The Future of the Digital Workplace

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Future of the Digital Workplace

Laura-Jane Parker of POST*SHIFT writes on the future of the Digital Workplace.

A new buzz has emerged around digital workplace tools. As a new entrant to the market four years ago, Slack burst onto the scene with a simple interface and powerful app integrations. It solved several unmet workplace needs. Soon after, Facebook made a splash with their Workplace tool launch, with early customers such as RBS creating more interest. Finally, Microsoft joined the fray last year with Teams – the jewel in the crown of their O365 ecosystem.

Enterprise social tech is nothing new, but these new tools are achieving much faster adoption than previous heavyweights IBM Connections and Jive, and are closer to the action of where work happens.

Laura-Jane Parker, Post*Shift
Laura-Jane Parker, Post*Shift

A major issue with the original social platforms was that they marketed themselves as a silver bullet to the challenges of collaborative working. They promised the death of email and files. They heralded a new utopian dawn of real-time information flows. Organisations were quick to embrace, but found take up frustratingly slow and ultimately sometimes slightly disappointing. Many of these original instances still exist, but are often something of a minority interest. Rather than achieving the dream of email replacement, they have become the supplementary channel no one remembers asking for.

Indeed, their biggest success was a new way of communicating and sharing. But their biggest failure was arguably their inability to become the place where real work gets done. If a tool is not embedded in day-to-day working practices, then there is little motivation to change. Employees will continue to do things the way they have always done.

Where do tools need to add value?

Microsoft Teams and Slack in particular have achieved much faster adoption due to their increased level of intimacy and faster speed of collaboration, but also their work relevance and ability to act as an integration point for other information flows and interactions.

It might seem today that we have a more fragmented tool landscape, compared to the single ESN platforms, with different (often overlapping) tools for different types of work. We often talk about these as covering three main levels of interaction:

  • Real-time collaboration among small teams, where people must be there at the same time. Slack and Teams are the current market leaders here.
  • Asynchronous coordination of activities in project spaces, documentation, communities and networks. People don’t have to be there at the same time, but can duck in and out of the flow of work. Wikis such as Confluence and community tools on Office365 and Jive.
  • Organisation-wide communication and status updates about work to enable cross-fertilisation and allow employees to gain ambient awareness. Social intranets and communication platforms are often used in this way, and ESNs have performed this role very successfully.

A good digital workplace ecosystem needs tools that meet each of these collaboration needs.

Collaboration

A quick glance at the plethora of tools included in Office365 tells us that most organisations actually have multiple, over-lapping solutions across some of these value propositions. This level of choice and “there’s an app for that” mentality can brings a new set of pain points, but ultimately is actually an advantage.

Help teams help themselves

A common misconception in large companies is that they need to dictate which tool to use for each specific purpose. But when you consider how employees organise their lives outside of work — with an array of different overlapping apps, many with limited integrations between them — this approach starts to feel like command-and-control overkill. Firstly, it erodes the autonomy of teams to choose the tools that suit their work style best. But it also prevents organic discovery of new, useful and creative ways of working. We find it is far better to help teams understand what tools are available, and which scenarios they perform best in, rather than limiting and prescribing. Resist the urge to set up static intranet pages, request forms and old-style support desks. This will only contribute to the learned helplessness many leaders and employees cling when introduced to new tools.

One of the most effective ways for improving confidence with new digital workplace tools is through peer-to-peer learning communities, supported by a network of highly engaged and smart ‘digital guides’. These communities are best created on the existing intranet or collaboration platform, providing app-store-like descriptions and brief cheat sheets, surrounded by a community to ask questions, share ways of working and use cases to learn from each other.

This also improves the level of digital skills across the organisation, as digital literacy becomes a must-have for all employees, not just for those in technology roles. Allowing and encouraging teams to experiment with different tools is the most effective way for them to develop new capabilities to be able to transform their day-to-day work.

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If you are interested in exploring more on this topic and learning from industry peers and senior practitioners on how they get the best return on their investment in the Digital Workplace, then we would love to see you at our Future of The Digital Workplace event on 5th July in London. The event is open to Heads of Internal Communications, Senior HR Professionals, CIOs and Digital Workplace owners interested in applying new thinking to their Digital Workplace ecosystem.

Guest post by Laura-Jane Parker