Digital Workplace Definition, Benefits, and Importance

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The Importance of Building a Digital Workplace


With all the workplace technology out there, you’d think we’d have a set definition of “digital workplace.” When you do a basic search for the term, however, we’re still struggling to define what it means. For many businesses, there’s a breakdown in what they believe digital workplace means and the actual practice.

The digital workplace does have some nuances depending on who you’re talking to and what field they’re in. The line between where work happens and the physical space is blurred with more employees performing their duties online and offsite. However, to move forward, businesses and organizations need to embrace the benefits of practicing the digital workplace. Let’s take a look at what the digital workplace is and – maybe more importantly – isn’t.


The Beginning of the Digital Workplace

For many people, using digital tools or a social media presence automatically equals the digital workplace, but that’s not always accurate. Just because servers use mobile phones or a maintenance technician has an iPad, that doesn’t mean you’ve mastered digital transformation.

In 2009, Paul Miller put the term into his lexicon to explore the ways that were rapidly changing technology was transforming the way we traditionally do business. As the founder of Digital Working Group, he was invested in understanding the upheaval and potential of these digital tools to augment human labor and build a business in a new way.

Miller later built the concept into a fully-fleshed idea comprised of three primary areas:

  • Digital presence – A digital presence offers employees and customers apps that recede into the background and access to data that augments their activities with that business. Rather than just “tech in the workplace,” the digital workplace is a fully data-integrated and app-integrated philosophy. It’s scalable, cross-device unified, and enterprise worthy.
  • Governance – Governance is the overarching structure of the digital workplace. It defines the procedures, boundaries, roles, and rules for employees and customers operating within the space. Without explicitly defined governance, business is merely fragmented by its digital presence.
  • Speed and efficiency – We’ve spent a lot of time trying to improve employee engagement. Effective digital workplaces could offer us real efficiency by eliminating some of the mind-numbing, morale-busting parts of today’s workplace. If employees don’t have to work poorly maintained and managed office buildings with a terrible commute and work hours that rob them of daylight, they may produce more innovative solutions. 

Companies realize that the overhead costs of maintaining these centralized buildings with “soul-sucking” fluorescent lights aren’t worth the effort. And with digital tools finally able to provide employee engagement at home or in co-working hubs, those traditional centralized buildings could soon be a thing of the past.

The Real Definition of Digital Workplace – What is it?


The reason tech hasn’t always lived up to the hype in the past is because companies often adopt piecemeal approaches to technology. For example:

  • Shareholders are scrambling to add “machine learning” to the table, so companies throw it at their data science teams without knowing what it means. 
  • A competitor’s data breach causes frantic hiring of a SaaS company designed to provide better security, but no one knows who the point person is.
  • A company adopts a new CRM tool, but re-training is complicated and tedious, and only about a third of the staff ever logs into the system.

Chances are you’ve been through hundreds of scenarios like this over your work life and aren’t eager to adopt a new system that just collects dust and forces some poor sap to maintain a ton of legacy code.

Gartner defines the digital workplace as an on-going, deliberate approach. The rest of the definition involves consumer-facing technologies and enabling innovation, but the real meat of that definition hinges on the word “deliberate.” A digital workplace is a single, encompassing mission to rethink the bones of how we work.

What are the Benefits of a Digital Workplace?


When a business takes the time to execute a digital workplace correctly, they begin to address how employees are actually working rather than how the company thinks employees work. Improving the employee experience within the workforce opens the organization up to faster innovation and more efficiency.

One of the most significant benefits of a digital workplace is removing the friction day to day activities. Communications flow smoothly, everyone is on the same page, silos break down…it’s a unified workforce realized.

Another benefit is that it elevates efficiency by providing employees the chance to work how and where they do their best. No more need for a 9-5 workday when not everyone works well under those hours. No more commutes for many of your outlying employees. The tools are functional and don’t require three days of boring training just to be replaced with a shiny new object.

Digital transformation finally takes advantage of data. Real insights driven by data collection in the process of work and customer interaction give businesses the chance to make truly smart decisions. Rather than letting data sit around in a data lake (or swamp), companies use it for continuous intelligence, pivoting operations to meet, and in some cases, anticipate new trends.

Importance of Building the Digital Workplace


If you plan to move towards a digital workplace, we applaud you. It’s a process defined by intention and respect for your digital employee experience and customer journey. You’ll need to define your business parameters carefully to build your scalable digital workplace. Consider these things:

What do our employees really need?


Defining who your workforce is and what they need to complete their tasks is the first and most critical step. You’ll have to get into the trenches and find out what makes your employees tick. This can be difficult because management and c-suite often have fossilized ideas of what their employee’s work-life should look like. 

Consider your employees’ real needs and if there’s a gap between the tools they have and the tools they could use to streamline a process. Everything is up for examination. For example, contracts are often a painful bottleneck in an organization but are still handled overwhelmingly on paper. Is there a tool that can take the pain out of that process?

What technologies do we already have?


If you have a legacy system that everyone is already familiar with and doesn’t cause bottlenecks in your pipeline, you may not want to scrap the entire thing. This goes especially if you’ve built a thorough in-house solution. If your technologies are a frequent cause of pain and suffering, on the other hand, it could be time to let go.

Build your solutions around technology that’s already working – versus letting go of systems that don’t help you develop your digital presence – and begin to build your governance strategy. You’ll need to consider the tech your team already loves and uses for productivity as part of your overall pipeline.

Does our digital workplace strategy align with our company’s mission and desired culture?


This is a yes or no question.

Throwing tools and money at a process doesn’t always ensure adoption. Think about how many tools you’ve been trained for and then forgotten for the next shiny thing. While there are no hard and fast rules for evaluating whether this answer is a yes or a no, you need to consider your company’s mission carefully.

For example, if your desired culture is one of free collaboration tools and innovation, your tool must actively work to break down silos. Does it help your teams not just message each other, but fully collaborate within an online space? 

Likewise, if part of your mission is to eliminate the wait times for customer service, are you truly employing technology that can do that? Sure, you can set up all your employees with company phones to manage your social media brand reputation nonstop, but that’s not a viable solution. You may consider AI to fill in the bulk of customer service and free up your team for complex customer service queries.

Keep moving through your tools until you’ve come to a unified company culture and mission that’s fully supported by those tools. They shouldn’t just enable your people to work more hours. These tools should create an environment where people can succeed in your business in a healthy manner.


Moving to a Digital Workplace


The conscious effort of creating better working conditions and a unified team is what a digital workplace is all about. Tools that don’t enable your company’s core mission and desired culture will just be replaced by the next shiny object. 

Companies that don’t embrace digital workplace principles will soon be at a serious disadvantage in the marketplace. Welcoming the new vision of the workplace away from the soul-sucking reputation of lonely office buildings could invigorate your staff and ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward.

The digital workplace may not have a set in stone definition, but that means you can use its principles to fit your business and create a workplace in which your employees thrive. If an organization enables its employees to succeed, it’s only a matter of time before that success translates to the entire business.


Download our Smarter Buildings, Smarter Workplace e-book to learn the benefits & challenges of smart technology in the workplace


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