10 takeaways from the State of the Digital Workplace 2019 report

July 31, 2019 by

 One of our missions at DWG is to shine a light on emerging digital workplace trends and practices in order to help teams advance the digital workplace in their own organizations. Having objective data is critical for this and is why we’ve teamed up again with our partners at Simpler Media Group / CMSWire to bring you the third annual State of the Digital Workplace Report. This is free to download. The report collects insights and analysis based on a detailed survey completed by over 450 digital workplace professionals. It also looks at some of the data trends over the three years of the survey. Subtitled “Maturing aspirations and leadership support are leading to real progress in 2019”, this report gives digital workplace teams considerable food for thought as they plan their own programmes of work. Here are 10 key takeaways from this year’s report.

  1.     The digital workplace is a work in progress

A mature, effective digital workplace is an important destination, but this is a work in progress Looking at the digital workplace and how employees experience technology in a more holistic and strategic way is a relatively young concept, so it is perhaps not surprising that many organizations are still at a relatively early stage of digital workplace maturity. In fact, when we asked organizations what stage their digital workplace was at, 42% considered it to be at an early stage, with 25% mid-way, and just 14% at a mature phase. Only 16% of organizations told us they had not started yet. What is interesting is that these numbers are relatively similar to the responses we received in 2017 and show that many organizations are still on a journey. The digital workplace is absolutely a work in progress.

  1.     But we are making some real advances

Progress is being made: businesses are putting more digital workplace strategies in place and implementing core platforms

Despite this lack of maturity, the results from the survey also show some very encouraging signs. Firstly, more organizations than ever are implementing strategies and programmes around the digital workplace concept. In 2017, just 46% of organizations told us they had a strategy or programme in place; in 2018, this had risen to 54%, and in 2019 it is now 65%. Secondly, many respondents were in the advanced stages of implementing core digital workplace investments, such as Office 365. Two thirds were in the “implementation phase” or further, and only 5% had not yet started; 40% had some tools implemented. This was a considerable advance on the 2018 survey. Even if collective progress is slow, behind the scenes, organizations are getting things done.

Related resource: FREE REPORT EXCERPT: Strategy & Governance

  1.     Customer experience is a key priority

The link between employee and customer experience is becoming clear to many

When we asked teams to outline their top digital workplace priorities, we weren’t particularly surprised by the top three responses: Digitization and process improvement; Knowledge management; Culture and change. However, we were quite surprised by the fourth most popular priority, which was “Improving customer service”. We felt this was part of a growing trend in recognizing the explicit link between employee and customer experience, and how the digital workplace can enable better experiences and service delivery felt externally.

  1.     Leaders need to do more to support the digital workplace

Half-hearted support from top leadership is stifling digital workplace progress

We wanted to find out some of the key challenges digital workplace teams are facing. The top most popular answers (in order) were:

  • Budget constraints (37.5%)
  • Competing initiatives or departments (26.5%)
  • Lack of strategic direction (25.4%)
  • Organizational culture (22.7%)
  • Lack of cross-departmental collaboration (18.6%).

At least four out of five of these challenges represent half-hearted support from leadership in either not providing enough resources or not giving the strategic context to a programme, which then causes different stakeholders to pursue their own individual paths,  undermining the evolution of a holistic digital workplace. Having strong support from the top can help digital workplace teams to better navigate these particular challenges.

Related resource: FREE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Inside-Out Digital Leader: Digitally transforming your organization from within

  1.     Many digital workplace tools are simply not as effective as they should be

Digital workplace tools are failing users, creating a huge disconnect between their strategic importance and operational effectiveness

When we asked respondents to rate the importance of various different tools within the digital workplace and also their effectiveness, it produced some of the most startling results from the survey. It is clear that there is a huge disconnect between how important organizations rate tools to be and how well they are actually working on the ground. While most tools are rated important or very important, very few are really considered to be working well. In fact, apart from email (a technology most consider to have several flaws), not a single technology has more than 20% of respondents saying it is “working well”. For example, only 19.9% consider group chat and collaboration to be working well, although 95% think it is “very important” or “somewhat important”. Similarly, only 10.5% of organizations consider enterprise search to be truly effective, although 93.5% consider it to be important. With a similar pattern repeated for every tool, it is clear that digital workplace tools are falling well below expectations.

