The transformation of the digital workplace: 7 theories for greater productivity

Digital transformation is in full flow; it starts in most companies with an eye on customer-oriented processes. And that makes sense. But now it's time to apply digital changes to the internal workplace.

The so-called “Digital Workplace” is a central driver towards greater productivity and new ways of working. But: What are successful companies doing differently to the others?


1. A digital workplace affects everyone - so everyone needs to be involved

The Digital Workplace is a strategic project. It affects all areas of the company - in fact, every employee who has their own PC. At the same time, very different expectations develop in different areas of the company. While Sales may potentially be very interested in mobile solutions, Corporate Communications may place more value on a personalized intranet. These varying interests and expectations must be managed. All areas affected need to come together and discuss the resulting priorities in a constructive manner.

Often, using the services of an external moderator proves the most effective way to decide on concrete steps moving forward and to develop an overarching roadmap. This states when and in what order which components of the digital workplace will be implemented and made available.

2. A classic with great potential: The search for experts and existing information

The roadmap for the digital workplace is oriented for the most part around individual applications that can achieve a considerable increase in productivity for the company. The recent German Social Collaboration Study shows that searching for experts and a better search for - often existing - information deliver a high level of added value. The new Digital Workplace in the company must find its answers through this.

3. Not yet a classic, but great potential: Working in communities

Not quite as obvious, but of great potential, is the creation of IT-supported communities, another clear recommendation in the study. Through this, tools for communities work in two ways. On the one hand, they can lead to greater company productivity, as tasks can be completed more quickly and/or with greater innovation. On the other hand, communities, or the active, subject-specific exchange across departments and locations, are a relevant contribution leading to a more agile organization, through which generally speaking, non-hierarchical, networked methods of working are encouraged.

4. Innovation, a little at a time

Good Digital Workplace projects are innovation projects. Learning is at the forefront: which technologies suit the company? For this, not only is a controlled test environment permitted, it is positively desirable. Fear of new technologies is the worst adviser. New technologies or new cloud services should be tested and introduced as pilot projects in small, controlled “experiments”. This is the best route to creating a Digital Workplace. The IT department sets guidelines and creates the architecture and service specifications. However, even the IT department can only occasionally predict which components and services will actually be adopted by users. It is an empirical process that can however be guided. “Try often” does not mean “try randomly”.

5. The new digital workplace is profitable

A Digital Workplace project offers the opportunity to consolidate IT. For example, a large mid-tier customer of Campana & Schott, a global manufacturing player with 9,000 employees: the number of tools used for communication and collaboration was reduced by more than half from the original 72. More importantly, the number of providers and software manufacturers was reduced by more than two thirds from 19 providers to just five.

6. Investing in Management of Change (MOC)

Digital Workplace projects are not technology projects. Or at least not only. Without detailed planning and comprehensively executed communication support, only a fraction of the possible usage can be achieved. Companies should rather do without additional technical functionality, than not budget or budget too little for investments in permanent and “multi-channel” support for future users. Particularly when implemented in a workplace, they result in a massive change to the way in which employees work and collaborate. So much so, that it is clearly necessary to also invest massively in change management support.

Changes do not happen of their own accord. Change management support measures need not necessary be innovative, but they must consist of a package of complementary tools (i.e. “multi-channel”). The activation of pilot users, departmental disseminators, digital communities, automated help systems (particularly for answering user queries), training systems and videos - all these, complete with live-events, are proven means, but require investment. Nonetheless, it is a prudent investment.

7. Strategically planned, but implemented in an agile way

Finally, I would again like to go over the individual measures. At the start, there is a single vision of what the future, digital workplace should achieve and which strategic goals should be met. Within the scope of this, an agile but appropriately-focused implementation can follow. Implementation opens things up to many smaller initiatives and pilot projects - combined with the knowledge that some of the planned components will not eventuate within the organization. That is what trials are for, on an on-going basis. The whole process resembles a control loop. The company implements the roadmap for a digital workplace in a series of smaller steps. If some steps do not aid in achieving the goal, they are adapted to do so.

Added to this is the ‘start small’ approach, i.e. with fewer technical components that are continually tested, and only then are the next functions added. Even with a grand vision, it is advisable to approach the actual implementation as a growing “Minimum Viable Product”. In this way, the Digital Workplace contributes to an agile company.