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Elizabeth Marsh - starting the digital workplace conversations

Synopsis: Overhauling your digital workplace to make it fit for the future is no small task, but it is critical. Simply getting people to talk about the “digital workplace” is an important first step and this article explains how to move the conversation forward.

In October this year a new book, “The Digital Renaissance of Work – Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future”, written by myself and DWG’s CEO, Paul Miller, will be published by Gower.

In a series of blog posts over the coming months, Paul and I will hopefully whet your appetite for the launch by covering a small selection of the ideas and insights we include in the book.

So, you know you’re part of the Digital Renaissance of Work. You welcome our collective emergence from the Dark Ages of the office. And you get the digital work ethic… But, when you get in to work or login from home, the digital workplace still looks like something the cat dragged in. Backwards. Through a thorn bush.

You’re not alone. For many organizations, the digital workplace has evolved in a haphazard manner, creating a landscape that lacks integration and is difficult to use. The journey from this chaotic state to a cohesive, effective digital workplace needs to be taken one step at a time. Starting right now.

So how do you bring the Digital Renaissance of Work alive in your organization? The five steps below will help you get started:

1. Start the conversation about the “digital workplace”

At DWG, we’re seeing the term “digital workplace” gain a lot of traction in organizations. It seems to resonate with both IT and business audiences, and it helps to steer the conversation away from focusing on individual tools such as the intranet.

Is it a term that’s understood in your organization? Is there an appetite for a digital workplace conversation? If so, why not start a digital workplace community on your collaboration platform? There are some great ideas and resources you can seed this with; for example, Chris Tubb’s series on the digital workplace and, if you’re a DWG member, sources from our research programme.

And the time is definitely now: if you don’t start (and potentially own) the conversation, someone else will. Get people talking about the digital workplace by whatever channels work best in your organization.

2. Understand digital workplace maturity

Every organization has a digital workplace. What is the current experience of the digital workplace in your organization? If it’s like many organizations, this may well be one of fragmentation, frustration and lost productivity.

Understanding maturity – initially through a self-assessment and then through a deeper benchmark – will help you to understand areas of strength and weakness in your current digital workplace, and to highlight areas for improvement. And, as you begin to get your digital workplace programme up and running, this will also provide an all-important “level set” against which you can measure progress.

Use visuals and stories to make sure your message has impact. For example, a map of the “as is” state of your digital workplace landscape can help stakeholders to see just how fragmented and complex the current state is.

3. Articulate the vision for your digital workplace

Right from the start you’re going to need to tell stories: stories about what the digital workplace will do for your business. Don’t get high on features and functionality unless you can link them back to your organization’s strategic objectives and show the impact they will have. If I had £1 for every time I mentioned “strategic alignment” in relation to intranets and digital workplace initiatives, I’d be a rich woman!

And don’t just assume everyone will “get it”; be creative in how you present the vision. For example, use day-in-the-life stories of employees to illustrate the difference the digital workplace can make to how they work. We also know at DWG that it has real impact to show what “good look likes” in other organizations, especially within your own industry.

4. Make the digital workplace about people

So, you’ve got a vision for the digital workplace, and it aligns with the strategic objectives, but what about the ways in which people actually work? Chris Tubb’s recent blog post explained that with the digital workplace, focus is everything. And, in a recent workshop, a participant advised: “Make it about one simple thing”. The digital workplace programme is going to be big, but we need to make sure that it starts with helping people get everyday tasks done more easily and effectively.

#4 is all about research: getting out there and understanding what people are struggling with and what would make a difference. And remember, as a researcher you have to step back and view how people perceive their own work – the reality can be quite different from that expected. Go and see for yourself and watch out for workarounds that people have developed in order to deal with shortfalls in the technology – these bring real costs to your organization both in employee engagement and at the bottom line.

5. Engage stakeholders

#5 is about people again. If you’re really going to bring the Digital Renaissance alive in your organization, you’re going to need a wide set of stakeholders to come on board with the vision. Start with a senior sponsor that you think will be supportive and work outwards from there.

As in #4: ask great questions. Interview senior managers on how they perceive the current digital workplace services, what keeps them awake at night worrying, and what would make their business area run more smoothly.
There’s no “silver bullet” when it comes to sponsorship – it could be the CIO, a new-fangled role like CDO (Chief Digital Officer) or a partnership between the Head of HR and IT. The process of walking the vision round the organization will help to understand what’s troubling senior managers and show how you can support them. It also brings us right back to #1: start the conversation.

If this list makes one thing clear, it’s this: the Digital Renaissance of Work isn’t about technology itself, but about how people work in this new digital age. That’s why any successful digital workplace programme starts with people and conversation.


Related research: Digital workplace fundamentals

Digital workplace fundamentals – an integrated approach

How good is my intranet?This report suggests a blueprint for launching a successful digital workplace initiative anchored on two key prerequisites, namely scope (what is included) and approach (how it is delivered).

Among the key takeaways highlighted in this report are 1) the digital workplace permeates all aspects of working life, 2) it affects technology, physical workplaces and people, and 3) cross-functional teams increase the chances of a project successfully meeting its outcomes.

Download the free report » 

About the author

Elizabeth Marsh - DWG's Director of ResearchElizabeth Marsh leads the Digital Workplace Group’s member research and events. She is passionate about connecting members to peers or resources and exploring new research opportunities.

Elizabeth is co-author, with Paul Miller, of the new book “The Digital Renaissance of Work—Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future”.

Prior to joining DWG, Elizabeth held intranet management roles at T-Mobile and Reuters, with broad-ranging responsibilities including community management, internal communications and research.

When not busy in the digital workplace, Elizabeth is a keen writer and musician, playing flute in an amateur orchestra and performing with various local groups.

Connect with Elizabeth on Twitter at @digitalsanity or on Google +.

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