What is and what isn’t the digital workplace?

It is perhaps the most confused buzzword on the Internet recently. The digital workplace that claims to eliminate all your workplace chores. Let’s cut through the Clouds and see what it’s all about.

What Gartner says

If there was something like a legislative institution for business software and upcoming trends, it’s name would be Gartner. And according to Gartner the Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.

A new type of employee

With the so called ‘millenials’ entering the workforce at a rapid pace Gartner sees a new type of employee evoking this tidal change: The business consumer. These are tech-savvy folks that, if need be, use their own tech to carry out their work and expect a consumer-like experience even in their workplace.

Now why would any company want to profoundly restructure themselves for this new type of employee? Oh right, with stiffening competition to acquire and retain talent while the base workforce approaches retirement, there isn’t much choice but to adopt crowdsourcing, job sharing or microworking, etc. before more HR-led outfits beat you to it.

Shifting into digital gear

Gartner has defined eight building blocks to cover all aspects of where the digital workplace is going to be in a few years. It is believed that it will change everything in your organization, from internal processes, departmental structures, skills and knowledge; virtually any system or role will be affected. And these changes need to be reflected in a corporate culture that promotes more autonomy, accountability and empowerment.

So it is therefore a good idea to write a comprehensive roadmap that captures not just the why, what and how but also paints a picture of how relationships between departments will change, how staff will be trained and supported during the transition to a digital business and what new standards and best practices are expected (also known as ‘Change Management’).

A good starting point for your own first apps is any app consumers love too. Examples include (and these are all directly suggested by Gartner):

  • Google Now or Apple Siri for your own business (as is part of our Digital Assistant)
  • Corporate file-sharing and sync solution with mobile-first integration (if you have the time and money to reinvent yourself a Dropbox...)
  • An enterprise-wide search from mobile (also part of Digital Assistant)
  • Personal analytics dashboard to track one’s own performance

Gartner is also quick to point out that any and all initiatives should be designed with a positive impact on business-value metrics, e.g. effectiveness, employee satisfaction or another specific goal. And such metrics must be collected before the first app rolls of the production line and then periodically to create an objective basis for analyzing improvements.

The most important building block is the tech around the digital workplace. It must be simultaneously mobile, social, cloud-based and informative. The combination of these factors help to set up a “digital workgrid” (kind of like a power grid, but for company data) in which users can collaborate and access information more easily as everything is available everywhere and within the right context.

Further, IT leaders should always seek to find more sources or buy new products that can supply new sources of data to your ‘digital workgrid’ which will in turn make the digital workplace even smarter.

In my opinion, these are all great high-level objectives for a digital workplace, and they are for sure all desirable; but attaining them seems a bit more daunting considering today’s landscape of not-so-integrated application silos and their monolithic vendors.

What others say

The Digital Workplace is more a construct or concept than a set of prescribed tools. Basically it’s the virtual equivalent of people’s previous physical workspace–so all aspects of our productivity, engagement and satisfaction need to be translated into the digital age.

So unfortunately you can’t just walk into the store buy a bunch of iPads and install Yammer on them. Instead you need to focus on changes that can really impact your employees. For example in some industries as little as 25% of the workforce are desk workers (so the ones with a computer); imagine how transformative it could be if suddenly all employees had a virtual desk where they could tap into the full range of the company's mobile capacity easily.

Obviously that hinges on the technology that’s lying underneath and facilitates such new and empowering use cases: As a manager responsible to create a digital workplace you need to gain a holistic view of your people, processes and technologies and see how they interact now vs how you would like them to interact and what changes are needed to achieve that.

Don’t turn your server adrift just yet

Deloitte, a consultancy, thinks the digital workplace simply is whatever technologies people use today to get work done; be that email, chats, virtual meetings or an intranet.

They also specifically include old-school systems like SAP, databases, CRM or even your good ol’ PC. That’s right, Deloitte don’t think the future is going to be this utopian all-gadget wonderland. They recommend to not overlook these platforms prematurely; after all they are all part of the non-physical (so the digital) workplace. Therefore they equally deserve your full attention when you consider how all of it comes together from an employee’s point of view.

What’s not a digital workplace

It’s not an Intranet. In fact a digital workplace might do entirely without an Intranet at all. The future lies in the smart aggregation of different data sources in ‘Service Layers’. Check out this post about the future of Intranets.

It’s not about social. Enterprise Social Networks, Social Intranets or even Mobile Intranets all don’t take a holistic view of all aspects of an organization; they were meant to be very specific solutions to solve specific problems.

Thus, they always suffered from a certain degree of isolation from whatever other applications the employees use outside of it. Maybe this is to blame when we look at how fleeting some of the recent trends were. They simply weren’t going far and wide enough in the organization to have a measurable positive impact.

Microsoft thinks that businesses that want to have a competitive advantage need to let employees choose the ways they want to work with technology, thus adopting a culture that puts people first.

Companies must actively break down barriers between workplaces and technologies to let employees work whenever or wherever they want. That’s an interesting statement considering Microsoft isn’t exactly known for its individualism, but corporatism. It remains to be seen if they have any serious innovation pretensions and open their architecture up a little.


Everybody agrees the Digital Workplace is an all-encompassing and lasting change for the way we work. Now everything is truly connected across data silos which enables a cohesive employee and customer user experience. Better connectedness and innovative mobile-first business cases will drive productivity, reduce IT maintenance cost and give early movers a competitive advantage.

Come back next week to learn what adenin's vision and mission is for a Digital Workplace future. In the mean time, you can check out our Digital Assistant.

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