon Ingham cited fellow speaker Dion Hinchcliffe's question of why does IT tend to be in charge of digital but is least prepared to deal with the core aspect of the people side, especially in the digital workplace's collaboration systems? Digital Workplace Experience attendee Brad Grissom, senior advisor of digital workplace solutions at Southwest Airlines, left the conference with some pressing questions: Why can't we get funding and priority? Will we ever reach a consensus definition of what the digital workplace is? Are we doing good?

We've digested some more key takeaways from the three-day Digital Experience Workplace conference from those who spoke on stage:

Future Digital Workplace: Space, Capabilities, Intelligence, Beauty

Paul Miller, CEO and founder of Digital Workplace Group, said during his closing keynote that we're living through a period where all organizations are looking at their relevance. "The digital workplace is a disruptive service for disruptive times," Miller said. "So it's well suited to serve the organizations that we're in."

Space, capability, intelligence and beauty will be the important, resonating themes of digital workplace of the future, Miller added. He cited recent case studies working with large firms that saw for every dollar spent inside the organization, the organization gets back $20 of value. "And the problem with this was actually the return on the investment was so dramatic," Miller said. "Nobody thought they'd believe it. ... The figures are staggeringly high."

Related Article: Digital Workplace Practitioners Share Employee Experience Challenges

Taking Action, Creating Feedback Loops, Growing Culture

Brice Dunwoodie, CEO and publisher of Simpler Media, told attendees during his final keynote he'd like to see digital workplace practitioners continue to take action, take ideas and manifest them in the world. "Test them, create feedback loops and work toward a bigger idea," Dunwoodie said. He reminded attendees that growing culture is an important part of digital workplace initiatives. 

"Brian Solis really drove home (in his keynote) the awareness of culture," Dunwoodie said. "And culture isn't what happens when we're in a meeting about culture. It happens in those in those moments in between when we're not thinking about the culture. That is an excellent reminder as we go home and go back into our groups and as we go back into our projects and try to make them a reality."

Redefining Success

Organizations measuring digital workplace success should go beyond standard metrics. Sure, it's great that 60 to 80 percent of your employees are coming to your intranet or extranet sites, but what true value are you giving them to help improve their work lives? Sara Pollard, senior manager of digital strategy and brand engagement of Walmart, drove home the importance of these challenges in her case study talk. Walmart, she said, has redefined success in "such a huge way" on both it's extranet and intranet. "We all create wonderful content that really helps our employees do their jobs better," Pollard said. "But I think we can increase that. You can make all of that very important work that you've created more important to your workforce in your everyday life, so that we can increase that ROI for our businesses."

Walmart's intranet is extremely important to its business, Pollard said. It's housed in the operations department where Walmart's associates go to find out exactly how to set up merchandise in a store, for instance. "However, they also have individual tasks for each employee," Pollard said. "And those tasks are basically the success rate for each employee on a daily basis. It really is the heart of our operations. ... It really is the way that we can create a consistent customer experience across the entire country."

The most important task for Pollard? Make sure Walmart removes all barriers for its workers and intranet users. "Because," she said, "we know that they will leave us at the slightest inconvenience. So we try to take down any barrier that we can." Recognize what resonates with your audience and make sure that what's in it has value. Make your collaboration and intranet tools an "information and community tool" and not an "instruction manual," Pollard said.

Related Article: 4 Tips to Apply Design Thinking in the Digital Workplace

Things Moving Too Fast? Not So Much

Many analysts talk about the technology world moving too fast for organizations to keep up. Chris McNulty, senior product manager of Microsoft, told conference attendees he'd like to flip this thought on its head. "I actually know that all of you are pioneering innovators in each of your organizations, and the way that we achieve digital transformation is not through fear," McNulty told the event audience, "but by recognizing the digital transformation is about giving people the tools to change their own personal approach to technology and to getting work done. And the way that each of us do this, in turn, is the way collectively that the world has changed."

Prioritize Through Culture, Agility, Innovation

How do you break through and get support for digital workplace investments? Jonathan Chong, director of digital workplace, corporate systems and next gen tech for Mars, discussed during the conference how his company prioritized digital workplace initiatives through a desire to drive a culture change, agility and innovation. "We want to engage our associates and attract, retain and develop millions of people to be excellent associates," Chong said. "How does that relate to some of the capabilities and experiences and behaviors we can drive through digital workplace?"

