Creating a Great Digital Workplace

During the panel discussion at a conference I recently attended, there was a comment from the audience that the panel was experienced in large organisations (thousands of employees), while in New Zealand most businesses are small to medium enterprises. How can smaller organisations create a great experience Digital Workplace experience for their people?

I started thinking about this from my own experience in a team who have been working in a hybrid way for more than a decade. What is it that we do well and what could be do better?

I’ll start with a confession, the saying about “the mechanics car” applies to people in my industry too. Not us of course, but those guys over there!

The overwhelming message from the conference was to focus on people. Organisations of all sizes have people from different generations, different skills and experiences, different genders, different…almost anything. Each of us will have different needs and values because we have different personal circumstances and jobs with different requirements. That said, we all have many things in common too!

How do we make a great Digital Workplace?

  • Focus on the needs of people
  • Be inclusive, giving everyone the opportunity to participate
  • Use tools that don’t require you to jump into yet another system to complete a task
  • Integrate collaboration tools like digital whiteboards & planning
  • Make work visible and avoid creating silos (both people and data)
  • Make it safe for people to contribute and provide honest feedback
  • Foster innovation from everyone and iterate

Why does having a great Digital Workplace matter?

Here a few reasons from the conference:

  • 60% of employees in one large organisation reported struggling with working from home.
  • 55% of people responding to a global survey said technology was significantly more complex now that two years ago.
  • Less than 20% of organisations consider their digital transformation initiatives complete.
  • Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to leave for greener pastures.
  • Proficiency varies significantly across most businesses.  
  • Humans are social creatures who for the most part enjoyed connectedness.

Don’t forget to create a good physical environment for people to access the digital environment. You only need to join a Teams meeting where the attendees in your meeting room are small dots at the end of a long table with muffled voices to understand why this is important. There are many other issues, for example people trying to work from home with improvised environments, participants in open plan offices, privacy needs, bad Wi-Fi, clunky laptops, etc.

Technology does play an important role. It enables your organisations people to work in new ways. Use modern technologies to keep people safe and enable the collaboration and engagement needed to make modern working, work. Trying to save a dollar on hardware or the lowest subscription option, tempting as it maybe, can ultimately lead to costs that are unseen.

The real secret to building a great Digital Workplace is to remove the word Digital. Company culture and ways of working are the key to creating a great workplace. Take your company culture, rituals and rhythms from the physical world and make them part of the digital workplace. It doesn’t matter what tools you use to create the digital workplace if there are no people there.

Now iterate and improve.

Full disclosure, I’m a Microsoft MVP for Office Apps and Services. I spent my days working with companies to create and improve their digital workplaces. A question that often comes up is what should we be considering? Short answer, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Viva, SharePoint and then tools like Planner, Whiteboard and Power Platform tools. Other companies provide tools to help with these things too. Make sure you pick things that work together cohesively and minimise friction for the people working in the digital workplace you are creating.

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