Characteristics of a digital workplace

Beyond whether certain hands-on careers require an onsite presence, does electronic communication sufficiently match face-to-face exchanges? Is it all just a ‘fad,’ as some say?

What if your workplace was not a place?

The concept of a digital workplace has gained momentum, aided by modern technology, and promises a more agile, convenient way to get work done that doesn’t rely on a set time or a specific location.

Think of the digital workplace as the evolutionary leap of your organization’s intranet or portal, but with additional capabilities that make it indispensable. It might include job-related tools, collaboration, ideation, video chat, instant messaging, email, presence indicators, and other features-accessible anytime, anywhere, from any device.

The digital workplace has several important characteristics:

1. Consumer technology increasingly sets the expectations for your people, and you must keep pace with these expectations or risk being ignored. Because consumer technology is increasingly mobile, social, and visual, your digital workplace should be the same.

2. Technology enhances the experience for all employees, even those whose jobs have historically been categorized as manual. The digital workplace cannot offer only reference material and news; it must also provide access to data and systems — with speed and simplicity — that help work get done and aid in decision-making.

3. Your people are the focus of the digital workplace. It enables people to discover, connect, and collaborate with one another, regardless of rank, function, location, or tenure. As our work becomes more complex, it is more important to find the right person — an expert, or someone with similar experiences — than to find a procedure or instruction manual that cannot anticipate the nuances of complexity.

The digital workplace requires us to rethink the way we work. It challenges our assumptions about strictly defined processes, about office environments, and even about organizational hierarchy. To this last point: If we can easily connect with colleagues across time, distance, and organization structure, what role does hierarchy play besides getting in the way?

The digital workplace demands deep involvement by two groups of people who have been only marginally involved in such efforts, if at all: those who work in real estate, locating office spaces and designing their layouts, and human resources professionals, who must reconsider organization structure, policies, and incentives for this new way of working.

Of course, every new movement has its detractors. Some refer to the digital workplace as a fad, championed by those who are intoxicated by technology. Others note that the concept makes sense for knowledge workers, who work all day with digital technology, but question its uptake by mechanics, nurses, and others who work primarily with their hands.

Still, there’s no question that digital technology has already changed the way we work. How far it goes, and how well we adapt to such change, has yet to be determined.

Learn more about the digital workplace

The digital workplace concept has advocates and champions worldwide:

  • Paul Miller of London is CEO and founder of Digital Workplace Group and author of “The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work.”
  • Jane McConnell, an American based in France, compiles the annual Digital Workplace Trends report that analyzes the digital workplace maturity of hundreds of organizations worldwide.
  • Sam Marshall, leader of ClearBox Consulting in the U.K., has prepared a Digital Workplace Manifesto.

Your turn

What does the digital workplace mean to you? Is it the future of work, or unlikely to materialize in your industry?

William Amurgis is the former director of internal communications at a Fortune 200 company. He is a writer, speaker, teacher, and consultant. He can be reached at wm@amurgis.com.

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