Three objectives that are defining the Digital Workplace strategy

As the idea and the role of the “Digital Workplace” for the future of the organisation is the key question of this year’s Enterprise Digital SUMMIT / London on November 16 I will work on some more fundamentals for the discussion in this blog in the coming weeks. For the beginning I want to put a more nuanced look at what should be the core of the “Digital Workplace”. As discussed already in a German post (in the preparation of our IOM SUMMIT) I see a lot of confusion in the understanding of the term and concept of the “Digital Workplace” – that can be differentiated if we take a look upon the term from the  objectives that are driving this kind of projects/initiatives.

In this regard I see three main objectives that are differentiating the Digital Workplace strategies – and by that picture also different challenges and strategic dimensions for the Digital Workplace.

The Digital Workplace as Enabler for the High-Performance Organization

This approach is the main understanding of the “Digital Workplace” – as defined by James Robertson:

The Digital Workplace consists of a holistic set of tools, platforms and environments for work, delivered in a coherent, usable and productive way.

The key idea behind this definition is that the “Digital Workplace” provides an approach to support the workforce for their “getting things done” and to enhance the information flow as well as the digital enabled collaboration and processing within the organization. The basic idea is to enhance the business performance with a digitally enhanced working environment – by e.g. eliminating the “coordination by email” deadlock, prevention of doubling of work because of lack of transparency, and so on.

The given models for the organisation as well as the business are not questioned but are aimed to be optimized by the enhancements of the Digital Workplace. A key challenge for this approach is the “enablement” of a digital mindset and leadership in the given settings of the organization. Consequently slight changes in regards to the culture are needed for the emergence and unfolding of a digital sharing culture. Furthermore the “empowerment” of the individual co-worker is crucial for the success. Because only if the individual is able to make sense of the “digital toolset” to be more effective in “getting things done” – the efforts are paying off in a higher performance for the organization.

From a technological perspective this approach demands a high level of integration between the mostly siloed business process systems and the collaboration platform – to support the cross-functional information flow and adhoc collaboration in a seamless and documentated way. Furthermore as the support of “getting things done” is very different on the individual level there should be a high flexibility in the individual configuration and personalization possibility of the “Digial Workplace” – in the sense of reaching a high level of benefitting for the “what is in for me” question.

The Digital Workplace as Support for the Employee Experience Strategy

The second approach is addressing the “engagement” problem of the workforce that is a key objective of the HR people. The “Digital Workplace” strategy in this regard follows Jacob Morgan’s narrative:

The war for talent has never been fiercer, and in an effort to attract and retain the best and brightest, organizations have to shift from creating places where they assume people need to be to creating organizations where people truly want to be. This shift in approach from need to want is also causing organizations to invest heavily in employee experience.

For this objective the “Digitial Workplace” is part of the technological dimension of the employee experience and must provide an “experience” while “getting things done”. In this regard – this approach is also not question the business – but certainly the organisational model. As the “employee experience” also includes the “cultural dimension”, the ways of working together, the leadership model as well as the organisational design.

For the establishment of the “digital” way of working the challenge is furthermore the “digital enablement” of the workforce. While the workplace and digital enviroment is meant to support the “experience” and the engagement of the workforce, the workforce needs to be enabled to make sense and use of the digital possibilities of working. In many ways the enablement also needs to include the overall reinforcement of the purpose of work – especially of those co-workers that are feeling “drained” and “unconnected” with their work. For this approach like “Working Out Loud” provides interesting new stimuli for the sense-making of work.

On the technological side the “experience” approach is certainly demanding a “UX” (User Experience) thinking for a seamless and consistent implementation over all “digital employee touchpoints”. In some discussions some experts even recommend a more portal-alike approach with the “Intranet as front door into the wider digital workplace“.

The Digital Workplace as Change Platform @ Scale for the Digital Transformation

The last but not least understanding of the Digital Workplace is the notion of an “enabler” for the Digital Transformation. In this regard the emphasis lies on the transformative character of the Digital Workplace – as David Terrar mentioned in his last post:

Digital Workplace is not just a set of tools for supporting the collaboration and process performance, but your organization’s gateway to doing change at scale, and the backbone for distributing the new mindset and cultural approach throughout your organization.

Digital Workplace as Change Platform @ Scale for the Digital Transformation

While the Digital Transformation is about the changes of the digitization for the business and organizational model in the first place, the Digital Workplace approach has to support the sense-making and documentation of the change. The Digital Workplace in this third sense becomes a key role in the change management approach – as discussed also at the Enterprise Digital SUMMIT in Paris.

Looking at the challenges of this approach the “digital enablement” of the workforce also has a key function for the success in this approach. It’s again the sense-making of the “digital toolset” to support the change efforts by making the change transparent and visible – but also the enablement of a digital mindset in a more agile and flexible style of working to make the transformational action move quick & fail fast. Along with “enablement” the transformation change approach needs a strong leadership that is also enlighted by the digital mind-setting – which recommends methods like the reverse mentoring.

On the technological side the Digital Workplace needs a high degree of openess and transparency – especially for the transformative approach. Dion Hinchcliffe once coined the terms of FLATNESSES as key characteristics for Enterprise 2.0 systems that already incorporated the idea of the transformational character. On the other hand low levels of structuring in the informational architecture of the system also leads to some degree of “information overload” that needs tools for information filtering.

 

As this litte differentiation (which is certainly not complete or in anyways scientifically derived nor proved) shows the objective of the project defines the understanding and approach towards the Digital Workplace and all the accompanying actions for the technological implementation as the enablement and establishment. This makes the topic so complex as well as interesting – for us as conference organizers. We are therefore looking forward to the upcoming discussions at the Enterprise Digital SUMMIT – but also to your comments in the matter below.

For some more readings about the Digital Workplace and its understanding I recommend also the following sources: