The workplace is no longer somewhere you work between nine and five. Digital technology has meant we are now constantly connected to work and to each other, and that much of our work can potentially be carried out from anywhere in the world. While this has many advantages, from helping employees to network beyond their natural groups, and giving them more flexibility over when and where they work, it’s important for workplaces to be prepared. Many workplaces are still set up for more traditional forms of working, and this can hold employees back when it comes to unlocking their potential, so it’s important for businesses to adapt to digital ways of working.
While the digital workspace doesn’t have a physical form, it’s helpful to think of it as an entirely different space, and one which needs its own approach. The digital workplace encompasses a wide range of technology, from your business phone system to social media, HR tools, messaging apps and much more. By ensuring these technologies work together, and creating a framework for implementation, you can bring your business into the digital age. Adapting the culture of your business in this way can improve efficiency, encourage innovation, and help it to grow.
The digital workplace
You may have already heard a lot about the concept of a digital workplace and wonder what it means. It’s basically a term that describes all the tools that employees use to do their work both inside and outside the office, whether it’s your bespoke software systems, or the e-mail app they’ve set up on their smartphone so they can get messages while out of the office.
In many cases, some businesses already have some semblance of a digital workplace, whether they know it or not. Staff may log into their e-mails from home, or log in to a system to see their rota. Therefore, it’s not always a case of building things from the ground-up, rather taking stock of what you already have, identifying where gaps need to be filled, and ensuring everything works together seamlessly. This can sometimes be done by simply upgrading certain components, or looking at potential issues such as information security, ensuring that people can be productive wherever they work.
The digital age – what’s changing?
The business world has always changed with the advent of new technology, but the widespread adoption of the internet and its associated technologies may be one of the biggest changes yet. Advances in IT have made it easier than ever to communicate and connect with one another, and this switch to a digital age could be compared to the impact of the industrial revolution.
Some trends that have been observed in the last three decades include:
- Information access – the digital revolution has meant we have more access to information than ever before, but this can mean that the relevant information is difficult to find. Too much information and choice can also have a negative impact
- Speed – the internet has taught consumers to be increasingly impatient, and there’s greater pressure than ever on employees to perform their jobs faster, although it has helped with collaboration
- Multigeneration workforce – With people retiring later in life, most businesses have a multigenerational workforce, from baby boomers to digital natives. While older employees have experience that needs to be passed on, they aren’t as used to technology, so generations need to be able to communicate effectively
Usage of the internet and mobile to conduct business is not going to slow down any time soon, if anything it’ll become a bigger part of our lives as technology becomes faster and more efficient. This will create a huge number of opportunities for businesses to embrace the digital age and use advances in IT to create an efficient digital workplace. Even technology such as video conferencing is something that has opened-up so much potential, allowing even the smallest business to make deals in the global marketplace.
What can a digital workplace do for your business?
Adapting to a more digital-focused workplace can mean you’ll need to make a monetary investment. Whether that’s on improved tech, from better cameras for video calls to an improved phone system, or on staff training and development. However, this kind of investment can soon pay off in a number of ways, whether it’s improving collaboration between departments, or improving productivity.
Creating a digital workplace transforms the experience of your employees, and helps with the key areas of collaboration, communication, and connection, which has a positive knock-on effect throughout your organisation.
Of course, most companies need further motivation when it comes to the benefits of a digital workplace, so it’s worth keeping in mind:
- Studies show that the majority of workers prefer to communicate via instant messaging than e-mail
- Engaging with employees is one of the best ways to improve staff retention
- Companies who embraced social media usage found increases in productivity and employee satisfaction
- Two-thirds of staff would take a job that paid less if it offered work from home options
Adapting to digital ways of working is about more than simply changing your software to a ready-made package and hoping for the best. Companies who use a digital workplace often implement a variety of tools, such as a bespoke phone system, to ensure communication and collaboration is seamless. It’s important to have a clear roadmap in place that ensures compliance, and also a good return on investment once changes are implemented.
Change is never easy for a business, and it’s important to have the infrastructure in place, such as new technology, as well as preparing people with the right training and information.
