Before looking ahead to 2019, let’s briefly look at where have we come from. That will help us figure out what to focus on in the days and months ahead.
The “golden age of intranets” (if there ever was one) was characterized by a general agreement on the purpose of an intranet: to provide a vehicle for communications, publishing, storing content and so on. The intranet served a discrete internal function within an organization.
More recently, additional features, use cases and needs have stretched the intranet far beyond its original remit. Companies now use their intranets for document and knowledge management, internal social networking, integration with often complex content and enterprisewide searches. And on top of all that, intranets have to be able to integrate with the latest tool du jour.
That metamorphosis took years to happen and it has not stopped. What were once called intranets are now known as digital workplace platforms, and they will continue to change to reflect prevailing business needs.
Likewise, and importantly for us, there has been a shift in business ownership of the digital workplace platform. This gives clues to what we should focus on in 2019.
Originally a tight-knit team of internal communicators or IT specialists controlled the digital workplace platform. Nowadays, many other business units and leaders are just as likely to want to be stakeholders (and drivers) of the digital workplace.
Think of them more as internal customers than as its architects or designers. They want more say over the purpose and operation of the digital workplace, because (finally) they can begin to make use of a universal platform to deliver the right content, tools, applications and outcomes to specific teams, employees and even suppliers.
Tracking this shift — with the growth of internal business stakeholders — is a key signifier that helps guide what we need to focus on in 2019.
Put simply: Your digital workplace plays an important role in helping you unlock your business potential.
Related Article: The Digital Workplace Hub: The Next Wave in Collaboration
A Shift in Business Purpose
In 2019, we should expect as much (if not more) turbulence and uncertainty in terms of economics, politics and privacy and security breaches. This all points to the need for a single business platform that can help bring together, unify and stabilize everything an organization does.
That’s no mean feat, but getting it right will be instrumental to working out how to address those external pressures by fostering the internal conversations, knowledge and awareness necessary to make the right kind of difference.
This is now an essential goal: The digital workplace must help shape culture, engage employees in the mission and simplify the way employees do their work.
This goal is perhaps only coming into focus now because we have technologies that can help us realize it, and because we are under intense pressure to bring ideas, conversations and the brand together within one environment. A big part of the goal must be to unify activities.
It is our job — as designers, consultants, owners and administrators — to shape that conservation.
To help ensure that our voices come to the fore, here are four themes that will need to be at the forefront of our efforts next year.
1. Return on Productivity
A key challenge is to ensure that technology investments yield productivity gains. Our task is to show what is possible, in part by explaining how using our digital workplace platforms will impact the bottom line. This will be even more of an issue in 2019. With more economic and political uncertainty (not to mention changing attitudes toward jobs) on the horizon, our challenge and opportunity is to provide answers.
However, productivity gains are notoriously hard to achieve solely through new technology investments, so we need to be able to demonstrate improvements that result from the use of our platforms. For example, we could demonstrate that our platforms provide easier access to tools, serve as central venues for training and onboarding employees, and integrate tools and processes into familiar interfaces. Results such as those will help convince the naysayers of how and where investments can make a difference.
Related Article: How to Escape the Productivity Paradox
2. Unifying the Network
Many businesses operate at the center of ecosystems that extend far beyond the confines of their physical offices, often including complex networks of suppliers, remote workers, contractors and, of course, customer touchpoints.
Those networks will operate more efficiently with the help of new technology that can unlock new ways to help everyone share content and data while at the same time helping the business drive down supplier costs or mine insights and knowledge from customers and employees.
Our task should be to extend the digital workplace out to all of the groups that are part of our organizations’ ecosystems — to bring them closer to the organization through extranets or dedicated portals, or to connect with them as discrete target audiences.
The effect must be to create a thriving and responsive environment that fulfills everyone’s needs through their active participation within it.
3. Being the Engine for Innovation
Businesses not only need to improve productivity; they also need to be more innovative. They cannot stand still. If companies fail to reinvent themselves, compete or provide customers with new products or services, they will be at risk of being sidelined. But innovation is hard, unpredictable and time-consuming, and it can often require an internal reorganization of resources.
Companies that want to be more innovative cannot continue to support siloed, unconnected activities, and they must make tools accessible.
Our challenge, then, is twofold: to help create the right conditions for innovation while providing employees with tools and technologies that will foster inventiveness. We need to unlock ideas by letting everyone contribute easily using platforms that not only provide ready access to tools and technologies, but also help organize, filter, suggest and curate knowledge. The system should nurture ideas and innovation by fostering connections and knowledge-sharing.
Related Article: Turn Your Enterprise Social Network Into an Innovation Pipeline
4. Shaping the Employee Experience
Many businesses have finally come to realize that treating employees well will provide the best working environment and that the ultimate payoff will come in the form of more satisfied customers. If people embrace a shared purpose — about values and the direction of the organization — an organization will have an engaged culture that yields many benefits, including new ideas and employees who behave as brand ambassadors with customers.
Companies that fail to recognize those opportunities risk cultivating a culture of mistrust and may marginalize employees and stifle their ambition. In such situations, employees may seek opportunities at other organizations that will welcome their contributions and be more supportive of their aspirations.
Ultimately, our opportunity is to position the digital workplace at the center — making it synonymous with the company culture.
Everyone — no matter who they are or where they are located — should use the digital workplace all day long. It should provide them with access to whatever they need, and it should serve as a venue where they can communicate with one another. And above all, employees should feel that the digital workplace is for them, not a system that the company expects them to adapt to. At any moment, it should encapsulate the company’s culture, its vibrancy and its conversations, and it should enable people to do better work.
Lead the Conversation From the Center
Each of these themes should shed light on what we need to actively pursue within our organizations. Our goal as communicators, owners and architects of digital workplaces must be to ensure that they are at the center of the conversation.
That way, we will help drive the outcomes that our businesses will need in 2019.