Most organisations have a vision of a future workplace that combines technology and culture change to connect people together and with the aim of empowering people to work smarter, to share ideas and be connected to the business regardless of where they work. However, in my experience few organisations understand how to achieve this.
Often areas such as IT, Human Resources/Human Capital, Knowledge Management and Estate Management work in isolation – focusing only on their own challenges, perhaps with a cursory thought to overlap – which often results in both incremental change, conflicting objectives and confusion for employees; for example an estate reduction strategy executed with hot desking before employees have been issued with updated devices and educated on how to use the technology that allows them to work more remotely is always destined to cause difficulties for the workforce.
So why write about this – the majority of my articles to date have focused on next generation collaboration and communication applications Understanding the digital workplace architecture and How to pick a digital workplace vendor? for example, but I’m often asked about these fit with an overall integrated digital workplace strategy.
The answer, as I elude to above, is of course wider than just rolling out applications (there is little benefit in applications that will not run on an individual’s device or that no-one can access) – in my experience the truly digital workplace consists of six key elements, and it is each of these that the author tasked with documenting an integrated future workplace strategy should focus:
Taking each of these elements in turn:
An Individual’s Device
Most organisations have a mixture of fixed desktops and laptop users, some also use thin client technology to deliver applications to customer facing staff. No matter what devices you have deployed within your estate, each device needs to be high powered and physically appropriate to that person’s need – there is little point giving a desktop device to a colleague who spends three days on the road, but equally that device has to be usable, a thin tablet may look exciting, but a lightweight laptop with a bigger screen might be more appreciated.
The strategy needs to take into account purchase options as well as the cost of deploying and servicing, some of the most effective device strategies allow an employee to take a broken laptop to an IT stand and wait while an engineer ports their hard-drive to another device in minutes.
It’s also important to factor whether you even need to issue a device at all? The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept has gained popularity with employees to avoid carrying two smartphones (and for employers to avoid expensive smartphone costs), but it seems the idea rarely (with good reason) carries across to an employee’s primary device. It may however be entirely appropriate to allow contractors and consultants who often have their own devices to virtualise onto your network allowing access to be granted (or revoked) instantly and without incurring additional hardware and deployment costs.
Whatever device is chosen, it makes sense to standardise wherever possible, and if practical for knowledge workers, to reduce the number of fixed devices deployed that could limit future workplace strategies.
Next Generation Collaboration & Communication Software
Applications within the Digital Workplace is, at it’s most basic, the internal deployment of next generation collaboration technology that helps get work done and keeps track of everything an individual does or is interested in. It is inherently social in nature and is integrated with the organisation’s existing applications and its mobile infrastructure. The components of which are shown in the diagram below. I’ve also written a longer post on Understanding the digital workplace architecture and the reasons behind the need for change at Doing work is harder than it should be – but what’s the problem?
Culture and Behaviour
Even the best technology cannot be successful if the environment within which it is deployed is non collaborative, authoritarian and at worst toxic. Whilst this may be the extreme, many employees have been conditioned to work in a certain way by over powering managers and the idea of greater flexibility, reaching out beyond their manager or self-empowerment is sometimes deemed as something that ‘only millennials do’ – clearly this is not the case, but setting new norms for behaviour and providing tailored support for new technologies and the new ways of working it can provide is often a challenge that organisations overlook, or under-invest in. Making sure that the business is aware of new technologies that are coming and then ensuring that that both business processes and the culture of the organisation is updated can foster a culture of trust and focus on results, empowering employees to decide how and where to complete tasks. I’ve written more on this at: Usage vs Adoption: How to get world-class digital workplace metrics
As individuals we enjoy almost continuous connectivity on our personal devices via 3\4\5G and Wi-Fi hotspots and when we are home, or even whilst travelling via Wi-Fi delivered broadband on trains, the underground etc. Sadly the same can’t be said for most corporate devices in our workplaces. Ubiquitous Connectivity means two things, firstly providing employees with a high speed data network that is suitable for both web browsing and the most demanding video and internet telephony, as well as providing employees with the ability to instantly connect and work from anywhere, securely – from any of the organisation’s offices, wherever they are in the building and no matter which office in the world they are visiting. Equally when travelling, an employee’s corporate devices have access to a mobile data plan and/or a directory of pre-paid access to wireless hotspot providers.
Conducive Physical Environments
To give their best individuals need to work in an environment that allows them to do so. Open plan office layouts can have their benefits, and for some organisations re-configuring office layouts will improve space utilisation and break down barriers caused by high partitions, but if many people in an office spend their time on conference calls or desktop video conferencing it can quickly become difficult for others to concentrate, made worst if the individuals are working in virtual teams so don’t actually work together.
Instead organisations should focus on creating an appropriate, future-focused and collaborative physical work environment for their people, their guests and contractors that reflects the way the organisation works, not just the way it is structured.
Start by standardising meeting room facilities, make sure they are easy to locate and book, ensure they are nearby to where people are and equipped with both new technology as well as the basics such as a whiteboard and pens! Create suitable and stimulating places to encourage collaboration, perhaps themed around the organisation’s business and that are matched to the way teams in the area work, for example agile development teams need places to gather for their daily scrum without disturbing others.
Create informal spaces for one to one meetings as well as smaller meeting rooms for one to three people to join tele/video conferences, or to make personal calls without taking up an entire meeting room. If it fits with your organisation’s culture, create spaces for individuals to eat and even consider providing the food! Remove old IT kit such as scanners and any separate printers in favour of follow-me printing (if your organisation doesn’t already utilise this technology, it provides a single print queue to print to, then once an individual is standing at a printer – printouts can be started by swiping their employee ID badge). Finally make sure that these back office area services spaces are easy to find, but make copying and printing less disruptive to others nearby.
Finally understanding the constraints of your organisation is important, do you have the budget to rollout smart devices or tablets to everyone, is your network able to cope with the demands of software and communications methods (high bandwidth capabilities like desktop video conferencing and VoIP telephony), are there restrictions on using Bluetooth (if so you need to make sure your devices have enough USB ports). These and items like them won’t stop you from documenting a strategy, but it could well delay the introduction of the Digital Workplace within your organisation.