Some ways that you can prepare for this change include:
- Create a positive experience for employees – this can be challenging in the modern workplace, especially when dealing with an ageing workforce. Use technology that’s familiar, but with upgraded features, or offer additional training to build their confidence
- Allow working styles to change – it can be difficult for managers to change the working culture, but with a move into the digital age, it’s important to realise that the way people work will change. Personalisation is key in the digital workplace
- Introduce virtual working – the majority off office-based jobs can be based at home, and this has productivity and cost benefits to business. Consider introducing virtual working in phases, with staff working from home for increasing periods of time, perhaps using video conferencing for catch-ups
- Create attractive working environments – offering options such as virtual working helps your business attract top talent, and creating a digital workplace gives you more options for recruitment, such as having staff who work abroad
- Bring the virtual and physical together – most companies will still have some sort of physical presence in future, so ensure that employees can seamlessly move between office and home working by issuing the right equipment and software
Creating a framework for a digital workplace
Each workplace needs to decide how best to implement changes and create a digital framework. There’s no single solution that fits all businesses, although there are certain templates for creating your framework. Ideally, you need to break things down into sections, look at solutions, and ensure that solutions work together seamlessly.
There are four layers to a digital workplace framework that need to be considered.
There is no digital workplace without users, and they need to be able to carry out their job in a productive manner. This layer of the framework is concerned with communication, connection, and collaboration, and is at the core of the digital workplace, with these skills allowing them to share knowledge and connect with others.
The technology you choose is a vital part of the digital framework. Your business will already have software and hardware that is used to run your business every day, and by looking at the framework you can see where improvements might need to be made. Choosing the right tools can help productivity, and this could include messaging apps, collaboration tools, and crowdsourcing.
Embracing new technology also means weighing up risks and ensuring you are compliant. This could be through controls that ensure software is used appropriately, and management processes to ensure systems are being used properly. Information security is also important to modern businesses, and you need to ensure information is secure when employees are working both inside and outside the office.
The top layer of the framework is concerned with measuring the value of a digital workplace. By setting performance indicators, you can measure how successful the changes have been, whether it’s increased productivity, increased revenue, greater customer satisfaction, or improved employee retention.
Below, you’ll find more about these four layers, and how they need to be considered when creating a digital workplace.
Users: Allowing users to communicate, connect, and collaborate
Creating the right workplace culture is key to implementing the ideas of a digital workplace. Employees’ behaviour is often dictated by the culture in your organisation, and this can have a positive or negative impact on productivity and the way they work.
How does this tie-in with the idea of a digital workplace? The key to success in this area is to ensure your workplace culture supports a more digital approach. A digital workplace plan and change management strategy will help your company to move towards a more modern working culture.
Therefore, when it comes to preparing users for the digital experience, it’s essential to have tools that allow for:
- Communication – The right communication tools will support a multigenerational, modern workplace, and allow for personalisation. They should allow the right information to reach its intended audience, and allow for content creation rather than just consumption.
- Connection – Even when working virtually, employees need to be able to connect and learn from one another. They should have digital tools that allow them to share content and create a community. Many companies have had success by creating internal social networks, for example.
- Collaboration – Collaboration tools should be integrated with your own systems, allowing for seamless sharing of ideas. Employees should be able to easily see the status of projects and make contributions, wherever they are in the world.
Technology: finding solutions for the digital workplace
The technology solutions that you choose will inform how employees work, and how successful your digital workplace becomes. You already have a digital toolbox, which includes everything from your bespoke software, to the messaging apps that your employees use, and it’s important to ensure everything flows together.
The best practice for creating a digital workplace toolbox is to improve upon what’s already in place, upgrading and adding tools where you can spot gaps, or think efficiency can be improved. Choosing a bundled package of software is often too restrictive, and means a huge overhaul while people try to get used to unfamiliar technology. That’s why it’s important to create a toolbox that’s unique to your company’s needs and your specific measures of success, so it’ll fit into your company’s culture.
Keep in mind that the technology world works quickly, and separate entities will often become obsolete, while new tech will either take its place or be added to the framework. It’s worth revisiting your technology strategy on a regular basis, so you can ensure you are up to date.
