Your new beautiful ‘digital headquarters’

24 June 2016 by

Cafe PicDuring a recent DWG member meeting, kindly hosted at the palatial new London headquarters of AON, I was bowled over by both the attention to detail and the reimagining of how work will happen in the building. A month later, another DWG gathering at The Coca-Cola Company’s newly refashioned iconic base in Atlanta was similarly energizing for the many DWG members and team members attending.

Rethinking and recrafting the physical centres of large enterprises is now everywhere and the results are impressive as we see collaboration, a café atmosphere, quiet space and calm lighting replacing the austerity that came before. All good.

Household name companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on wonderful new physical HQs – but, as the centre of gravity for all organizations shifts to the digital and away from the physical, have we yet woken up to the fact that a grand opportunity is being missed?

Get the digital architects in and design a “Digital HQ” which can open its doors at the same time as your new physical HQ – and the really exciting part about conceiving and creating your digital headquarters is that you can do so unconstrained by the dull, gravity-laden limitations of our physical world.

When Northwestern Mutual opens its gorgeous new physical HQ in Milwaukee in 2017, it also plans to open its first ever digital HQ to run alongside it, which will include an enhanced intranet, powerful collaboration, improved unified communications and more integrated digital services. With this enhancement, the concept of the company’s digital centre will also take root. The power and beauty of such digital HQs is that they can achieve working enhancements that are impossible in a physical building.

There are five key attributes that make digital HQs so compelling:

1. A level playing field

Digital HQs offer a “level playing field” with open access to all employees, contractors and the extended organization. Physical HQs are exclusive while digital HQs are inclusive and hence more in line with the way digital services connect rather than separate individuals.

2. Getting work done

Physical centres may be impressive but how much real work actually happens in the physical space these days? Most work takes place (whether we are sitting in a building or not) in the digital realms of email, mobile, audio conferencing, Yammer and myriad other systems. So the digital HQ is distinctive because it is a space in which you actually get work done rather than just admire the décor.

3. The power of networks

On a visit to Pfizer HQ in New York City two years ago, an executive complained to me that the people who matter no longer come to the office very much. Truth is, power in major organizations has already “left the building” and is located in the digital networks. The new digital HQ acknowledges that power now resides in networks – and networks exist in non-physical worlds.

4. Facilitating innovation

Water-cooler conversations have now moved online in our lives and work. To build digital HQs is to provide powerful spaces for innovation, ideas and conversations. The Coca-Cola Company’s ideation and talent management system “CokeStarter” does just that and the results are impressive. These new digital centres stimulate innovation and creativity.

5. The digital HQ as a meritocracy

Adding to my first attribute above, the digital HQ is a meritocracy in which anyone can have a voice and this creation of a single digital centre fosters an intimacy and sense of inclusion that is only possible digitally. In DWG we had offices once upon a time, but after the last one shut four years ago, our company actually became closer because any sense of “them and us” that had existed to a certain extent while we had a physical HQ was eliminated.

So, take a blank sheet of paper or a screen, and start designing your digital HQ. Get that concept into the minds of your leadership – and remember, for a small percentage of the physical cost, you can produce much higher returns in terms of productivity and engagement.

Categorised in: Digital workplace

Paul Miller

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG), rated by the Financial Times in 2020, 2021 and 2022 as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation. He is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book is ‘Nature of Work – The new Story of Work for a Living Age’ (co-authored with Shimrit Janes). His previous book, ‘The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future’ (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s previous book, ‘The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work’, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University.

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