You may have heard the term ‘digital workplace’ bandied about by colleagues or friends who work in technology. But what does it actually mean?

Thinking literally I, like many, envisage some sort of dashboard which allows me to do everything I need at the click of a button. It’s something tangible, something specific, right? It could be.

At a strategic level, I also envisage some sort of panacea that will suddenly cure all our organisational woes. Something which taps you on the shoulder and says: “Don’t worry, you no longer need to use all those systems that don’t talk to each other.” This could also be correct.

The problem technologists have created is that by calling it (whatever ‘it’ is) ‘digital workplace’, technology evangelists, IT professionals and various other stakeholders are searching for something too literal and something which you can just do (through a project) which will result in organisations being able to finally say: “Yes, we’ve done it, we have a digital workplace!” In reality, digital workplaces have existed for decades – when was the last time someone used a typewriter?

In fact, unless you’re still using fax machines and type writers, every company already has a digital workplace to one degree or another. They use email, they create documents, they chat, and all using digital technology.

What actually IS a digital workplace?

If you’re looking for a quick answer to this, then all you need to do is reverse the phrase ‘digital workplace’ and you’re presented with the question: ‘Is my workplace digital?’ Unless you’re still using typewriters, then the answer is going to be ‘Yes’. But then almost as immediately you will realise that this is enough to get to the crux of the matter.

So first of all, we can abandon the term ‘digital workplace’. Given the above, it doesn’t really mean much, or means totally different things to different organisations.

We can also totally do away with the idea that buying a new system calling itself a digital workplace platform (of which there are many) will result in you actually achieving a digital workplace.

What the term actually alludes to is something like the following:

mentality across your organisation that promotes continual business improvement by applying digital technology and thinking.

And that’s not all. It needs to be modified to:

mentality across your organisation that promotes continual business and personal improvement by applying digital technology and thinking.

The addition of ‘personal improvement’ will be discussed shortly.

Note the 4 words highlighted in italics – these are the most important words. ‘Digital technology’ is not highlighted. Why? Because digital technology is merely a trigger which converts your aspirations (bad or good) into reality. However if your aspirations are not driven by either continual improvement then the trigger becomes redundant.

There are several key elements or questions which can help you start to move towards a digital workplace:

  1. Systems: To what degree does our existing digital ecosystem help workers’ ability to get their jobs done in the most effective and efficient manner?
  2. Processes: How much time do workers spend on ‘overhead’ activities i.e. those which require some repetitive or mundane activity to achieve something?
  3. Mentality: To what degree does our workforce want to improve their working lives by  both using existing technology and seeking out better ways of doing things to save time and improve decision making? To what degree does your organisation harbour and promote the concept of continual introspection?

The above questions provide you with important pillars which a digital workplace strategy will rest on, as they allow you to assess your organisation from several different angles. The degree to which you address the above will be muddied by a multitude of factors, often relating to your people, as they potentially represent significant change within an organisation at all levels, including the very top. Managing this sort of change is for another day and another article.