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It didn’t take a world health pandemic to determine that a digital workplace strategy is important, but the pressure’s definitely on now, especially given the fact that companies are in no rush to head back to the office — the physical office, that is.

451 Research's Digital Pulse COVID-19 Flash Survey found that while 19% of organizations intend to have employees return to offices as soon as local regulations allow, 25% will wait a month or more while another 24% have not yet determined any timeline. 

As organizations build a digital workplace strategy and foundation while remote work remains a reality, the “who” of digital workplace leadership is crucial. But even before identifying these leaders, organizations should recognize that any digital workplace project has to meet employees’ needs and needs to be adopted by the employees, according to Yaroslav Pentsarsky, digital workplace advisor for Origami Software.

According to Pentsarsky, these employee needs include:

  • The need to safeguard my work: Save and retrieve files. Access tools and instructions. Receive urgent alerts.
  • The need to know what’s happening around me: What’s changing? Does it affect me? Who else is affected? How can I prepare?
  • The need to benchmark my capabilities and improve them: How is my performance? How does it compare with others? How can I improve and what can help me?
  • The need to engage and grow: Share knowledge. Connect with others. Find mentorship. Share opinions. Contribute to improvements. Lead change.

These needs come from distinct areas of the business typically facilitated by stakeholders that include:

  • Chief of Information (Director/VP of IT)
  • Chief of Communications (Comms Manager/Director)
  • Chief of People (Director/VP of HR)

Taking Product-Based Approach

Organizations need to operate under a “product-centric approach” with a clear definition of a “product owner” role, according to Kaumil Dalal, director in the West Monroe technology practice and a national leader of its digital workplace and modern systems integration offerings. “As the product-based approach allows for multiple iterations, it helps engage and empower employees, drive better adoption and achieve faster speed to value,” he said.

Organizations should reorganize into a product-based structure, which is cross-functional, leverages design thinking methodologies and prioritizes “voice of the employee.” “And, the product owner role is a key role of the digital workplace dream team,” he said. “We have seen the ‘product-centric approach’ and the ‘product owner’ role drive success on a digital workplace initiative at a financial services client of West Monroe.”

Related Article: Who Owns Digital Workplace Strategy?

The Case — and Blockers — for Digital Workplace Reorganization

The path to digital workplace ownership — your dream team, if you will — can be a challenge because many organizations struggle to modernize their organizational structure when it comes to the digital workplace, according to Chris Radcliffe, digital workplace advisor for Habanero Consulting Group. “It can be a symptom of an immature governance model and old-school thinking that leads to turf wars over digital workplace ownership,” Radcliffe said.

Budget always remains a problem, and organizations often find it difficult to coordinate across departmental lines (IT vs. human resources vs. communications) and struggle with owners that have no teeth or authority to deliver, Radcliffe added. Often, he said, companies fail to see the opportunity to promote their valuable internal comms specialists that are the intranet managers and digital workplace evangelists. 

Some roles might live in communications but, because they deal so much with technology, much of their strategy and efforts align more with IT. However, IT has its own leadership structure, Radcliffe said, and the digital workplace tends to fall between the cracks of traditional applications or operational infrastructure roles. “These situations are generally ripe for a reorganization and need sponsorship to align budget, break down silos and create new internal capacity to deliver collaboration services that stitch together platforms, applications and technology to form the digital workplace,” Radcliffe said.

Traditional, Dream Team and Sponsorship Roles in Digital Workplace

Who else might be on your Digital Workplace Dream Team? (For those who may not recall, the “Dream Team” was the term used for the 1992 United States Olympic men’s basketball team, which some considered the greatest sports team ever assembled). 

Radcliffe said most organizations traditionally have these leaders:

  • Intranet Manager/Senior Internal Comms Specialist
  • Office 365 Manager/Director of IT Applications
  • IT or Tenant Administrator
  • Help Desk Lead

A digital workplace dream team? That, Radcliffe said, would have those above roles but also the following:

  • Digital Workplace Manager
  • Knowledge Manager
  • Community Manager
  • ECM Manager/Content and Compliance Manager
  • End-User Representatives (e.g. regional lead or end-user champion)
  • Digital Workplace Advisor/Analyst/Specialist
  • Experience Designer
  • UX or Human-Centered Designer
  • Architect and Application Developers (For key platforms: Microsoft 365, ServiceNow, Outsystems, Nintex, etc.)
  • Adoption and Change Management Specialist
  • Security and Operations Manager (hardware, app deployment, OS, security and compliance)
  • Video Team (videographer, editing and live events)

In sponsorship roles would be:

  • HR Sponsor: VP People
  • Comms Sponsor: VP Communications
  • IT Sponsor: CIO
  • Operations Sponsor: COO (nice-to-have)
  • (Optional) Facilities Director 
  • (Optional) Board Sponsor: Someone that understands and appreciates the people strategy on the board and will help support major investments.

