Business workers planning workplace strategy while holding puzzle pieces, creating ideas with light bulb drawn on paper and rearranging wooden blocks. - Workplace strategy
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The digital workplace is big business. $1.3 trillion big, to be precise.

That's according to one recent estimate from IDC. In May, the market research firm forecasted that spending on digital transformation technology and services will grow by more than 10% in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s a whole lot of money being pumped into developing capabilities and implementing the tools, apps and technologies to transform the digital workplace. While the market continues to grow at a steady clip and digital workplace maturity continues to grow, key questions remain about who drives strategy and how decisions are made. More work is needed to define roles and establish a governance model.

That’s one finding from the “The State of the Digital Workplace 2020” report. CMSWire and Reworked surveyed more than 450 executives in spring 2020 to assess the state of the digital workplace and identify emerging practices.

Related Article: The Digital Workplace Accelerates

The Digital Workplace Grows Up

Broadly speaking, the digital workplace refers to a set of practices that encompasses leadership, culture, technology and systems to deliver operational goals and positive employee experience. For many workers, their ability to communicate and collaborate — to get work done — is inextricably tied into an ever-evolving suite of apps, technologies and tools. Increasingly, all work is digital work.

digital workplace priorities
Figure 1

The digital workplace has become a higher priority as technology reshapes entire industries and the effects of COVID-19 leave a lasting mark on how work is done. Many work processes, from something as simple as how workers access documents remotely to how they collaborate and set departmental goals, will continue to transform. For a growing majority (81%), the digital workplace is either an important or extremely important priority (Figure 1).

That urgent emphasis is matched with growing sophistication. In 2017, less than half of organizations reported they had an established digital workplace strategy or program. That number has grown noticeably each year since, with nearly three-quarters (72%) now reporting they have a formalized approach to their digital workplace.

COVID-19 forced many organizations to rapidly implement new cloud-based technologies. But as this data shows, the growth of the digital workplace is part of a longer term trend. After the pandemic, many workers will once again head back to the same office but the way they work will not be the same.

Time for More Governance

Rising investment, increasing sophistication and growing maturity all point in the same direction: continued growth of the digital workplace.

What’s less clear is how that growth will be managed. No clear consensus has emerged on who sets the strategy, makes the decisions and monitors the results. Will there be a single owner or are multiple stakeholders the more likely outcome? According to the survey data, the answer is not yet clear.

digital workplace purchase decision makers
Figure 2

Following the money is the best indicator of direction. When it comes to the digital workplace, the IT department and C-suite hold the power of the purse, followed by HR (Figure 2). Only 15% of survey respondents identified a digital workplace group as a primary decision maker.

Work still needs to be done to define a governance model for the digital workplace. Unlike finance, marketing, IT or HR, there is no established playbook from which to work. In the near term, organizations should work to gather stakeholders, establish an infrastructure and define decision-making processes even while the dust continues to settle from the pandemic-fueled rush to implement digital workplace technology.

Related Research: The State of the Digital Workplace 2020

Employee Experience and Metrics

Employee experience offers a good illustration of the challenge ahead. Organizations large and small increasingly recognize this concept as a important pillar of their corporate management.

The concept is a relatively simple one. Businesses work hard to create a positive customer experience to attract new clients and encourage existing ones to part with more of their hard-earned dollars. They should do the same for their employees creating coordinated experiences for employees within the organization to increase engagement, elevate productivity and boost retention. HR plays a key role in the effort, but so does IT. Leadership sets the example and communicates goals and objectives.

who owns employee experience graphic
Figure 3

Yet, no clear consensus has emerged on ownership of employee experience (Figure 3). Again, work remains to be done in order to bear the full fruits of investment in employee experience and digital workplace technology.

A similar story plays out in the area of metrics. Organizations are measuring a wide, almost scattershot, range of outcomes to determine the success of their digital transformation efforts, from employee engagement (38%) to customer satisfaction (34%) to IT-centric measures like user adoption (20%) and reduction in number of service calls and emails (12%). 

Despite the challenges of the current economy, investment in digital workplace strategies and technology remains strong. Organizations would be wise to take a look at their governance structure to make the most of the moment. The digital workplace is big business. Clear thinking about governance and goals might just help avoid any big mistakes.