  1.     Having a digital workplace strategy or programme in place leads to more effective tools

Digital workplace maturity, combined with a well-developed digital workplace programme, leads to real-world improvements with more effective tools

When we looked a little closer at the data relating to how organizations rated the effectiveness of their digital workplace tools, we noticed something very interesting. We segmented the results based on how well-developed a digital workplace programme or strategy an organization has and found a clear link between a mature programme and more effective tools. This suggests that a digital workplace strategy or programme can positively impact the effectiveness of tools, indicating the value of taking a more focused approach to the digital workplace. For example, 44.2% of those with a mature digital workplace programme said collaboration tools were “working well” compared to 17.6% with a programme in progress and 13% with no programme or strategy. A similar pattern is repeated for virtually all the other tools.

  1.     Emerging technologies such as AI and microservices are not a major focus

Although emerging technologies receive the most attention and excitement, the priority for most organizations is the nuts and bolts

Everybody is excited about AI and the opportunities it brings, but when we looked at the prioritization placed on different tools and their relative importance, it was clear that foundational technologies trumped the more emergent areas. Organizations are still working on the basics. For example, document management was named as the most important technology, while AI and microservices were two of the four areas garnering the least interest.

  1.     Digital teams could do more to measure the digital workplace

Measuring the digital workplace is at a nascent stage, making it harder to drive improvement

We’ve long known that measurement across the digital workplace is essential for improvement but also that this is not an area where teams generally excel. When we asked which types of metrics digital workplace teams use for improvement, the results were interesting (the most popular is employee engagement metrics) but it was the number of types of measure that really caught our eye.  Digital workplaces are diverse environments that can produce numerous metrics types, but the majority of teams (68.5%) are using just three types of measure or fewer. In fact, by our calculations, around 7% are not using any measurement, relying on what one respondent drily observed as “gut feel”.

Related resource: FREE REPORT EXCERPT: Measuring the digital workplace: The power of metrics in the connected workplace

  1.     Agile goes hand in hand with the digital workplace

Organizations that embrace agile practices were also found to achieve higher levels of digital workplace success

At DWG anecdotally we’ve seen how important using agile methodologies has been for some members to deliver and improve their digital workplace. Our survey also suggests a correlation between organizations with a more mature digital workplace and those using agile methodologies: 37% of those organizations with a mature or “mid-way” digital workplace use agile most of the time, compared to 13% of those at an early phase of maturity. This latter group is also more likely to use traditional or waterfall methodologies for IT delivery. While this link is fascinating, we need more information to ascertain what lies behind the potential link between agile and digital workplace maturity. For example, it could be more to do with a user-centric culture than agile being essential to delivering a compelling digital workplace.

  1.   There is still no consensus about who is responsible for digital employee experience

Ownership of the employee experience is still up for grabs

Employee experience is a term that is increasingly used by digital workplace teams, HR functions and internal communicators as a focus for their activities. We wanted to get a sense of whether a consensus is emerging about ownership of this critical area. However, our survey shows there is clearly no set opinion over who owns employee experience. A fifth of respondents felt a leadership function or the C-suite owned it, while another fifth felt HR was the owner; 12% felt it was owned by IT, and 10% that it was owned by a digital group. Others told us “nobody” or “everybody” owned it. Based on these results, it feels as if employee experience is still an area that is very much up for grabs.

Download the free report

The report contains many other insights and has a detailed breakdown of the statistics, and full commentary behind all of the above takeaways. It also includes three mini-case studies from MassMutual, Standard Life Aberdeen and Volvo Cars. It is free to download.



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Categorised in: Digital workplace, Research reports

Steve Bynghall

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer specializing in the digital workplace, intranets, knowledge management, collaboration and other digital themes. He is DWG’s Research and Knowledge Lead, a benchmark evaluator and research analyst for DWG.

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