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September 24, 2015
What does “digital workplace” really mean?
By: Ciaran Cosgrave
Accenture gbu lessons on digital workspace blog I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like we just can’t escape the word “digital” these days. It’s everywhere, and to some extent that makes it confusing, as it’s come to mean different things to different people. So when we talk about the “digital workplace,” what do we really mean?

I’m not going to lie, I throw this term around a lot myself as I work with clients. I certainly have my own strong ideas about what it entails, but I was looking forward to hearing thoughts on the topic from top business executives and leading research firm Gartner at this week’s Gartner Digital Workplace Summit in London.

As the name of the event suggests, the discussions at the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit focused on fostering a new way of working for — you guessed it — the digital age that promotes team collaboration and personal productivity.

THE DIGITAL WORKPLACE BLURS LINES

Chris Howard, VP at Gartner, opened the summit with an interesting look into what the future holds for the the digital workplace and his take on what that term really means. Howard described creating a digital workplace as blurring the lines between the physical and the digital worlds around three core areas: People, things and business.
In pursuit of these blurred lines, the digital workplace should emphasize three core principles:

  1. Employee Engagement
    If you can better engage your employees and do so using the innovative, (here we go again) digital tools they really want to use, you can foster greater enthusiasm and happiness among them. And that enthusiasm and happiness will ultimately lead to higher productivity.

  2. Digital Dexterity
    It’s important to provide a consumer-like computing experience in the workplace because people want to use familiar tools that allow them to work they way they live. However, the caveat here is that you’ll never be able to catch up to everything your employees use in their personal lives, as trends and applications within the consumer technology field are evolving constantly at a breakneck pace. Think Facebook (now for grandparents) vs. Snapchat (for our children). The diligence and controls you need to put in place for enterprise solutions mean you can’t introduce a new consumer technology into your business the second it hits the market. With all of that said, you certainly can — and should — mimic the consumer experience by increasing IT agility to stay on top of changing trends as much as possible.

  3. Autonomy
    Finally, to create a true digital workplace, you need to exploit emerging smart technology that boasts people-centric design. This last point really comes hand-in-hand with the first two, as you should pursue it in an effort to boost employee engagement and to add new, innovative technology to the mix (where appropriate).

THE DIGITAL WORKPLACE RENEWS THE FOCUS ON YOUR EMPLOYEES 

Another point Howard made that really stuck with me was his description how companies are reimagining the workplace for employees. He argued that enterprises should make the employee experience feel natural, universal and helpful. That’s because if getting work done and managing any changes feels natural to employees, you can minimize disruptions to their routines and increase employee satisfaction. 

Meanwhile, if you can make the digital workplace a universal experience, rather than a privilege for just a select few, you can encourage a culture of innovation that allows you to surface ideas from anywhere across the entire organization. And when that occurs, true digital disruption happens. 

Finally, a digital workplace should be helpful in making employees’ lives easier. For example, think about how introducing digital assistants (similar to Google Now or Siri) into the workplace can help employees do their jobs better, faster and easier. 

WHERE ARE WE ON THE ROAD TO THE DIGITAL WORKPLACE?

From Howard’s opening keynote to all of the sessions to simply talking with people on the floor, the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit definitely shed light on what this term really means and how businesses are making it work for them. 

Yet one shocking statistic Gartner shared during the event was that although 46% of enterprises have a digital workplace initiative underway, only 4% have identified a leader for their digital workplace. Currently, we’re seeing leaders emerge from various positions including HR, corporate communications, marketing and IT, but there is no single training ground for these people. As these efforts continue to evolve, I strongly believe the next phase will focus on properly identifying and preparing digital workplace leaders.

Where are you on the road to the digital workplace? What are your priorities, principles and business objectives for your initiatives? And do you have a digital workplace leader? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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