Managing digital workplace communication: so many tools, so much confusion

February 10, 2017

The interview below with CEO Paul Miller first appeared on CMS Wire and is written by .

It seems fashionable these days to blame email for our communication woes. After all, critics say it’s a time suck, makes us less productive, costs companies money and even makes us sick.

While all of this may very well be true, pointing the finger at any one technology won’t help us become better communicators.

Paul Miller, founder and CEO of strategic partner and boutique consultancy Digital Workplace Group (DWG), said poor digital workplace communication typically has less to do with email, instant messaging or collaboration tools than a lack of policies and procedures governing those tools.

“Most organizations pay little attention initially to the subject of governance,” he told CMSWire. “It sounds rather dull, rather bureaucratic. They feel like they can function without it.”

However, he said, without governance, your digital workplace will quickly begin to unravel. Most organizations deploy a range of interesting, engaging and usable tools — “and then suffer from a level of digital fragmentation,” he explained.

“That’s when they start to put in place policies, governance, templates, instructions and procedures around acceptable content and suitability of different technology for different tasks.”

It’s necessary to rein in the fragmentation they’ve suffered.

Digital Workplace Governance 101

Paul Miller

Miller described governance as the foundational layer of a company’s digital workplace, a concept that represents strategy in action.

It’s a workplace essential, and one of four key themes Miller will address this June during a unique new conference, Digital Workplace Experience (#DWEXP17) in Chicago. Co-created by DWG and Simpler Media Group (SMG) Inc. — the parent company of CMSWire and producer of the DX Summit — the three-day event will bring influential digital workplace practitioners and technology innovators together to present solutions, strategies and best practices to a global audience.

Strategy and governance may not seem electrifying but it can differentiate success from failure, Miller stressed.

“There’s a direct correlation between the strongest performing digital workplaces and solid approaches to governance,” said Miller, citing companies like Bank of New York Mellon, IKEA and Verizon as models. “It’s what good strategy looks like when it’s enacted.”

Governance in the digital workplace can get complicated since it spans multiple functions and elements (from content management to change management), and goes beyond policies to include structures, standards and measurement, notes a DWG report on Digital Governance.

 DWG research recommends that digital workplace governance cover a comprehensive set of elements, from user experience to business alignment.
DWG recommends digital workplace governance cover everything from user experience to business alignment.

When considering governance for your digital workplace, the report provides these recommendations:

  1. Help stakeholders like Marketing, IT, HR, Knowledge Management and others understand the importance of governance by getting them involved in the process early.
  2. Form a cross-functional governance team to help move the process of setting standards and rules forward.
  3. Define a framework for your governance that includes scope, channels and applications, change management practices, stakeholder roles and responsibilities, applications and content, and measurement.
  4. Learn from what works by looking at governance practices of other successful digital workplaces.

Getting Started With Workplace Communication Governance

With a better understanding of overall governance principles in the digital workplace, let’s shift the focus to workplace communication. For those who don’t yet have their governance pieces in place, Miller shared some tips on how to move forward with creating policies and structures around workplace communication.

1. Start With Strategy

Before you begin developing or revising your workplace communication policies, Miller advised consulting both your business and digital workplace strategies for guidance.

“If you don’t have a digital strategy and roadmap, create one for the next three to five years,” he recommended.

Miller said companies with the strongest digital workplace practices ask questions like: “Where does a set of services fit within our corporate strategy?” and “What is our overall corporate governance?”

Within this governance context, they then work on applying policies to areas like their intranet, collaboration tools, services and applications.

2. Talk About Your Toolset

Because it’s so easy for employees to use their personal applications at work, it’s important to clearly articulate what the preferred toolset is for your organization, and why you use each tool, said Miller. He recommends giving employees suggestions for which workplace application or service to use instead of one they would typically interact with at home.

For example: Instead of using WhatsApp, use Skype for Business. Instead of Facebook, use Yammer or Chatter. Governance is less about telling people which tool to use for what, and more about helping them use existing tools in the most efficient way, he said.

“Give simple, clear instructions about what people can rather than can’t do while using collaborative tools, and provide examples — one good example, and one bad,” he said.

3. Remember the Audience

Miller recommends developing guidelines around communication based on audience.

“Think about your audience and ensure you’re only placing content and communication in places where people need to know,” he said.

He gave an example of how Virgin Trains had some fun with its policy around all-company Yammers.

“People were posting into Yammer, but the default was to send messages to the whole company,” he said. The company handled the problem by making a humorous 90-second video to illustrate the point that if a message was only intended for people in catering or in the London-to-Newcastle group, then it was a good idea to only post to that particular group.

4. Set Criteria for New Functionality

Create a set of “stage gates” people need to go through before creating a new team in SharePoint, an additional intranet site or new functionality within the organization. Miller recommended making documentation with specific criteria readily available to everyone in the organization. The documentation should ask a series of questions that people would have to agree with before being able to move to the next stage.

“Organizations are starting to realize governance matters,” Miller concluded.

“The digital workplace is an enduring place of work for staff, contractors and the wider organization. If you don’t put some level of policy rules around it, it will come back and bite you through digital fragmentation, duplication of data and content becoming less compelling and accurate.”

(Interested in learning more about the challenges and opportunities impacting the new digital worlds where we work? Join us for Digital Workplace Experience June 19 to 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Simpler Media Group, Inc., publisher of CMSWire and creator of DX Summit, and boutique consultancy Digital Workplace Group (DWG) are working as strategic partners to present #DWEXP17.)

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