How To Improve Your Digital Workplace – Q&A With Microsoft MVP Matt Wade

A digital workplace means different things to different industry professionals, which is why the questions on what it is and how to improve your digital workplace can be answered in so many ways. Here, in the first of our series of blogs exploring what a digital workplace is, we caught up with MVP Matt Wade, and expert in SharePoint and Microsoft 365, to talk about his views and how companies can create a digital workplace fit for the future! Here’s what he had to say:

What is a digital workplace? How do you create one?

Q: What does a digital workplace mean to you?
Matt Wade: Most people look at the digital workplace as just a collection of tools. But I describe it as the tools plus the process. It’s where we agree on how we’re going to get stuff done, using whatever tools we’ve decided we’re going to use. It is defined not just by the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’.

Q: What would you say are the essential tools that make up this digital workplace?
You need to be able to communicate and to store stuff, whether it’s files or other information. You need to project manage and keep a record. Those four things are the absolute basics. Communication depends on how you’re going to use it – chatting, emailing or physically talking?

Q: What do you mean by ‘how’ you do a digital workplace?
The ‘how’ is what’s most important to me. Most IT or change management organizations put out governance, saying, “Here are your guidelines. Here’s your swim lane. Don’t leave it.” But I think at a local level people assume everybody within their team automatically knows what they should be doing. But that’s almost never the case unless they’ve sat down, spoken about it and agreed on how to do something. I think people are talking about it more now because many are working remotely for the first time.

Digital workplace governance – who owns it?

Q: Can the same rules within the digital workplace be applied across different departments, say from legal to HR?
I think they can be. For example, style guides for writing is a big one, which includes terminology, glossaries, formats and templates, created in Word. It’s almost like a consistent user experience when you’re developing software.

Q: Who should be making the decisions on how things are done?
You need the long-term experts and a few younger people who are probably much more experienced using the digital tool set. The mixture of the two is going to be really helpful as well as some administrative folk, who have to publish.

So having the people who are good at the tech of using the tools, and then the people that know what they’re talking about, content and technical wise.

Q: Do you think the role of IT teams in a company has been elevated since the lockdown began?
In most organizations, IT has always been central, especially in the last 15 or 20 years. I think the perfect organizational structure is a central IT team but with one person in each organization who is their go-to. They don’t have to know everything, but at least they know the person to get in contact with.

Q: Is there someone that needs to own the digital workplace to make it run smoothly?
Yes, definitely. If the organization is large enough to have a training team, it’s smart to have them working closely with IT. Having some sort of training resource internally is going to be really good. Microsoft documentation has gotten really good, so use what they have.

A Microsoft 365 digital workplace

Q: Can a Microsoft 365 digital workplace work without Microsoft Teams or SharePoint?

Yes, I think it could. But you’re working against the grain, for little to no benefit. Microsoft Teams and SharePoint now are, sort of, symbiotic companions – in the Microsoft Modern Workplace, at least.

I think modern work requires communication documentation, which neither of those can do on their own. Microsoft Teams can’t do documentation without SharePoint, and SharePoint really can’t do communication.

Q: How can organizations use their digital workplace tools to improve employee engagement?

Engagement can only come from information sharing which is really just communication. So, you need to encourage communication, especially now with people working from home for the first time. You’re not going to have the water-cooler bump-in experience any longer.

Microsoft Teams and Yammer are a great resource for community building so you can bring together people who wouldn’t necessarily know each other. It’s a good replacement for the water-cooler talk but also a good place for people with similar skills to talk about how to get things done.

Tips & tricks for improving your digital workplace

Q: What tips or tricks can improve a digital workplace?

I think the biggest thing is understanding etiquette in this new world. We don’t learn in school how best to use some of these tools. When email first came out, the only experience we had prior to that was hand-written or typed letters. Now it’s a much more informal way of conversing.

You don’t need to write a person’s first name each time you email. In Microsoft Teams my big thing is don’t start a conversation in a channel without a subject line, because it makes it impossible to find anything later when I’m just skimming through.

I think the big tip and trick there for me is going to be sit down, talk with your people, and follow some basic etiquette rules.

What to do next?

Matt Wade is so right on all of these and really laid down on how to improve your digital workplace efficiently with the user in mind. A special thank you for him for the interview!

If this sparked an interest, we’ve got free educational content to last you for hours! The Valo Fest recordings on the digital workplace, case studies, diversity at work and so much more are up and available on YouTube. Get access here!

If you are planning on renewing or building your intranet home page, follow Matt Wade on his blog post series around the topic or jump ahead and get the eBook!

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