Your digital workplace toolbox will include:
- Mobility tools – Essential for a virtual workplace, they include laptops and smart phones, as well as technology such as cameras and printers, so employees can do their job from home or on the move
- Communication tools – These tools allow for the sharing of ideas and information, and could include a personalised homepage, intranet, or even internal blogs
- Collaborative tools – Whether it’s online team rooms, an internal wiki or video conferencing, these tools are essential for working on projects
- Connection tools – Ideal for helping employees find colleagues with certain skills or in certain teams, connection tools could include an employee directory, or even a social network for internal use
- Business tools – Taking the strain off of HR, payroll and similar departments, these tools include online payslips and expense claims, or anything with a self-service element
- Crowdsourcing tools – Regular polls and surveys will help you gather thoughts and suggestions from employees, while online forums help share ideas
- Productivity tools – Whether it’s the basics such as word processors and presentation software, or bespoke customer management systems, these tools are where your employees get their work done
- Messaging tools – Allow for quick and easy communication with e-mail, mobile messaging, or instant messaging. Many employees already have a favourite that they’re familiar with, and it’s best to choose simple and secure
Compliance: Staying in control and managing risk
From managing employees to keeping information secure, it’s important to consider the role of governance in your digital workplace. While it’s important that employees can collaborate and communicate, it needs to be within a framework that’s compliant and controlled, so you can ensure the digital workplace is safe and productive.
Staying in control of a digital workplace can pose challenges, and there are certainly issues that can arise that could potentially be an issue, whether it’s the release of confidential information, or problems with employees misusing company equipment, which is why it’s so important to put a framework in place so you can avoid public relations issues or embarrassment.
Some ways you can do this include:
- Set boundaries and principles – everyone should know your organisation’s goals and principles, and how it applies to them. Those working virtually should follow the same principles as those who are on-site, and should apply the same standards to their work.
- Define roles and responsibilities – Ensure everyone knows their role in the company, who they report to, and what they need to oversee. This will ensure that teams can collaborate effectively.
- Provide training – Even the best digital toolbox is ineffective without proper training and certification. Ensure training is tracked, and employees receive refresher courses. They should also be trained on information security, for example, what information can be shared, how personal data should be stored, and general IT security measures.
- Decide what information should be collected and monitored – Those working remotely using company laptops, for example, will need to use the equipment according to your organisation’s rules. You may wish to monitor usage if you suspect a lack of productivity, or that information is being accessed or shared against company policy.
- Create an information flow – Ensure that information can easily flow between departments and systems as needed, in a secure and safe manner.
- Create a crisis management plan – Because of social media, and apps such as internal messaging, crisis plans are essential to the modern business. It’s important to have a plan in place for communicating after a crisis, such as a forum or listening platform where people can communicate
Measuring success: Ensuring value in the digital workplace
When you invest in improving the digital workplace, you naturally expect some sort of return, and it can go far beyond monetary gain. By allowing people to connect across departments, offices, or even countries, you can make big improvements to many areas of your business, from making information more accessible, to getting the right people talking to each other.
It’s important to decide what you are trying to achieve when creating a digital workplace, as you can then decide on measurable values that’ll be tracked over time, allowing you to work out the return on your investment.
Some values you might want to measure could include:
- Improving productivity/efficiency – Whether it’s improving volumes of work, cutting down the time to complete tasks, or both; digital tools can help employees do their jobs better
- Allowing flexibility and agility – Allowing employees to work outside the four walls of their office creates a culture in which they feel appreciated and trusted, as well as increasing agility in the businesses’ processes
- Increasing staff and customer satisfaction – Staff benefit from a digital workplace where tools are easy to use, and this improves the customers’ experience by ensuring queries are answered quickly, with information easy to find
- Improve recruitment and retention – By offering flexible working options, you can attract the top talent, and a great working culture helps with retention too
- Increase sales – Giving employees the right tools can help them to really sell the business to clients, whether it’s by cross-selling or up-selling, and a happy employee is bound to be more enthusiastic, which means a better chance of making sales
- Reducing costs – Staff who work from home will often accept lower salaries, and by letting people work remotely you cut down on the cost of office space and energy bills. By using video conferencing for meetings, you can have meetings with clients from across the world, without paying for flights and hotels
- Launch products faster – A well-developed digital workplace framework will help bring products to market quicker, through collaboration and information sharing
- Improving innovation – Opening the lines of communication means that people can communicate so much more effectively, and a community feeling can be fostered
There are many measures of success when it comes to digital workplaces, some of which you may be striving towards, and some of which are incidental, but by simply aiming to make an employee’s life easier, you create a more pleasant working culture, which leads to improvements across many areas of your business.