Digital workplace – what you ought to know

The web is currently awash with articles about the digital workplace. Yet despite all this attention, there’s still so much uncertainty about what it actually is. Is it a type of advanced social intranet? Or a process for optimizing your workplace? Or simply the ideal digital place to work? In our humble opinion, it will be an absolute must-have for all users in the future. So we thought it was high time someone explained what this buzzword is all about.
June 24, 2023
9 min

Let us start with the unembellished truth that being at work doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. According to Gartner Research, employees spend 61 percent of their time managing their workload and a mere 39 percent taking targeted and effective action.

What does a normal working day look like for most people? Doesn’t everyone spend what at least feels like far too much time hunting down documents or information? This isn’t usually down to a lack of organization. The cause can often be found in the complicated architecture of the software landscape we are working with, which forces us to master a whole range of isolated solutions – such as an intranet, enterprise content management technologies and various collaboration tools – and painstakingly gather information from all these sources. In fact, a study has shown that we spend just under two hours every day scouting out information. Inadequate digitalization in the workplace has an adverse impact on employees’ commitment and motivation. And we’re not talking about one-off cases here – pretty much every employee is confronted with isolated solutions. The unavoidable interfaces between applications bring workflows and processes to a standstill, with employee productivity taking a hit as a result.

The pandemic – a key driver of the digital workplace transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic has added fuel to the flames. With many people now working from home, communication channels in many companies have broken down. Here and there, gaping chasms have emerged, say because staff working remotely can no longer access all the documents and information they need to do their job. Or because staff run into technical issues when collaborating with colleagues, partners or customers from a distance. When situations like these occur, the race is on to determine what hardware and software you need to be fully operational.

The era of the “digital workplace” is upon us. There isn’t a CIO or IT specialist around who isn’t currently talking about this concept and inevitably conjuring up images of state-of-the-art technologies and innovations such as artificial intelligence, chatbots, mobile devices, virtual reality, instant messaging tools and cloud-based solutions. The digital workplace is shaping today’s world of work and, to a certain extent, stands for a modern, new way of working that factors in lots of different aspects, including space, the environment, technologies and tools.

The digital workplace is wherever someone is productive, which could be at the office, at home or in any other location across the globe – provided this “place” has an internet connection.

One term, many definitions

The term was coined by IT specialists Charles Grantham and Larry Nichols all the way back in 1993, when they released their book “The Digital Workplace: Designing Groupware Platforms”. If you look this term up on the web, however, you’ll soon see that there isn’t one set definition. Some describe it as a software solution – a central digital workplace platform that provides users with all the key information, programs or functions relevant to their work. Others see it as the next-gen workplace, though “place” is perhaps a misnomer, since it consigns the idea of working in a fixed location to the past. The digital workplace is wherever someone is productive, which could be at the office, at home or in any other location across the globe – provided this “place” has an internet connection.

Digital workspaces are defined by a certain dynamic. Gartner even labels this as a key characteristic, describing the digital workplace as the result of continued efforts to create a user-friendly IT environment that enhances employee engagement and agility. According to the specialists at Gartner, it’s also an ideal state that’s worth striving for.

In other words, it’s impossible to give a standard definition. If you take a look at the various approaches, however, you will notice a common theme. Every definition is geared toward a goal. That goal is to provide users with an effective working environment – be it at the strategic or conceptual level or in terms of technology – so they can complete their tasks quickly and easily.

The digital workplace therefore needs to be viewed as a whole – as a new and modern conceptualization of our work, workplace and work environment.

Theory and practice are worlds apart

pecialists are now widely promoting this kind of holistic approach. But what does this look like in the real world? With remote working increasingly gaining in popularity, companies are forced to take action. They need to provide their employees with hardware, software and a secure connection. In a state of urgency such as the one faced at the start of the pandemic in 2020, however, there is a risk of companies acting hastily and establishing digital solutions that actually go against the concept of the digital workplace – with a collaboration solution shoved in here and a new tool linked up there. Yet no business can transform overnight. Indeed, adopting this kind of haphazard approach results in a digital mishmash that employees can certainly work with, but not without experiencing a dip in productivity – and let’s not forget the associated security risks, particularly with regard to shadow IT systems.

Digital Workplace: the benefits at a glance

With the digital workplace, it’s an entirely different story. Especially in today’s era of digital transformation, this is an indispensable concept that accelerates processes and consequently boosts productivity. The benefits:

  • It makes business processes, customer service and collaboration more efficient.
  • It promotes innovation, shortens the time-to-market for new products and services, and makes the onboarding of new staff members easier.
  • It ensures a better work-life balance, motivates employees and makes them more dedicated to the business.
  • It reduces security risks.

