The digital workplace has been a buzzword for the last few years – and arguably, in a year of remote working for the majority of people, it’s a term and concept which is just gaining in popularity. 

Despite this, it’s still often unclear what a digital workplace actually is, as shown by the multiple misconceptions and concerns around the topic. It might be a term you’ve heard many times, read many times, and even participated in meetings about without having a full understanding of what it refers to. Sometimes, to understand a concept that’s been flying around for a while, you’ve got to take it back to basics to really understand the foundation of the idea.

Contrary to popular belief, having most members of your organization working from home isn’t the same as a digital workplace, being able to access files online isn’t sufficient to be described as a digital workplace, and switching to an online system such as Office 365 still isn’t all that a digital workplace entails. A digital workplace is so much more than just enabling remote working. 

Confused? Don’t be – we’re going to outline clearly what a digital workplace is, what the important elements are, and then dive into the benefits to provide a well-rounded understanding of everything that a digital workplace entails. 

The definition of a digital workplace

A digital workplace has been described in varying ways by different people at different times, and these definitions themselves have often caused confusion. For example, i-scoop defines digital transformation as “the profound transformation of business and organizational activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of a mix of digital technologies.”

Gartner, however, differs in the focus of their definition and describes digital transformation as “a business strategy aimed at boosting employee engagement and agility through consumerization of the work environment.” 

CMSWire throws yet another definition into the mix, by explaining digital transformation as “An infrastructure shift that leads to business process transformation.” 

So, underneath all of this and despite these differing definitions, what does a digital workplace really mean?

At its most simple, a digital workplace ensures mobility, flexibility, and productivity are provided to every employee, regardless of location or device. The focus is on empowering employees to succeed through using technology to create optimal workflows within a supporting infrastructure. 

The best illustration to explain the digital workplace is that it’s a digital representation of your physical office – it’s vital to note, however, that this doesn’t just mean your physical office as it appears and is accessed every day. Digital transformation has done a large amount of work to ensure that the physical aspects of your office are available online, whether that’s documents, conversations, or meetings. But the digital workplace is so much more than that. 

In a physical office, the baseline elements include ensuring the space is designed to enable employees to work as productively as possible, for example, through the desk layout, the lighting, the stationary provisions, and the coffee availability. The thought and care put into how this design aids employee experience and improves working possibilities reflect the same care that should be put into a digital workplace to ensure the basic foundations are there. Merely providing employees with desks isn’t the same as carefully choosing how to organize them, and the same goes for online tools. Simply providing employees with tools is not sufficient to create a digital workplace; they need to have been deliberately chosen based on strategy and needs, with a focus on aiding how employees work. The digital workplace provides all the benefits of a physical office online, which means it is designed with all the care and accessibility considerations as a physical office.

What to consider when you’re setting up a digital workplace

Just as no two different organizations will have an identical physical workplace, no two organizations will have a digital workplace that looks exactly the same. For maximum effect, the digital workplace must be exactly tailored to your individual needs – no one knows your organization better than you, and no one knows their needs better than you. An organization considering a digital workplace needs to work out what it means for them and their goals. Although technology is vital for creating a digital workplace, the fundamental shift needs to far exceed this, as investing in technology won’t work if it is built on a legacy foundation that is no longer optimal. Considering the elements needed in your digital workplace includes considering your employees, workflows, accessibility, and collaboration needs - all with your strategic goals in mind. 

However, that being said, some elements require consideration regardless of your industry or specific needs. All of the following are necessary areas for every organization to take into account when considering their digital workplace strategy. 

  • Employee understanding

Before you even begin to plan your strategy, make sure you’re aware of your employee needs within the organization. There’s no point investing in tools and creating plans that will benefit only a small minority – or worse, choosing tools based on the perceived need management sees in the organization rather than taking the time to find out what exactly is helpful for employees. A digital workplace is where employees will be working, so it must be catered to their needs to help them work more efficiently. 

  • Strategic positioning

It’s important to understand the exact goals your company is trying to reach and how technology can help you get there. For example, if you’d like to produce more content and reduce the time spent checking branded elements, with the aim of achieving your brand goals of increased exposure and awareness, then you’re going to need to invest in technologies that improve branding and brand consistency. However, these tools will look good but be little use for your organization if your organizational goals are to provide faster and better customer service. Clear alignment on where your organization is going and your goals for the future is vital to ensure your digital workplace supports these intentions. 