Let’s break down some of your potential Digital Workplace Dream Team roles and responsibilities:

Intranet Manager/Senior Internal Communications Specialist

The intranet manager is the most well understood role in the digital workplace, although in many organizations this is not a full-time role, according to Radcliffe. They tend to come from a communications background and must be tech savvy in order to keep up with the dynamic and ever changing nature of the industry.

“Their role is to help create an amazing end-user digital experience for employees, helping them stay connected to the organization’s communications and by providing an easy way to find the most mission critical content and applications to help people do their jobs,” Radcliffe said. “The intranet manager is constantly helping departments to organize their digital content, and they are working on curating a backlog of new communications, helping to optimize search and the overall usability of the intranet.”

The intranet manager’s role is important for the greater digital workplace because for most organizations, Radcliffe added, the intranet plays an anchor role and is the connective tissue between applications and digital tools. For years intranets were known as the “portal,” or primary gateway into the digital ecosystem. Now, however, there are many different collaboration and communication channels, and the role for the intranet manager has shifted to being one that understands the value of optimizing the experience across platforms.

“They need to help make decisions on which technology and capability will be used to solve different use cases,” he said. “There are many overlapping features now across tools and platforms, that this role sometimes feels like an enterprise architect in the breadth of their focus.”

Pentsarsky identifies a communications leader as “Chief of Communications.” The role of Comms Director, he said, is to keep employees in the know of what’s changing, how it affects employees, who is affected and how they can prepare.

“Through the use of different media, Comms Managers will help employees stay informed and keep the work productive,” Pentsarsky said. “On the digital workplace team, Comms Manager will make sure there is information flow. If there are technical constraints to this flow, this stakeholder can help brainstorm other creative solutions.”

Related Article: Empathy Is the Intersection Between User, Customer and Employee Experience

Office 365 Manager/Director of IT Applications

The Office 365 manager is the individual within IT that owns the roll-out of different Microsoft workloads and technology. They tend to have a portfolio view on projects and investments and are accountable for the implementation roadmap, according to Radcliffe. “They have a leading role in shaping the digital workplace and can help align internal resources, funding and change and adoption support to shift people from their old platforms to the new world,” he said.

Chief of Information (VP of IT)

The role of VP of IT is to safeguard work and procure technology to do the work, according to Pentsarsky. This could likely be your CIO. They make sure there is a necessary infrastructure and tools employees need to do business and receive urgent alerts when things are impacted.

“VP of IT on the digital workplace team will provide input on any technical constraints that might be impacting decisions made by others,” Pentsarsky said. “For example: if a communications director wants to target news based on the office location, the director VP of IT will ensure the infrastructure exists for this targeting to happen.”

IT or Tenant Admin and Help Desk

These roles are critical to the ongoing success and evolution of a digital workplace. While they are tactical in nature, Radcliffe said, the value of their job should not be underestimated as they tend to have direct interaction with both the digital workplace solution space. They also interface daily with the end user community. A strong help desk team not only helps troubleshoot problems but also plays a critical role in building up the arsenal of learning materials, knowledge base articles and end user communications.

“As well, the IT Tenant Admin is responsible for managing many of the underlying security and configurations within the digital workplace and can streamline the governance making it easy for people to request and setup new groups, teams or sites without onerous justification or IT administrative overhead,” Radcliffe said.

Related Article: Employee Experiences That Employees Actually Want

Digital Workplace Manager

The Digital Workplace Manager is by definition in charge of a collection of applications, technology or platforms that compose the ecosystem employees are using each day, according to Radcliffe. They may have a subset of key platforms they oversee (eg. Office 365, Workplace, ServiceNow, etc.). They are responsible for different teams to manage and evolve each platform.

They report progress to an anchor sponsor or steering committee, lead the annual budgeting function and manage software vendors and service integrators or implementation partners. They may have people directly reporting to them, or they lead a virtual team that is made up of individuals from across different departments.

