The world is in the midst of a digital revolution that impacts every aspect of our life. How organisations meet the challenges and opportunities of this revolution depends upon the people it hires and how well it enables them through technology. The digital workplace is the intersection between people working together and the applications they choose to use. “Choose” is the operative word for the digital workplace. There is always an element of choice in the tools or even the features that are used to get work done. In today’s businesses, this choice is greater than ever and there is much that companies need to do to encourage employees to make better choices, and not just fall back on what they know best.
Digital workplace success is determined by:
Sounds easy, but for many organisations, digital workplaces have a negative effect on people’s ability to communicate, collaborate, and get work done.
When this is true, people often go for the “path of least resistance”, which is typically email and phone. This creates frustration because they know that better, consumer-grade capabilities are not available as they are so freely outside of work. Google search for anything on earth, free video calls with friends and relatives, fun chat applications keeping people in the loop, social media communities for connecting to what we care about, YouTube videos for learning anything under the sun – all at your fingertips for free. Our digital workplaces are often embarrassing by comparison. The effect on culture is reduced employee engagement and feeling that the organisation is behind the times. The effect on business is reduced productivity and untapped competitive advantage for the digital age.
The challenge for any digital workplace is to provide a full suite of capabilities to meet the needs of the organisation and its people, without causing confusion through complexity. This means not only providing the right tools but taking everyone on a transformation journey so that they understand the purpose and intent of the solutions and are fully supported in their learning.
Digital workplaces are complex beasts but the simple idea to keep in mind is: people working together through technology.
But people need to work together in different ways. So that art of creating digital workplaces in to provide capabilities for every way of working whilst keeping confusion to a minimum.
At Sei Mani, we’ve developed a framework for understanding all of the capabilities that a digital workplace should provide in one form or another. Our experience has shown that there should be no gap, no crap, no overlap. In other words, all capabilities should be catered for, each should be best-in-class, and there should be no confusing duplication of functionality (or where there is it should be clear what to use and when).
The framework has five key areas:
Our framework is less about people working on their own and more about people working together. Why? The productivity apps, like Microsoft Office, that individuals use are not the problem – broadly speaking they’re very good – the frustration comes when people need to work together.
Three broad capabilities for any digital workplace are collaboration, cooperation, and community.
Cooperation is people working together towards the same broad objectives.
Collaboration is people working together on the same deliverables.
Community is people sharing values, interests, knowledge, identity, and responsibility.
There is a subtle difference between cooperation and collaboration. Collaboration is about individuals working together to create something of value, whereas cooperation is about individuals or groups contributing to the same goals, but not interacting on the same deliverables. For example, the sales and marketing departments may cooperate to drive new business but collaborate to create the most effective sales content.
If your digital workplace doesn’t support all three, then you have untapped potential.
People interact in different ways. At Sei Mani, we assess the effectiveness of digital workplace interactivity in four areas:
Search and connect – e.g. find experts, be found, build networks, find information.
One to one – e.g. chat and share content privately, peer-to-peer discussion, performance and development chats.
One to many – e.g. publish content openly, receive feedback, share knowledge, ask questions.
Many to many – e.g. crowdsource solutions, tap group intelligence, collective problem-solving.
An effective digital workplace will include solutions that enable each type of interaction – no gap, no crap, no overlap. People need all of them to do great work.
Another important factor for any digital workplace is realtime and non-realtime capabilities. People need to be able to work together right now, in the moment, or else separately over time. Traditionally, telephone and audioconferencing provide realtime interaction and email and shared file systems provide non-realtime. Today’s digital workplaces introduce videoconferencing and screen sharing for realtime, and enterprise social networks and messaging applications for non-realtime.
Your realtime and non-realtime solutions should be best-in-class, no excuses.
Modern digital workplaces are blurring the lines between internal and external workers, making it easy to form effective teams between employees, partner organisations, and even customers. This is accomplished through a combination of online collaborative workspaces and robust videoconferencing solutions.
If you’re collaborating with external people by email and phone only, you can do better.
The effectiveness of digital workplaces is also determined by how well they interface with the physical world, most obviously through laptop, desktop, and mobile devices, but also through booking meeting rooms, touchscreens, and digital signage.
If your people are desk-bound, can’t work mobile, have slow laptops, struggle to book meeting rooms or travel, and order new kit, this needs close attention.