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  • Tools and workflows

Investing in the right technology is a vital part of a digital workplace, but it’s never going to be as simple as just choosing a tool and rolling it out to all employees. Firstly, you need to ensure that the chosen tools can support the underlying workflows or communicate clearly how and why workflows will change because of the tool. Some employees may be cautious of change, so it’s vital to communicate the benefits to them of how this workflow will improve their daily tasks. Ongoing training is also important to ensure that employees are making the most of these tools, and any issues or concerns can be raised. Often, multiple services are needed to meet an organization’s needs, and then the integration of them also requires careful planning. 

  • Flexibility and collaboration

Often, the main concerns around a digital workplace include whether it will be flexible enough to suit the collaboration that occurs in a physical workplace – how can communication happen effectively, and what does that mean for online workflows? When you’re choosing software, ensure that it’s able to fulfill collaborative needs, especially if you’re working in an organization where many people are contributing to the same tasks. If your technology doesn’t allow for collaboration and flexibility, it won’t be able to support your strategic goals. 

  • Governance and responsibility

In a regular office, you know who to go to if the coffee machine breaks, or if you can’t access a file. This support system also needs to be established in a digital setting. Employees need to know who is responsible for which aspects of a digital workplace so they know who to raise any concerns too, and they can feel secure that the management is in control. Similarly, there should be an individual, or a team, who takes responsibility for how digital tools are used to keep on track of any potential problems.

What to know when planning your digital workplace

Although the above list may sound lengthy, a lot of the elements tie into each other, and once you have an established team working on your digital workplace strategy and researching your organization’s needs and options, the complexity will become much more simple to manage. 

When striving to achieve a digital workplace, it’s important to remember that a digital workplace is an ever-evolving strategy - it is not static, and it never will be. Just as physical workplace improvements are always ongoing, so are digital workplace improvements! For this reason, it’s important that you continue to evaluate your digital workplace, consider how it is being used, and search for any improvements that you can make. 

Investing in a digital workplace comes with a strategy for success, and this should be continually re-evaluated to ensure you are making the most of it. It’s also common to need to add more tools to your digital workplace as you see more needs or as your organization grows. Continued organization and strategy-focused development are necessary for achieving and maintaining a successful digital workplace. 

Why invest in a digital workplace?

If, after reading all this, you’re wondering whether such a large project is really for you, then you’ll naturally be considering the benefits which a digital workplace can offer you. Thankfully, there are lots of them to prove that investment will always be worth it. 

Do you remember the days where business was conducted mostly by telephone calls, physical letters, or maybe fax? Where you couldn’t simply do an internet search to find out information, but had to track down the relevant literature or speak personally with the experts? We can all agree that not only is it much more efficient to look up information online, send an email or instant message, and make a call that isn’t landline-limited, but it’s also better for your organization. If your organization is limited to outdated methods of working while all your competitors are using more modern versions, there’s no doubt about who will be more effective, and have a more successful business as a result. Garter hypothesized thatIn 2020, the greatest source of competitive advantage for 30% off organizations is predicted to come from the workforce’s ability to creatively exploit digital technologies”, and so investing in a strong digital workplace that grows with your organization is a certain way to ensure you’re at the competitive forefront of your industry.

Alongside these competitive benefits, a digital workplace has numerous benefits for your employees. 2020 has seen a rise in individuals working from home, and although we don’t know how long this situation will last, it’s likely that employees will look to have more flexible working policies in the future. It’s in every organization’s best interest to ensure that their employees are working in a way that aids their happiness, as their productivity is directly related. A digital workplace enables employees to fulfill their potential wherever they are based, as they are not limited by what’s available in a physical office. It also stands true for employees working across different office locations – ensuring whichever department or office an individual is in, they will be able to perform their job to the highest possible standard. Bringing simplicity and intuition to employee workdays also improves productivity and morale, resulting in success for your organization.

Finally, investing in a digital workplace will benefit your organizational goals. When a digital workplace is developed in conjunction with the aims you have for your organization, then all your tools, processes, and resources line up directly to achieve your organizational goals. With such an aligned effort and clear focus, the chances of success are high and will place your organization in a league of its own. A digital workplace is a workplace that is set up for success and ensures it is doing its utmost to reach every goal. 

Hopefully, you’ve now got a far deeper understanding of what a digital workplace is, but you’re probably also aware that there’s a lot more you’ll need to consider when planning and creating a strategy for implementing yours. That’s why we created our digital workplace guide to help you with the process.