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When are you ready to manage the digital workplace

Synopsis: How do you define and manage the digital workplace? What is the role of the intranet and the intranet team? This compendium includes 12 key concepts to answer those questions. Are you ready?

In this, the last of my series of blog posts, I’m going to look back at what we’ve covered and also tackle that tricky question for intranet managers: When is the right time to try and manage the whole enchilada of the digital workplace? Or, if you are in the trenches of intranet management being shot at on a daily basis, should you just concentrate on Mission One?

I started out by dispelling some myths:

1. What is the digital workplace anyway?

The digital workplace isn’t a fantastical bit of science fiction. It is here, now and messy. It is all of the tools the organization provides that people use to do their jobs.

Digital workplace venn diagram - organization plus employee

2. Why do organizations ignore the digital workplace?

It’s all moved a bit fast and we are waiting for our organizations to catch up.

Siloed IT services in the digital workplace
Siloed systems create complexity for users of the digital workplace

3. Why is the intranet still important in the era of the digital workplace?

Hell, yeah. It brings structure and coherence. When you think about the intranet, think gaffer-tape, crazy glue and Swiss Army knives.

Intranet provides structure in digital workplace

4. Should the intranet team manage the digital workplace?

Maybe not “manage” in the way IT thinks of managing, but intranet teams have some super-powers that are going to come in useful in the final reel:

  • standards, controls and governance
  • managing complexity, providing structure and coherence
  • representing the user
  • balancing technology with purpose.
Unique set of intranet skills

5. What’s different between intranet management and digital workplace management?

We need to think beyond the idea of the homepage and “out of the bowser” and think about the users’ context and how they might use all these devices. I made this funky GIF:

Difference between managing intranet and digital workplace

 

6. What’s the employee’s view of the digital workplace?

This is where we got a bit conceptual, because the organization’s digital workplace is not the whole of an employee’s digital life. I deployed the heavy weaponry of Venn diagrams at you:

Digital workplace venn diagram

7. Enterprise mobility or mobile intranet?

We looked at “mobile” and it turned out to be a bit more complicated than just making your intranet available on a device. We need to think about the various constraints of mobile from the user’s point of view: digital constraints, physical constraints and social constraints.

Digital workplace user experience - device and access diagram

8. Millennial schmillennial: debunking myths about generational digital working habits

Is the world different now that kids were born with a SNES and grew up with YouTube? Uh, no. You need to research your users, who rely on hooky headlines. Observe, design and test, and don’t rely on stereotypes beyond your ability to make and craft changes in the systems of the digital workplace.

Digital work habits for different generations

9. Will the digital workplace evolve like the intranet did? I hope not

The evolution of intranets has been unusually tortuous. The “wild west” of chaotic, unmanaged intranet sites does not have to be replicated in the evolution of digital workplaces:

Intranet evolution diagram - Digital Workplace Group

The size and scope of the legacy of digital workplaces mean we need to take a more concerted but practical approach:

Digital workplace evolution - Digital Workplace Group

10. With the digital workplace, focus is everything

Don’t try and change it all in one go. Scope your project around something that will really make a difference strategically:

  • by technology
  • by business area
  • by business process
  • by behaviours.
Digital workplace focus - simple diagram

11. Segmenting the users of the digital workplace

Trying a one-size-fits-all approach for your users won’t make anyone happy. Having a clear understanding of the characteristics of different types of user (called segmentation) is one small step, but creating personas – fictional pen portraits of someone in a segment – helps you keep the user in the room, making it easier to take decisions and harder to design for yourself or your boss.

Digital workplace segmentation user personas - header

12. How user experience debt bankrupts your digital workplace

This is worse than credit card debt. When you don’t go the extra mile for your digital workplace project, you can end up making work for the whole organization. Your project might finish on time and under budget, but you will have passed the extra time and unhappiness on to your users. Avoid this and strive to go that little bit further.

User experience debt digital workplace

So we come to the end, and the beginning:

So, dear intranet manager, you stand at a crossroads. The world is moving pretty fast and it is mixing everything up. On the one hand, a great many organizations are not really coping with what they need to provide with their intranets. Content management is still a mess; strategy and governance is a movie without a director; and search and metrics are often disaster areas. The intranet needs good people like you, to guide, build and structure the future. Social and collaboration are changing intranets and being successfully absorbed under your watchful guidance.

But on the other hand, the concept of the “intranet” (meaning “our stuff in the browser”) is getting very fuzzy, and much of what is available in the browser is also available outside it, via apps and other clients on the desktop. At the same time, activities like “collaboration”, of virtually any stripe, veer across different tools in the digital workplace, sometimes being browser-based but increasingly not. Consider Microsoft Lync: technology that has a toehold in the browser, with ways to integrate people’s statuses, and yet it is a desktop client and a mobile client. If you restrict your influence and your strategy and governance to “in the browser”, you could not only be missing a trick, you could miss the boat entirely.

In summary, I suggest it is down to the maturity of your organization. High-performing organizations are able to tear down barriers because they have evolved their ideas. Organizations that lag behind probably need the structure in place so that everything doesn’t just fall apart.

And how about you, intranet manager? No, not the role, actually you! Where are you in your career? Are you happy keeping the intranet tidy and making it as good as it can be? Or do you want to move on up towards bigger, but perhaps scarier, things? Maybe you can, if the opportunity presents itself, but even in your new role you will continue to understand what is important, unique and essential about the intranet – the prince among systems dressed as a pauper.

I don’t envy you that choice. But, as the great Yogi Berra once said, “When you see a fork in the road: take it.”


Related research reports

About the author

Chris TubbChris Tubb is an independent intranet and digital workplace consultant, who lives in Brighton.

For the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) he is a strategy consultant, lead benchmarker and a member of the research team.

Working with intranets since 1996, in and out of IT and Communications departments, Chris was formerly responsible for intranet strategy and architecture at Orange SA and France Telecom Group.

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