Chong spoke with C-Suite leaders — the CIO, Chief HR officer, head of corporate affairs, CFO — and started creating a "story" with varying degrees of success. Through these, he discovered evidence like managers spending 60-plus percent of their time in meetings. Digging deeper, he wanted to discover how they were meeting: via telephone conference? How was that experience? "Are you paying attention all the time, are you really getting a lot of value out of that conversation?" He found gathering that data was valuable.

As for culture, Chong learned the big question was how to do make gains in that? "We can't drive that through a company that at the time was 80,000 and is now 100,000 people on our own," he said. "So it was about what can we do in partnership with the rest of the organization? That was more of a challenge." It was about creating stories and creating momentum, building off cultural successes. "Build your momentum and feed into that," he said. "You have to find more stories, you have to publicize those stories, you have to keep the keep the forum going."

Related Article: The 6 Blind Men and the Digital Workplace

Sell the Vision of Digital Workplace Success

Stacey Blissett-Saavedra, CIO of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, said on stage when she took over her current role she stepped into an antiquated system. What did she do? Sold executives a vision of the future. "I was able to convince the executives to imagine a world where you can see your data right in front of you, as you're working," she said. "You're wondering what's happening in this part of the agency, and you look up, you tap something and you get your information. And that was a very easy kind of sell. Implementing it was a different story. I believe that defining that vision and letting people in on that vision, from both executives to people who are working at every single level, is a very good way to kind of successfully put out your projects."

Make People Feel Good

Alan McGinty, senior director of global workplace solutions group for Cisco Systems, said the keys to success in the digital workplace is culture and driving engagement and experience to make people feel good. "We need to make people feel good," he added. "That's the the golden ring that I'm shooting for. ... Whatever we can do to drive engagement is going to increase revenue." Cisco Systems has put a lot of energy toward driving a positive culture. It has culture programs in process and is starting to see results, according to McGinty. 

Related Article: Digital Workplace Key Performance Indicators: Looking Beyond Adoption

Can't Measure Engagement Broadly

IBM's Blackwell said his company, to help drive employee engagement includes programs such as quarterly employee surveys, NPS surveys and one-on-one usability tests. "I think everyone wants to hear this magical 'if I track this one number, then I can say everything's great in my digital workplace,'" Blackwell said. "Unfortunately, I think the challenge is you have to be way more specific than that. You have to do it project-by-project, really look at individual KPIs. And if you don't have that, you probably don't have the clarity you need for what you want to accomplish with that project." Looking at NPS is fine to get a sense of the overall health of your digital workplace. However, Blackwell said, "I think you need to challenge yourself on a project-by-project basis to say, 'What am I really trying to achieve here? And how am I going to measure it?'"

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

Experience is the Heart of the Matter

Companies that truly believe in employee experience will employ people who feel proud of where they are, who feel like they're a part of something bigger, said Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group. "Organizations get caught up in the technology, which is very easy to do because we're looking at systems, we're looking at products, we're looking at services, we're looking at adapting change based on the behaviors of how we use these products," Solis said. "I'm sure you've seen a resistance in some cases to wanting to adopt or use these technologies. But digital workplace experience doesn't just mean how are we going to deploy new technologies to work in modern ways."

Companies that truly embrace employee experience are starting to get to literally the heart of the matter, Solis added. "When you really peel away all the buzz terminology around it, and the ecosystems around it, it actually just means something you feel, something you interpret in a moment," Solis said. "You can measure experience by how someone feels and how someone reacts. When you really care about how someone feels, then we can have a conversation about experience."

NASA's Digital Workplace Challenges

Even NASA has challenges inside its digital workplace environment. "We've got 60 years of data that's very difficult to find at times," said David Meza, chief knowledge architect for NASA. Meza spends much of his time pulling together disparate data through knowledge architecture. Meza cited commentary from Peter Drucker back in 1999 who said the most important thing a company can do with knowledge workers is to increase their productivity and how they actually get to data. "That was back in 1999," Meza said. "But 20 years later, we still have a lot of issues." 

Information is power? Not quite, Meza said. Knowledge is the power, and information is not powerful until you can turn it into some kind of insight, he added. "It doesn't matter how much information I have about my customer's transaction," Meza said. "Or how much information I have on the temperature of the United States over the last century. If I can't turn that into some kind of useful, actionable knowledge, it doesn't do anything."