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Seven ways to dispel six misconceptions about the digital workplace

As the term “digital workplace” and the related concept become increasingly mainstream and begin to pique the interest of senior stakeholders, digital workplace professionals, intranet teams and internal communicators have an excellent opportunity to provide leadership and clarity on the way forward. The time to act is now.

The “digital workplace” comprises both a term and a concept which can be all too easily misunderstood. While there is a general understanding that this is to do with workplace technology, there is no consensus on the exact meaning. Is it a specific platform, a portfolio of applications, a counterpoint to the physical workplace or more of a wholesale approach? Definitions are further confused as vendors make land grabs to use the term to describe their products.

Six misconceptions about the digital workplace

From conversations with both DWG members and clients it has become evident that there are some commonly misunderstood notions about the digital workplace which, when seized upon by senior management, have the potential to hamper progress. Here are six of the most common.

1. It’s only about technology

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that the digital workplace is purely about technology. In fact, the digital workplace is just as much about people and how they experience and interact with that workplace technology. The digital workplace is not only about the tools used or a nice description of an Office 365 environment. A digital workplace must be human-centred.

Years ago, knowledge management fell out of fashion for quite a long time – mainly because it became synonymous with IT products. The digital workplace should not be misunderstood in the same way.

2. It’s a passing fad

Management terms and concepts come and go, get hyped and fade away or, most likely, morph into related concepts. This may yet happen to the term “digital workplace” but, so far, all the signs are that the digital workplace is here to stay and is much more than just a passing fad.

The term is now entering the mainstream and being used by companies such as Gartner, Microsoft and Accenture. There are dedicated conferences and, most significantly, divisions, teams and job titles inside organizations increasingly feature the term “digital workplace”.

Meanwhile, the concept is also gaining acceptance. A more holistic view of the digital workplace is seen as an important foundation for related concepts such as digital transformation and employee experience.

3. It’s not relevant to my function, line of business or team

Managing and improving the digital workplace means taking a far more holistic view of technology than ever before. It’s about reaching all employees and delivering tailored, personal and relevant experiences to different groups. For example, factory and field workers have typically had poor access to digital services in the past and the digital workplace is helping to correct that.

The digital workplace impacts everyone in your company and is equally relevant to central knowledge workers located in headquarters as to frontline workers within a line of business.

4. It’s just a rebranding of the intranet

Some people use the terms intranet and digital workplace interchangeably, but that’s a mistake. The digital workplace is much broader in scope and covers elements such as email, CRM systems, HR systems and more. It requires a different mindset and capabilities to manage it.

However, the intranet is a key channel (sometimes the most important) within the digital workplace, often acting as a gateway or entry point to the wider digital ecosystem.

5. It’s not that important 

Organizations are completely reliant on technology to meet their strategic objectives and many employees spend most of their working day in a digital environment. It’s hard to see why the digital workplace would be considered not important.

The digital workplace can impact everything from digital transformation to strategic change to improving productivity to reducing employee turnover to the ability to carry out individual roles. It can even impact employee engagement since technology is a key element of the employee experience. The digital workplace is a strategic asset and is far from just an obscure element of interest only to IT or the intranet team.

6. We can’t move that forward without a million-dollar budget

Your digital workplace already exists in the systems you already use and the ways in which employees experience them. Generally, digital workplaces evolve and improve gradually.

Sometimes you need to make significant investments when you’re introducing a major new system, but there are almost always smaller, iterative improvements that can be made in order to move things forward. This is not only through introducing new features or improving interfaces, but also by creating governance, moving the strategy forward, driving better content and even increasing digital literacy. None of these need huge levels of investment but they can advance your digital workplace roadmap.

Seven approaches to dispelling the myths

If your senior leaders, managers and even users are misunderstanding the digital

workplace, digital workplace teams can help to:

  • Get the digital workplace onto the agenda.
  • Develop a common understanding of the concept.
  • Ensure that people take it seriously and even create a sense of urgency.
  • Create the consensus to be able to move things forward.

The process can be challenging, but here are a few examples of tactics we’ve observed that work as you have conversations within your organization.

1. Start to use terminology consistently

It helps to start using consistent terminology across different stakeholders. This reduces misunderstandings, removes ambiguity and delivers a consistent story. IT, Communications, HR, Leadership and Lines Of Business have different perspectives, agendas and frames of reference. Work out what the digital workplace (or equivalent term) means to you and stick to it – although it is possible the meaning may evolve and refine as the views of stakeholders are taken into account.

2. Target and manage key stakeholders

The digital workplace impacts everyone, so you need to be talking to the right people. Identify and try to involve a cross-functional set of key individuals. This can’t just be an Internal Communications and IT initiative.

It is very likely that some senior stakeholders will be less interested than others. Ideally meet with key individuals face-to-face to explain the concepts but also to demonstrate what’s in it for them from the perspective of their functional agenda. How is the digital workplace going to help HR processes and to retain talent? In larger companies this may involve cascading messages up the “food chain”!

3. Find a champion

In your consultations with stakeholders you may find an individual who gets it or may even be pursuing that agenda already. Having a senior champion working with you will naturally make achieving senior manager buy-in that much easier.

4. Do your research

Being armed with data really helps give life and credibility to your message. What are the current pain points for employees? What are the opportunities? What are other companies doing? How could the digital workplace align with existing strategies and roadmaps around your organization? Having real data, perhaps from workshops, surveys or even benchmarking, can make senior management take notice.

5. Make it tangible

The digital workplace can be a bit of a woolly concept, so it really helps to make it tangible in terms of what it is, what you might do and the associated benefits. Assets such as screenshots, wireframes, case studies, high-level (theoretical) roadmaps, lists of specific benefits and future scenarios can really help in enabling senior management to “get it”. Tying it into existing programmes or priorities, such as innovation or employee experience, can also help. Most senior managers have limited time for attention. Making the digital workplace as tangible as possible helps.

6. Develop a consensus, strategy and roadmap

Ideally to move the digital workplace agenda forward you need to get consensus about where you are going and what your priorities are. This can be the first step towards developing a strategy, roadmap and business case. Holding a stakeholder workshop where you work to get agreement on these areas is a great base to establish authority, clarity, consistency and momentum for your digital workplace programme.

Measuring or mapping your digital workplace and working out where you currently are (for example using a maturity model for the digital workplace) can also be an excellent data input into a stakeholder meeting.

7. Keep moving the digital workplace forward

Organizations change and so does the digital workplace. To a certain extent, everyone is on a journey and it’s always important to keep on moving forward. Whether this be in terms of developing your individual channels, integrating the experience, establishing governance, getting employees into new ways of working, or simply pushing the agenda forward, there is always progress to be made. All this helps to normalize and evolve the digital workplace.

Start today!

This is a great time to be a digital workplace professional, offering real opportunities to contribute to your organization’s digital future. If nobody is talking about the digital workplace, or the conversations are misinformed, then take a lead and contribute. Start today and see what you can achieve tomorrow.

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About the author

Steve-BynghallSteve Bynghall is a research associate, benchmark evaluator and knowledge manager for DWG. He is also a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in knowledge management, collaboration, intranet and social business. Steve previously worked at accountancy firm BDO in a variety of knowledge roles, including managing its global extranet programme. He recently co-wrote a book on crowdsourcing with Ross Dawson.

Steve is passionate about being able to work from anywhere, and is occasionally seen in local coffee shops with his trusty laptop. When not working, Steve can be found exploring London with his family.

Connect with Steve on Twitter: @bynghall or on Google +.

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