Digital workplace investments pay off

The following case studies demonstrate how investing in digital transformation and virtual collaboration has a positive impact and makes the associated gains quantifiable:

Collaboration example

On average, employees attend 62 meetings a month. That’s 30 hours a week, 30 to 50 percent of which are considered a waste of time by the participants of a research study. Digital workspaces help avoid unproductive meetings by eliminating the need for status meetings in which people do nothing more than compare to-do lists. The result? An annual saving of around 9,000 US dollars per employee. Similar savings can be achieved when the digital workplace helps dispense with the arduous task of keeping your inbox in check.

Onboarding example

The quicker new staff members learn the ropes, the earlier the company benefits from the extra pair of hands and the less likely it is that the new recruit will leave the business prematurely. Research conducted by Glassdoor, a website that enables current and former staff members to leave anonymous reviews of companies, revealed that organizations with a digital onboarding process are more than 80 percent more likely to retain staff in the long term than organizations with a traditional induction process.

Employee engagement example

According to the US opinion research institute Gallup, motivated employees build a better rapport with their customers, demonstrate greater productivity and are, all in all, 21 percent more effective than their less motivated counterparts. The implication is that the digital workplace offers a winning formula. After all, as the quality of workplace technology and IT equipment increases, so too does employee engagement. Many enterprises are still not giving this correlation the attention it deserves – despite the fact that almost half of employees are yearning for better technology, applications and digital tools.

A digital transformation takes planning

It has been shown that developing and implementing a digital workplace strategy is a worthwhile endeavor – as long as the enterprise looks at the bigger picture, takes account of the dynamics involved, and can adapt an individual’s digital workspace to their environment as it evolves. Each person’s workplace should be tailored to them. Instead of trying to make one size fit all, you should opt for a holistic approach for your enterprise.

Among other things, it’s important to consider the employee experience. How does a digital workplace need to be set up to enable staff to do their job to the best of their ability? What IT applications are required to make their day-to-day work easier? After all, providing the best possible support in the workplace makes for a more dedicated, flexible and productive workforce, which in turn can enhance the consumer and customer experience – not to mention overall business outcomes.

Digital workplace improves employee experience

Choosing the right tools, technology and applications also plays an important role, however. The key questions here are: Do staff tend to use mobile devices or desktop computers? How is information shared and where is it kept? When answering these questions, be sure to consider the points mentioned earlier about user requirements.

Only if staff work together in harmony using the tools, technology, applications and mobile devices at their disposal and receive the support they need can we speak of a successful employee experience. Staff will then also identify with the company’s values, purpose and overall strategy. This is the basis for a positive corporate culture – and the ideal starting point for kick-starting a digital workplace transformation.

Asking the right questions

The first step to making this digital transformation a reality is to answer the following questions to determine where your company is currently at:

  • Who are our employees and what equipment and applications do they need to do their job as best as possible?
  • How is our IT infrastructure set up, and what technologies and applications do we already use?
  • Where do we need to close gaps between employee requirements and the applications available?
  • To what extent can every member of the workforce access the information and tools they need, regardless of their device or location?
  • How well acquainted is our workforce with the company’s purpose, values and overall strategy, and how aware are they of their role in achieving business targets?
  • How well integrated are our systems, and how effectively and efficiently do they interact?
  • What does the digital working environment look like, and what digital solutions (platform or intranet) are already in place?
  • What experience do employees have with their current digital workplace and virtual collaboration?
  • How do we envisage our ongoing digital workplace transformation, and to what extent does our vision tally with our corporate purpose, objectives and culture? How can the digital workplace help us achieve our goals?

These questions show just how important it is to know and understand the needs of the workforce. Only once you’ve done that can you ultimately choose the right digital solutions. A digital workplace initiative that limits itself to a single choice made in a single moment in time will fall short of a well-rounded transformation strategy, however. Developing such a strategy has a positive impact on the company’s focus, culture and self-concept and its overall future prospects.

A key aspect for gaining a competitive edge

Proactive companies with business leaders who drive forward digital transformation and the development and implementation of a digital workplace strategy have a chance of staying ahead of the competition in the future. This is an investment that pays off. The approach taken does, however, need to be dynamic and take account of the bigger picture. Made-to-measure solutions are key to achieving this goal, as a one-size-fits-all mentality will only lead to failure.


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