New research shines a light on the future direction of the digital workplace

July 7, 2015 by

Jane McConnell’s latest annual report on digital workplace trends presents more interesting data and analysis of the digital workplace. This post reviews the new report and also covers some takeaways relating to the role of leaders, change agents and future direction.

New research shines a light on the future direction of the digital workplace

“The organization in the digital age”, Jane McConnell’s latest report in her annual digital workplace trends series, gives us another fascinating snapshot of our collective journey into the digital world of work.

The main findings of this glimpse into the state of maturity of the digital workplace across 300 or so organizations are perhaps not surprising: progress is being made, but there is still a long way to go, and levels of maturity vary dramatically from organization to organization. However, the detail in McConnell’s report helps to illuminate the various advances, barriers and micro-trends that are currently happening.

Jane McConnell is considered one of the pioneers of the digital workplace. Like DWG, she has helped to popularize the term and associated concepts, which are now also being picked up by organizations like Gartner. Her trend report series has been running for 9 years now and, while it started out focusing on intranets, it has evolved so that these days it is not really about intranets at all.

Instead the report is pitched much more at senior management in looking at organizational and enterprise-level digital trends, although it will be of equal interest to practitioners who need to be influencers and even change agents relating to this subject.

Digital workplace framework and analysis

McConnell points out early on that the digital workplace is not just about technology and it’s definitely not the extended intranet. It’s also not some immersive end-state digital ecosystem, but rather the as-is “intersection of people, organization and technology”. McConnell’s framework for the digital workplace is based on capabilities, enablers and mindset, a three-pronged model which takes in various factors such as organizational culture, processes and leadership.

As in previous years, much of the analysis compares the responses of the top 20% organizations, which McConnell calls “early adopters”, and the remaining 80%, which constitute the “majority”. This analysis works well because it shows the position of maturity and also gives a more easily identifiable and actionable direction of travel for organizations considering their digital workplace.

There are also some additional frameworks for analysis including success over four common scenarios, namely supporting individual learning; the needs of the customer-facing workforce; organizational agility; and what is effectively knowledge management.

These frameworks not only allow for analysis but also provide convenient ways to digest the insights from the data. There is a lot of information in “The organization in the digital age”. Aware of this, McConnell also provides an executive summary and a convenient suggested 45-minute reading version which includes key sections and chapters.


There are many insights to take away from McConnell’s research. For example, I was greatly encouraged to find out that there is a correlation between customer satisfaction and a strong digital workplace.

I was also not surprised to find that enterprise mobility continues to fail to grow as fast as we might expect (despite best practice research on enterprise mobile) and that search continues to be an area of concern (see our new report on a holistic approach to intranet search), with organizations tending to encourage connections to relevant people over information. You can get a glimpse of some of the headline trends in a post written by McConnell.

The role of leaders

Because of my current focus on DWG research, which is looking at the roles and structures associated with digital success, I was particularly interested in McConnell’s analysis of the role of leadership in the digital workplace and in digital transformation.

We know that support from senior management is absolutely key in digital workplace initiatives, both in terms of setting it as an organizational priority, but also in leading the change by example.

But the latest report shows that there is still much work to do. Over half of early adopters, but only 26% of the rest of respondents, indicate that “approximately half or most or all” of senior leaders support digital workplace initiatives. Digital transformation and trends are essential in any line of business, as you can now communicate and send clients information quickly and efficiently.

CDOs, community managers and change agents

McConnell’s report also goes on to examine some of the roles which then make digital transformation happen, including Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) and community managers.

The growth of CDOs is still very embryonic. In fact, McConnell’s survey found out that only 23 of nearly 300 organizations have a CDO and a good proportion of those are not even at C-level and report into the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Those that do have a CDO cover some responsibilities already covered by the CIO, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO).

In her report, McConnell is right to emphasize that a CDO role must cover the experience of employees as much as that of customers, otherwise “transformation will be superficial”.

It was also a surprise to see that “community management”, a popular role and job title that I perceive as becoming increasingly established as an accepted role, had actually retracted this year despite expanding from 2012 to 2013. McConnell hints that this may be because it is now less of a full-time dedicated role than a skill set, although it could also be due to economic uncertainty.

McConnell also looks at how change agents and activists are critical for digital workplace success. This is mentioned as the number one change driver by both centralized and closed organizations but is significantly less important in industry sectors that are ranked higher in terms of digital workplace maturity. Our recent report on Change management for intranet and digital workplace teams includes several case studies related to this.

Where are we heading?

If I can take an abiding conclusion from the report, it’s that there is growing awareness of how digital work may look in the future but that we are woefully behind in preparing for it.

For example, it was interesting to see that 60% of the early adopters have a vision of a “coordinated ecosystem made up of different digital systems and services”, compared to 40% of the majority. However, 30% of the majority have no vision at all compared to 3% of the early adopters.

But how well are we prepared for starting to plan for that vision? McConnell reveals that only one in ten organizations in the survey have cross-functional steering committees for their digital workplaces. We’re still early on this journey.
McConnell’s insights, both high-level and detailed, are an excellent resource for any organization and team within it that is serious about its digital workplace agenda. You can dip in to inform your own initiatives, see how you compare with others and use statistics as a discussion point with senior management or even to support a business case. We look forward to the 2016 report!

Categorised in: Digital workplace, ROI & Business Case, Strategy & governance

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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