“Digital workplace” is in the eye of the beholder

“Digital workplace” is in the eye of the beholder

Written by Swilson, originally published on the Eloquor Consulting Blog, October 24, 2016.

In the past several weeks I’ve facilitated two interactive workshops, one at ALI’s Internal Communications for Health Care and another at IABC’s Southern Region Conference. Both were designed to help corporate communicators think differently about the employees’ digital workplace. So much is what we see, or just think we see.

More organizations are looking at their employees’ virtual experience and finding that intranet is just one part of it. Many are shifting to a broader and more integrated view: the digital workplace. However you define digital workplace, this shift usually starts with how you think about the tools included: do you see them as stand-alone, or are they part of one experience?

The following is a look at how the workshop participants think about these concepts.

What do “collaboration” and “innovation” really mean

When asked what “collaboration” means to their organizations, I got responses like:

  • Multi/cross disciplinary
  • Start with a mission
  • Information sharing (both tools and intellectual property)
  • Politics of power
  • Not automatic for small groups
  • Not natural to organizational culture
  • Physical space
  • Transparency
  • Team charters
  • Talents
  • Distant workers
  • Automation
  • Technology
  • Getting input

When asked what “innovation” means to their organizations, participants said:

  • Culture of innovation
  • Cost savings
  • Process
  • Nimble
  • Effective
  • Engage non-customer facing employees
  • Learn from other industries
  • Technology
  • Business departments involved
  • Improvement in service
  • Shift revenue (for example in healthcare switch from inpatient to outpatient)
  • Within regulatory boundaries
  • Shared goals

What is digital workplace and what is included?

Everyone has a slightly different view of what digital workplace really means. “Collaboration” is the most common response, which is interesting because it’s a term much more easily translated to business benefit than most of the words we use to describe the value of digital workplace. My workshop participants described digital workplace with these words:

  • Collaboration
  • Discussion
  • Mobile access/everything everywhere
  • Location agnostic
  • One-stop-shop (integrated)
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Disjointed
  • Vulnerable
  • Puts demands on the worker to balance
  • A platform

Some of the words are positive, others are negative, still others – like “a platform” – demonstrate a misinterpretation and incorrect focus on technology.

What’s the gap between employee and customer experience?

In the workshops, we also compared the experience of employees with that of customers.


Generally, participants think more favorably and positively of the customer experience than they do of the employee experience. With such strong evidence of employee satisfaction driving customer satisfaction, why would we allow this gap to persist?

What’s included in the digital workplace?

When I ask what elements they currently have to include in that virtual experience, the two groups included (examples shown in parentheses are not recommendations):

  • Virtual machine/access (Citrix)
  • HRIS/ERP (Oracle, SAP, etc.)
  • Intranet (SharePoint, Interact, Igloo, Sitecore, etc.)
  • Meeting tools (Telepresence, WebEx, Skype, etc.)
  • Cloud storage, file/image management (Box, DropBox, SharePoint)
  • Active Directory
  • Learning Management System
  • Timekeeping (Kronos)
  • Email, calendar, tasks (Outlook)
  • Digital bulletin board
  • Instant messaging (Lync)
  • Collaboration (social):
    • Tools such as status updates, blog, wiki, commenting, rating, image sharing, feedback
    • Vendors such as Jive, Jabber, Chatter, Yammer, etc.
  • Business apps (electronic medical record, investment tracking, drilling software, claim processing, etc.)
  • Daily life tools (traffic, weather, cafeteria ordering)

Some others I’ve seen integrated or have heard suggested in previous workshops include:

  • Search
  • Other social: activity feed, discussion threads, communities, profiles, tagging, newsfeeds, following, favoriting
  • Notifications
  • Workflow
  • Presence indicator
  • VPN
  • Customer relationship management (Salesforce)
  • Measurement tools (surveys, polls, etc.)
  • Productivity apps (Google apps, Microsoft Office)
  • Single sign on
  • Travel and expense tools

The complexity of governing a digital workplace

In one of the recent workshops we talked about the extent to which shifting to a digital workplace makes governance more complex. You must engage different owners as well as different benefactors and sponsors to bring the big picture together. But the potential value of a collaborative governance model is well worth it:

  • Creates a stake and ownership in the digital workplace
  • Distributes content creation and management
  • Surfaces more opportunities to help the business, as well as ways to integrate the user experience
  • Enables the organization to more quickly and fully leverage the technology investment (which demands role clarification)
  • Governing from one seat or one team generally results in loss of the user voice; distributed governance creates more value, shares the burden and drives usage, all in response to user and business needs
  • Breaks down silos and can move organizational culture in desired directions

What’s next?

If you want to learn more and talk about your organization’s transition from a narrow intranet focus to a broader digital workplace focus, join me at one of these upcoming events:

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