Seven digital workplace takeaways from the 2021 DWG member survey

April 7, 2021 Updated: September 28, 2022 by

Digital workplaces and the ways in which employees work are always in a state of flux – but the past year has shown just how dramatic such change can be, with intranets, digital workplaces and the teams behind them having to adapt rapidly to new needs and circumstances.

Here at DWG, we keep a keen eye on industry trends. One of the ways we do this is through our annual DWG member survey where we ask our members about:

  • how they rate our services
  • what they would like to see in the DWG research programme for the coming year
  • their organization’s intranet and digital workplace.

This latter point gives us a valuable (and fascinating) snapshot of where larger organizations are up to with their digital workplaces.

Last year when we reported on some of the findings from the survey, the answers were given before the impact of the pandemic had hit. This year, responses take into account the dramatic developments of 2020, so we were especially interested to see what the survey would tell us. As it turns out, in this respect the impact of the pandemic has not perhaps been as great as we might have expected, but the survey results still provide a very interesting peek at where we are on our collective digital workplace journey.

Here are seven digital workplace takeaways from this year’s DWG member survey.

1. Digital workplaces are becoming more effective… but only slightly

One of the interesting impacts of the pandemic is that it has undoubtedly accelerated digital workplace maturity – for many organizations, catapulting the digital workplace further forward in several days than in the whole of the preceding year. Anecdotally, we know that scaling up remote working almost overnight has had an impact, certainly in terms of adoption, but according to our survey this hasn’t necessarily translated into a significantly more effectivedigital workplace.

When we asked our members to rate the effectiveness of their digital workplace, we saw only a modest increase on last year. While the proportion of members saying their digital workplace was extremely or very effective remained broadly similar (31% in 2021; 29% in 2020), a greater proportion said it was ‘somewhat effective’, up from 45% to 56%.

We suspect the reason for this only modest increase is that digital workplace teams know there is more work to do in embedding digital behaviours to drive the most effective use of tools, as well as there being improvements that might need to be introduced after a very rapid roll-out. Perhaps with more time we may see more effective digital workplace ratings in next year’s survey.

2. The domination of Microsoft Teams is apparent

So, you may have heard of this little communication and collaboration tool called Microsoft Teams…

It will probably come as little surprise to you that the incredible rise in the adoption of Microsoft Teams that we highlighted last year has continued, and it is now arguably the dominant app within the digital workplace for DWG members, with the possible exception of Outlook.

Results from our survey over three years confirm that growth has been spectacular; last year, members using it for collaboration had grown from 52% to 69%, and this year the figure is 89%, a figure certainly fuelled by the need for remote working due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, 92% of members use Teams for unified communications. It is now the delivery app for other services too; for the first time we asked members what they use for online events – and 76% use Teams.

The growth of Teams also reflects a general trend relating to the dominance of the Microsoft 365 platform, with high numbers of members using Microsoft tools for intranets, search, analytics, productivity, automation and even more peripheral uses such as email marketing.

3. Internal communicators are getting more involved in the digital workplace

Each year we ask DWG members about who owns the intranet and also the digital workplace. Survey responses around ownership patterns in the intranet and digital workplace tend to be relatively set, with little movement year-on-year.

As a rule, the intranet is generally owned or co-owned by Internal Communications (IC); this year, 83% of members confirmed that IC were in the driving seat for owning the intranet, with 37% IT functions and 23% HR and Learning functions owning or co-owning the channel respectively.

Patterns of ownership around the digital workplace tend to be less clear, with the scope tending to be wider than just one owner and less consensus about where the digital workplace starts and stops. Generally, there is always a greater association with IT functions, with 51% owning or co-owning the digital workplace. This year, however, we saw a notable rise of IC functions owning or co-owning the digital workplace, up from 14% to 29%. This may be down to various reasons, including:

  • the number of intranets that are increasingly branded as ‘digital workplaces’ and which are being rolled out with other digital workplace tools
  • better cooperation between IT and IC functions in supporting employees during the pandemic
  • internal communicators taking a more focused approach to digital workplace channels such as Microsoft Teams.

We think this is a very interesting trend to watch to see if there will be even greater involvement from IC next year.

4. Digital workplace measurement is still focused on adoption and usage

An area of digital workplace management that we have observed growing in importance is measurement. It’s also one that is evolving, for example with new opportunities to derive insights from the increase in digital interactions caused by the scaling up of remote working, or new product capabilities such as those offered across the Microsoft 365 platform.

We asked about digital workplace measurement in the survey for the first time. Here, perhaps unsurprisingly, adoption and usage metrics dominate, with 91% of DWG members reporting on this data. While there is an encouragingly high instance of usability testing (61%), areas such as productivity gains and time saved are only considered by fewer than half the members, suggesting that measurement practices are still an area for improvement across the membership.

It will be intriguing to see if ‘Personal workplace analytics’ increases in next year’s survey from its current 24%, given that Microsoft appears to be focusing on this area.

5. Intranets have greater reach than ever before

Most DWG members have intranets that the great majority of employees can access. However, in the past, there have always been sections of the workforce that could not access the intranet, often due to licensing, logistical or technical reasons; typically, these are frontline workers or an outsourced section of the workforce.

This year, our member survey indicates that intranets have greater reach than ever before. There has been an uptick in the percentage of DWG members where the total workforce is able to access the intranet, with 61% of members providing full access for everybody, compared to 43% previously. Members offering intranet access to 95% or more of the workforce increased from 70% to 87%.

We think this greater reach may be in response to the pandemic; it has been critical to ensure that all employees are kept informed, engaged and up to date during the crisis, and some organizations will have moved to plug the gaps in intranet reach to ensure that this happens, particularly for frontline employees.

6. The pandemic has not significantly changed digital workplace strategic priorities

Each year we ask DWG members about their strategic priorities for the year. Although this year we see more emphasis on search and governance, responses did not significantly differ from previous years. In fact, the responses to this question suggest that the pandemic has not significantly altered the focus for digital workplace teams as much as we might have thought. For example, adoption is still key, coming out as the joint second top priority.

However, there are some new challenges ahead: for example, one in five members said that ‘culture amplification’ after an intense period of change was on their radar. One surprise is that support for ‘agile and hybrid working’ with alignment between the physical and digital workplace has reduced from 31% to 19%. Members also continue to prioritize other strategic areas over emergent areas such as AI, with just 14% declaring this a priority area.

7. Peer-to-peer plays an important role in digital literacy initiatives

One of the most interesting and important aspects of managing the digital workplace is digital literacy, supporting employees by equipping them with the know-how and confidence to best use the new tools at their fingertips.

In our member survey, we ask how organizations deliver digital literacy programmes. While perhaps the top answer comes as no surprise – 88% use classroom or online learning (the vast majority of which will be the latter) – peer-to-peer relationships are also central to how teams are delivering digital literacy. Here, various prominent answers reflect a less top-down and traditional approach to the digital workplace, citing instead an approach based on learning from colleagues.

Answers include: Online Communities (72%), Digital Ambassadors and Champions (59%) and even Reverse Mentoring (16%). Anecdotally, learning from peers can be more impactful, and it is good to see more organizations investing in community-driven approaches.

Trends in the digital workplace carry on emerging and here at DWG we will, as ever, be keeping an eye on what’s happening. If you’d like to stay informed, you can read our expert blog, tune into our Digital Workplace Impact podcasts and follow our 2021 research programme.

Categorised in: Digital literacy, Digital workplace, Internal communications, Intranets, Metrics & measurement, Remote working during COVID-19, 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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