Knowledge Manager or Community Manager

These two roles are similar, Radcliffe said, but different in the sense that one is focused on building a strong community and social networking experience and the other tends to be more focused on curating artifacts of knowledge or insight.

As tools like Yammer, Jive and Jam emerged in the 2010 to 2015 time period, many companies developed the role of the community manager to help oversee the social conversations and promote an open and collaborative culture. The knowledge manager in some ways, meanwhile, overlapped with the role of an Enterprise Content Manager (ECM) or (Records Manager).

“While they may have been very different roles in some companies,” Radcliffe said, “their core job is focused on helping the organization manage its information or records with tools and capabilities that optimize the classification, retrieval, retention, disposition and overall security of content.”

These roles in the near future — ECM/RM, knowledge manager and community manager — will blend together and have renewed attention in Microsoft shops with the introduction of Project Cortex, Microsoft’s new knowledge management and content services technology. Cortex will leverage AI to help automatically suggest topics and knowledge that should be curated and managed by a community of experts.

“It is likely,” Radcliffe said, “that this new technology will be blended into the overall digital workplace experience and harmonized with the intranet and collaboration tools like Teams, Yammer and SharePoint.”

Related Article: Microsoft 365 vs. Best of Breed Tools? Try Microsoft 365 Plus Best of Breed Tools

Digital Workplace Advisor/Experience Designer/User Experience Specialist

These emerging roles are modern day business analysts that not only understand how to conduct end-user empathetic research, but they are also motivated by creating great employee experiences. In some companies, Radcliffe said, these roles are more technical in nature if they are responsible for optimizing experiences and configuring the technology.

“In others, they are more product agnostic and bring a more user experience design focus and set of skills to create a unified design system across the digital workplace and look to continually research and evolve pain points into moments of delight,” Radcliffe said.

Adoption and Change Management Specialist

Many organizations have realized this role is the key to enabling adoption and driving a successful change experience in the digital workplace. “Interestingly, while many organizations have change specialists in-house,” Radcliffe said, “they tend to be in short supply and not always assigned to a digital workplace team or initiative. Their role is not just to provide learning materials and launch communications, but instead when properly setup for success, they play a very strategic role in a project if they are embedded into the project at the very beginning." They need to be given an opportunity to meet with end-users to study the impact of the new technology and given the resources to help optimize the change experience, he added.

The change specialist’s role is critical as they often have the loudest voice of the end-user and can help identify early on if there are usability issues or challenges that might impact the success of the rollout and change experience.

Related Article: Have We Been Doing Change Management All Wrong?

Chief of People (Director of HR)

The role of the director of HR, Pentasarsky said, is to help employees integrate into the organization, help them benchmark their performance, help them grow and improve and help others by engagement, sharing and leadership. "On the digital workplace team,” he said, “this stakeholder can provide valuable input on what tools and resources are needed for employees to feel engaged and stay competitive, confident and productive.”

Digital Workplace Product Owner

West Monroe’s Dalal believes a digital workplace product owner is a crucial part of the digital workplace dream team. They must have a passion for helping define digital workplace product portfolio vision and a desire to help build an organization-wide digital workplace product strategy.

“This member of the dream team ensures the digital workplace product strategy continuously aligns with the overall corporate strategy and strategic imperatives,” Dalal said. “Additionally, the role takes ownership of ‘employee experience’ and creates continuous value for the organization and its employees.”

They collaborate closely with cross functional teams, HR, corporate communications and IT teams to capture “voice of the employee,” understand employee personas and ensure the best possible employee experience. They strategize and execute on a “distributed work” culture, working in close collaboration with internal communications, HR, facilities and IT teams.

A product owner owns and prioritizes the backlog for digital workplace product portfolio, including user stories and acceptance criteria. This individual executes the role of product owner within an agile/scrum team, including participation in backlog refinement, sprint planning, daily stand ups and retrospectives.

“This member of the dream team is accountable for the entire product lifecycle, from planning through development, launch and retirement phases, creates and maintains product roadmaps and is responsible for communication and alignment of product vision, strategy and roadmap,” Dalal said. “This key member leads changing the way organization captures, manages, secures and shares its most sensitive and valuable information and all items related to the digital workplace product portfolio. This person plays a key role in helping increase employee engagement and productivity through the delivery of digital workplace product portfolio business capabilities. This individual has a passion for discovering and acting on employee behavior and feedback while driving business value.”