The Digital Workplace: Are You Having the Right Conversations?

4 minute read
James Robertson avatar

The digital workplace has reached a tipping point.

Now a widespread concept, the digital workplace is discussed within organizations and pitched by technology vendors. 

While we’ve made rapid progress as an industry, it’s all too easy to lose sight of why we’re on this journey: it’s about making things simpler and better within organizations.

To achieve this, we must take every opportunity to have the best possible conversations, gathering the right people around the table. These conversations provide a unique opportunity to unlock and resolve issues that have plagued us for a decade.

(Editor's Note: James Robertson will conduct a workshop on June 19 and present a session June 20 at the Digital Workplace Experience 2017 in Chicago)

Real World Digital Workplaces Are Complicated

Two recent clients brought the real-world challenges of the digital workplace into sharp focus.

Complexities on Complexities at a Small Government Department

The first was a small-ish government department. 

They have an unloved intranet, sitting on a bespoke SharePoint 2010 platform, a decision IT made for them three years ago. A SharePoint-based collaboration solution has been developed in parallel and offered to the organization, with mixed results.

Needless to say, they are piloting Yammer and considering Office365. 

To add an extra layer of complexity into the mix, the digital team have open-source expertise, and since they’re running Drupal for the website, they’d like to consider it for the intranet.

There are pockets of mobile access and a BYOD trial. Some of the department’s PCs are still running IE 8, and upgrading all the desktop machines is in process, albeit slow-moving. Oh, and there’s also a move towards "flexible working."

All of these complexities came to a head when they tried to choose a new intranet platform. More bespoke development in SharePoint? One of the SharePoint-based intranet products, or an out-of-the-box intranet?

Confusion and Slow Progress at a Very Large Bank

The other organization I spent time with was a very large bank. In many ways, their problems were just a variation on a theme.

It had an as-is migration from the old Lotus Notes intranet to a bespoke SharePoint deployment. Sitrion has gained traction and early successes as a social platform. Office 365 is in the wings, but nobody knows when — or if — it might be coming.

Human resources launched a mobile app for staff at huge cost, but functionality is limited, and adoption patchy.

Against this backdrop, the CEO is driving a push towards "digital transformation," although most of the focus is on customers so far. Nobody is quite sure what they have to do internally to better support customer-facing staff.

The Dependencies of the Digital Workplace

Both of these organizations have plenty of technology and strategy options. In many respects, the possibilities have never been better. 

Learning Opportunities

The challenge, however, is working out how to proceed.

In both cases, the intranet is owned by the internal communications team. They urgently need a decision on the go-forward intranet platform, but this is impossible to make in isolation.

The moment the team considers the intranet, all of the other complexities come crashing down on them. 

Go forward with Sitrion? That depends on the (unknown) Office 365 strategy. Switch to a Drupal-based intranet? That depends on what’s happening regarding collaboration, and what IT will support. Deliver mobile functionality? That’s a discussion above the team’s pay grade, relating to IT infrastructure, security and compliance.

Even when they consider "the digital workplace," rather than just "the intranet," the complexities and dependencies remain. The features and promises of the vendors don’t magic away the issues.

The answer? Use "the digital workplace" as the foundation for having the right conversations, with the right people in the room.

Conversations Sound Simple, But Are Powerful in Practice

By bringing together a guiding coalition for the digital workplace, the team can explore and resolve the challenges with the whole picture in mind, rather than piecemeal.

In both of the cases above, once IT engaged in the conversation, it immediately gained a clearer sense of what the business needed and what was most urgent. Collaboration and intranet publishing was considered as a cohesive whole, rather than as separate solutions.

Once decisions are made collectively, you can present them to senior leaders, which is where the digital workplace needs to sit if it’s to make any meaningful progress. Governance can also be considered from the outset, which is crucial for a true digital workplace.

So before you rush into buying a product or picking a platform, get everyone around the table to have a productive, robust conversation about your digital workplace. 

If it seems like just talk, it’s not. The conversations you have now will determine your digital workplace future, as well as unlock much-needed immediate actions.

About the author

James Robertson

James Robertson is the originator of the global movement towards digital employee experience (DEX). Twenty years in this space, he’s one of the leading thinkers on intranets and digital workplaces. He’s the author of the books “Essential Intranets: Inspiring Sites that Deliver Business Value” and “Designing Intranets: Creating Sites that Work.”