A digital workplace isn’t a thing or a tool you can buy, says director of ClearBox Consulting Sam Marshall. Nor is it something that’s the same for every organization. But there are five core services that every digital workplace must include in order to be productive any time, any place, says the intranet and digital workplace specialist.
Here Sam, who has worked with companies ranging from Unilever and GSK to Vodafone and Sony and is the lead author of ClearBox’s hotly-anticipated “SharePoint Intranets in-a-box” report, outlines what a digital workplace means to him and how it can be successfully achieved.
Here’s what he had to say:
What is a digital workplace?
Q: How would you describe the digital workplace?
Sam Marshall: To me, it’s a concept. It’s not a thing you can buy. It’s the virtual equivalent to the physical workplace. Therefore, it needs to be planned and managed coherently, because it’s fundamental to people’s productivity, engagement and working health. The digital workplace may look like it’s a bunch of tools, and each tool probably works okay on its own, but the tricky bit is making all those tools work together in a way that helps people be productive.
Q: Do you think there’s a digital workplace best practice?
Best practice varies according to your organization. There is not a single, best digital workplace. I’d argue that there’s not even one element of a digital workplace that is essential. So, if you’re a team of five, your digital workplace might actually mostly be email and if that works for you, then it’s fine.
Q: But there must be universal requirements?
There’s definitely common patterns. ClearBox has a whole framework that we use with clients to help them get their head around this.
We say there’s five blocks of services that you should consider for a digital workplace. Not tools, but services. So communication and engagement, collaboration, finding and sharing, business applications and agile working, to be productive any time, any place.
The most common mistakes of a digital workplace
Q: What are the most common mistakes that people make when setting up a digital workplace?
When you talk to most people a year after they’ve introduced a digital workplace and say, “What would you do differently next time?” They typically say, “Oh, we should have had half of our budget on the non-technical stuff, on making it happen. We said we’re going to break down silos and get people sharing knowledge more. What we’ve done is introduce the tools, but we haven’t seen their behavior change.”
Q: Within the organization, who do you think should be responsible for facilitating behavior change?
I think digital workplaces are always going to be cross-discipline. We encourage our clients to put together a center of expertise, which has got Communications, HR, and IT leadership. If you’ve got the likes of a Chief of Staff or someone who is the Employee Experience Director, then all the better because they can own the employee experience across the contributing functions.
Q: Presumably this cross-discipline approach helps mitigate against issues like shadow IT?
Yes. Shadow IT, in a way, is a great free pilot for an organization. It used to be, if you wanted to try a bit of software out and see if there’s any demand for it, you’d have to go through a whole mini-procurement process and install it and run a pilot. Now you can just whip out your credit card and buy a cloud service. But, we’ve seen loads of people using WhatsApp as a proxy group communications tool and that has a huge amount of risk. It’s important to take requirements from what happens on shadow IT and provide an enterprise-grade solution.
Q: Is there’s a case to be made for using Microsoft Teams, which has the communication element as well as SharePoint for document storage and sharing?
Microsoft Teams has been an enormous success and it’s a very versatile tool for a lot of scenarios. So, in many digital workplaces it will have a big role to play. But we should remember it is Teams AND SharePoint, not OR.
How to avoid migrating old habits into a new system
Q: How can organizations encourage people to change their ways of working?
I think HR should be involved as the link to the management team. They should create a strategic plan and provide a learning opportunity. We wouldn’t give manual workers a diamond-tipped cutting drill that cost $10,000 or a really specialist measuring tool, without training them how to use it. We wouldn’t just hand these tools over and say, “Put your hard hat on, off you go and figure out how to use it when you’ve got a few minutes.” No, we would train them properly. Why should the digital tools for our knowledge workers be any different?
We wouldn’t give manual workers a diamond-tipped cutting drill that cost $10,000 or a really specialist measuring tool, without training them how to use it. Why should the digital tools for our knowledge workers be any different?
Q: How do you think the training should work?
When you first introduce it, I think there needs to be a curriculum. Not everybody is going to get really sophisticated at it. But there should be options to go beyond the first one hour of, “This is what it does and this is how we use it,” for those who are doing more sophisticated things. With some of our clients, for example, they target Project Managers saying, “We’ll train you and if you demonstrate the right behaviors, as you run your project, then your other team mates will pick up on that and copy it without necessarily going through such formal training.”
Best practice tips and tricks
Q: What tips or advice would you give to businesses who want to run their digital workplaces more smoothly?
One of the biggest changes for most organizations is becoming more agile in how you manage your digital workplace. It’s not one big project. Really, what you should have is a kind of high-level vision and strategy saying, “Well, over time, what are we trying to get towards?” Then as opportunities come along, you make choices that are strongly aligned with that vision.
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