Digital workplace strategy: 10 steps to greater agility, productivity

Your digital transformation is doomed unless you empower employees to succeed in the digital era. Here’s how to craft a workplace that boosts engagement and agility.

Digital workplace strategy: 10 steps to greater agility, productivity
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Upgrading IT systems, overhauling business processes and stacking talent benches are crucial undertakings of any digital transformation

But many CIOs have realized that if employees are going to improve the way they serve customers, they must provide employees with a high-quality digital workplace.

In fact, by 2020 the greatest source of competitive advantage for 30 percent of organizations will come from the workforce's ability to creatively exploit digital technologies, according to Gartner.

But just what is the digital workplace? It is a business strategy aimed at boosting employee engagement and agility through consumerization of the work environment, Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell says. Ideally, your digital workplace helps individuals and teams work more productively without compromising operations. It includes computers, mobile devices and productivity and collaboration applications and, increasingly, chatbots, virtual assistant technology, personal analytics and immersive workspaces.

"The idea of the digital workplace is to bring that same simplicity and intuitiveness to employees when they're doing their mission-critical work," Rozwell says.

Here is a digital workplace transformation plan worth considering, as informed by Rozwell and practitioners.

1. Vision

Your digital workplace plan should align with business and digital transformation goals — and clearly answer why you want to overhaul your work environment. Remember, your goal is to increase employee engagement and productivity. Work closely with stakeholders, including business, HR and facilities managers, to shape the plan and execute changes, bearing in mind the workplace demographics and potential impact those changes will have. How will these efforts change business processes? Don't execute on technology platform decisions until you achieve clarity and agreement on the digital workplace's purpose and objectives. This will consume significant budget, so remember to get buy-in from the rest of the C-suite and board of directors.

2. Strategy

Once a dirty phrase for CIOs, shadow IT has thrust emerging technologies into the limelight, as employees voted loud and clear about their software and user experience preferences by using apps they are comfortable with to do their work. Your digital workplace should enable employees to have a greater voice in technology decision-making.

You must establish a roadmap and blueprint for coordinating digital workplace initiatives across R&D, marketing, sales, customer support, manufacturing, HR and IT. Questions to ask this multi-disciplinary collective: How will you exploit various technologies to raise employee engagement levels and support your company’s digital initiatives? How can you create workspaces that increase employee creativity and enable ad hoc and formal opportunities for collaboration? Be sure to do your homework, as this requires a clear understanding of how people work and what improvements are envisioned.

But remember: Consumerization of IT is your friend, so embrace it to help reduce employees' anxiety about new technology.

3. Personas

Employee personas are a critical component of any digital workplace initiative, helping enterprises establish baselines for staff workstreams. To wit: What tech tools does an HR head require versus a sales lead?

As part of a major digital workplace effort, BNY Mellon a few years ago established a persona model that defined users as sharers, knowledge seekers and inside experts, according to Gartner research. The personas included attributes such as technology adoption and mobile use, content creation, consumption and sharing, as well as organizational knowledge. Tracking technology consumption for each persona is critical to help gauge organizational value.

4. Metrics

Use analytics to calculate IT, HR and business metrics and create a digital scorecard. For example, you can gauge user engagement to tracking daily active users and time spent in collaboration software such as Slack. Try to quantify positive impacts on workforce effectiveness, employee agility and employee satisfaction and retention, information you can use later to assess change management and refine your approach. Digital business metrics are among the hardest to calculate but they are essential to gauging the value of your investments. “These metrics help process owners to articulate the potential return on investment to senior management, and prevent technology investments from being perceived as just an expense with no upside,” Rozwell says.

5. Employee experience

Improving customer service is the end goal of a digital workplace but you have to bolster the employee experience first. Rally your IT troops and work with real estate and facilities managers to create smart workspaces that enhance collaborative work activities, and provide space for individual concentration. Create an online portal where managers can recognize employee contributions and success and incorporate it into a shared IT/HR metric to monitor employee engagement.

The Boston Red Sox implemented an intranet, called Home Plate, to help improve communications to and from its employees, which include around 350 full-timers and more than 1,000 seasonal workers to helm security and other roles during the baseball season. The intranet, Akumina Digital Workplace, runs atop Microsoft Azure and integrates with Active Directory, says BoSox CIO Brian Shield, who ran the project.

Shield says the content, refreshed regularly, includes gameday photos and videos, as well as how-to articles. BoSox also integrated a chatbot to help employees learn about benefits and answer other questions. Keeping your employees in the loop, even with something as basic as a modern intranet, is essential for engagement.

“Employees will be more willing to collaborate, take on challenging roles and provide coaching if they are excited by their work and see the opportunity for growth in the changes being requested of them,” Rozwell says, adding that an engaged workforce often outperforms the competition.

6. Organizational change

Digital workplace initiatives typically require considerable change to internal processes, departmental structures, incentives, skills, culture and behaviors. Assess the new skills and competencies required for the digital workplace.

You’ll want to identify change management leaders who can anticipate and mitigate obstacles before they become problems. Integrate digital workplace technologies into workflows and set rules, such as technology standards, usage guidelines, information governance and best practices. Work with senior executives to get them to listen to and engage with employees.

7. Training

New technologies can add stress to your employees’ jobs. You can ease their transition with effective training. Plan to reskill and, if necessary, hire personnel to train them up.

When medical technology company Cerner was looking to upgrade from C++ and C# programming languages to HTML5 and other web-friendly languages it hired digital consultancy PluralSight, whose corporate learning content helps advise clients on new and emerging technologies, as well as agile and DevOps methodologies, says Eric Geis, Cerner’s vice president of intellectual property. Previous efforts to upskill 26,000-plus employees, who were spread across 10 U.S. location and 30 international offices, failed because they were too slow.

“We couldn’t train people fast enough and the content got old and stale quickly,” Geis says. PluralSight’s continuous learning approach has helped with employee retention, “motivating employees and giving people options to prove themselves in tech space.”

8. Processes

More likely than not you’ll find yourself re-engineering business processes. First take a close look at how employees currently work and what activities they spend the most time on. Use a customer journey-mapping playbook to mirror employee journey maps by collecting and analyzing data linked to employee activities and experiences. Consider emerging technologies, such as internet of things and artificial intelligence. For example, a sensor-rich smart building can track workspace usage patterns and adjust lighting and HVAC settings according to employees' preset preferences. Use AI to automate toilsome, routine tasks to make employees more productive.

9. Information

Workers want software for searching, sharing and consuming information to be as "smart" and compelling as the ones they use in their personal lives. They want information and analytics to be contextualized and delivered in the moment of need. In that vein, you’ll want to implement a file-sharing system that enables easy mobile access and real-time synchronization. Consider virtual assistants that can provide contextualized content recommendations, decision support and advice. Weigh the value of roving robotic video conferencing systems and immersive, 360-degree video conferencing systems. A little sci-fi can go a long way with your digitally-empowered workforce.

10. Technology

Wait, didn’t we just delve into the tech side? Yes, but most of you aren’t doing this effectively. “Most organizations have a haphazard architecture that has largely been driven by their digital workplace vendors,” Rozwell says. You need to tie all of the digital platforms together in a seamless mesh of contextual awareness, mobility and real-time information delivery that enables employees to serve customers. Facilitate cloud-, mobile-first strategies. Create a "bring your own work style" culture, enabled by smart workspaces. It’s also important to reward technology innovation practices.

Bottom line

This is just a blueprint; the proof lies in the execution. How is your digital workplace initiative helping employees hit every stop on your corporate customer journey map?

And finally, ask yourself: How will your digital workplace help improve the way your employees serve customers?

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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