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I started working in what we now awkwardly call a “coffice” 30 years ago. From that time onwards an early version “teleworker” lived an isolated life. Eventually it became possible to connect with colleagues via instant messaging and email. Otherwise your main channel of interaction was through the telephone. Not even a mobile phone, but through a land line. And teleworking itself was rare.

Poor track record for enterprise software

Even at the start of this century, most of the software applications employees used had to be accessed via desktop PCs from within an office. Those applications would look archaic today and work at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Only five years ago many companies still provided employees with software that was highly impersonal. Traditional software (as we know only too well) acts as a brutal interface between a human being and a database, and is rarely designed around how the human user thinks.

But today digital working looks very different.

Social software is humanizing digital working

At last some large organizations are using social software that is humanizing the digital environment. Social software, including higher grade video and audio from smartphones, facilitates more authentic conversations, not just interactions with a database. Rich user profiles, discussion forums that show people’s faces alongside their comments, news feeds of colleagues’ activity, visualized org charts and other social features together create a more living, human digital environment.

In what was once a barren and isolating digital landscape a human-centred digital workplace gives each employee a face and a voice and creates a rich, living online environment.

At the same time as social software has been transforming the feel of digital working, most modern enterprise technology is now delivered both through web browsers and user-friendly mobile touchscreen devices. And every day we see greater and greater integration between different applications and sources of information.

Today enterprise software can tie employees together and create efficient, seamless digital tools. Social intranets become amplifiers of company culture, builders of employee communities. Integrated tools bring relevant data to employees, where they need to see it.

In practice it seems the digital workplace is becoming the “digital glue” that holds people and software together – keeping the organization working.

Digital workplace still has a long way to go

While we’ve come a long way, even advancing by leaps and bounds over just the past five years, there is so much further to go. Too many digital workplaces are tied together with duct tape and string, so to speak. We still see too few companies that have actual programmes in place to oversee the broader digital workplace, instead focusing on managing individual applications and services. Many large companies are still only trialling internal-facing social software and trying desperately to learn lessons about how to use it effectively.

Truth is, while things are unrecognizable from my early “coffice” days in 1984, our ways of digital working are still very immature.

Upcoming book on implementing a cohesive digital workplace

This is the starting point for a new book I am writing with my colleague, Elizabeth Marsh, the Research Director at the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). “The Digital Renaissance of Work” (being published by Gower in September this year) explains how the most advanced companies are intentionally crafting cohesive digital workplaces that empower and enable employees.

DWG’s main service arm, the Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF), has spent over a decade evaluating and helping to improve the intranets of many of the largest organizations in the world. Now we have a sophisticated framework for evaluating the larger digital workplaces of those companies as well. We know the challenges and success factors of creating digital workplaces that inspire, rather than restrain.

This is the topic of my upcoming presentation on Tuesday, January 21st to HR professionals at the Reed Learning Centre in London. This presentation is sponsored by Reed Global, a worldwide leader in recruitment, which has clearly seen how digital workplaces are shaping the future of work.

Event details – London presentation hosted by Reed Global

  • Digital Glue: Engaging and leading in a fragmented world of work
  • Date: Tuesday, January 21st
  • Hosted by: Reed Learning
  • Address: 9 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6XF

If you are looking to turn your company’s digital workplace into a source of competitive advantage, I recommend downloading an executive summary of DWG’s recent report, Digital Workplace User Experience: Designing for a flexible workforce.

About the author

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). He is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s previous book, The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University. He hosts the Digital Workplace Impact podcast.

Paul was ranked one of the world’s Top 50 Social Employee Advocacy Leaders in 2015. For many years he hosted the pioneering internet radio show Digital Workplace Live and is Executive Producer of the 24-hour global digital experience Digital Workplace 24. Prior to founding DWG, Paul was Founder and CEO of communications company The Empowerment Group; Publisher and Editor of social and digital innovation magazine “Wave”; and, in pre-internet days, co-founder of the Ideas Café salon. He lives in the Cotswolds in the UK.

See more about Paul Miller on Wikipedia

Connect with Paul on Twitter: @paulmillersays

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