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Understanding The Digital Workplace

16 Jun 2021

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We are now in an age where the workplace isn't just a physical space occupied by employees during office hours. Today’s workplace is an always connected environment providing instant access to everything employees need. The lines between the physical office and the place where the work actually happens are becoming blurred, as is the distinction between personal and professional lives.

As the workplace becomes digital, the whole workforce and upper management can communicate and collaborate in many new and effective ways. This digital workforce can combine productive business relationships beyond the natural work groups enables knowledge sharing across the organisation. 

To manage these industry changes, many leading organisations in business and government have implemented a digital workplace strategy. By intelligently combining the technologies that many businesses already use, the digital workplace has broken down the communication barriers and is transforming employee experience to one promoting efficiency, growth and innovation.

The key to success, however, depends on the implementation of a digital workplace strategy - requiring one that is capable of driving true change within the organisation.

The accelerated change in the last 10 years is due to the emergence of 3 trends:

  1. An ageing workforce. As baby boomers continue to retire, they are taking much of the knowledge with them, which is a dilemma because their experience and knowledge are important in laying the foundations for future professionals.
  2. Information overload. The word here is Big Data. As information continues to grow at exponential rates, many businesses and employees find it difficult to find what they need, when they need it.
  3. Need for speed. With the fast-paced work environment today, employees are required to work faster and collaborate more effectively to get their jobs done and meet deadlines. Intranets have been very successful in this particular area, and digital workplaces are just the next step.

And as the workplace demographics continue to shift, businesses and employers are struggling to meet the different needs of a multi-generational workforce. The use of smart mobile devices and the internet continue to grow and the pace of change continues to accelerate.

These changes were further exasperated by COVID-19 and the sudden shift of office based employees to working from home. Many are now in hybrid working arrangements, alternating between working from home and the office.

These trends contribute to reshaping the work environment. Many say that it’s a long overdue transformation. With the rise of the digital workplace, the new focus shifts to how the business can help their staff work more efficiently and how the hundreds of enterprise tools can fit together as one cohesive unit.

Further reading: 10 Digital Workplace Trends Set to Transform Productivity

What Is A Digital Workplace?

While the digital workplace is now driving a wide range of projects across many industries, the concept is still emerging. There are many definitions of the digital workplace and some are all encompassing, while others focus on specific facets of the concept. The digital workplace can be considered the natural evolution of the workplace. It encompasses all of the technologies staff use to do their jobs. This can range from the HR applications and core business applications to e-mail, instant messaging, enterprise social media tools, intranets and portals.

The digital workplace is so broad that it needs to avoid the trap of focusing on a current set of technologies. One definition states that a digital workplace consists of a holistic set of platforms, tools and environments for work delivered in a usable, coherent and productive way. This definition gives focus on the experience of the employee or the individual as well as the environment in which they work. A good digital workplace can be tailored to what your organisation needs it to be.

From the Step Two definition James Robertson goes on to explore a few aspects of this definition:

Holistic – the digital workplace should go beyond the intranet and its related applications and tools, covering all personal productivity tools, connectivity, business systems and the physical workplace.

Coherent – at any given point in time, there are countless projects underway in a large organisation. These projects can often overlap and cause confusion. Components of a digital workplace should be coordinated to deliver productive and meaningful results for every project. Resource allocation might be necessary.

Usable – your employees already have great capabilities at their fingertips, if they only knew and understood how to use them. A digital workplace delivers seamless and simple user experiences that can match actual working practices and employee behaviors.

Productive – personal productivity is placed at the center of the digital workplace thanks to the tools, platforms and supported environments all structured around helping employees to do their job.


>> Check out our interactive infographic to understand the digital workplace and its key elements <<


Why You Need To Adopt A Digital Workplace?

If the risk of inaction is not enough of a motivator for you, the benefits of adopting a digital workplace can make a compelling business case. Consider the benefits of a digital workplaceaccording to Deloitte:
  1. Attracting talent. 64% of employees would choose a lower paying job if they could work away from the office
  2. Employee productivity. Organisations with strong online social networks are 7% more productive compared to organisations without 
  3. Employee satisfaction. Organisations that rolled out and installed social media tools internally found that there was a 20% increase in employee satisfaction.
  4. Retention of employees. When employee engagement goes up, there is a corresponding increase in employee retention of up to 78%.
  5. Communication and collaboration tools. Present day workers prefer newer communication and collaboration tools specifically instant messaging as compared to “traditional” tools like e-mail.

The widespread use of digital technologies is evident in every organisation. Present day companies are made up of multigenerational workforces. At the same time, a new generation of employees is entering the workforce and with the help of different technologies increased engagement, productivity and efficiency can be achieved.

What are Key Components of a Digital Workplace?

Some of the key digital workplace components include:

1. Online Collaboration and Social Enterprise Networks

We have witnessed a huge cultural change in adopting different business communication tools. During their initial adoption stages, ESN or Enterprise Social Networks were often referred to as the Twitter or Facebook of the enterprise because of their reliance on microblogging features. According to the Sprout Social Index, 89% of marketers use Facebook in their brand marketing efforts.

Social collaboration has now become essential for connecting business organisations today. Medium to large organisations in particular are introducing some sort of ESN capabilities to enable staff to communicate and connect with each other instantly, either via a standalone tool such as Yammer or via an tool that is part of a consolidated system such as the social Q&A component of an intranet.

There are solutions available to replace almost every in-person office interaction now, from virtual meetings, to project workspaces, to a detailed corporate directory, to social forums that can take the place of the watercooler catch-up.

2. Videos

For years, the increase of internet and network speed has allowed the use videos in real time communication, and is now considered essential in running a business. Video communication plays a vital role in the multigenerational workforce because it helps them to stay engaged, productive and efficient. The top video publishing sites continue to be YouTube and Vimeo.

Video communication applications are evident all across the enterprise and can be seen in marketing, training and development, product management and the adoption of the latest communication tools.


Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), Bring Your Own Apps (BYOA), Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). With the availability and consumerisation of IT technologies today, the present day workforce is more likely to bring their own smart devices into the office and use them for work purposes. And, for simplicity sake, many employees who are in hybrid working arrangements, are using their own personal devices such as home computers, laptops and mobiles to work from home.

This trend continues to grow in enterprises and employees feel more empowered to use their own devices with regulations for business purposes.

This also introduces a new set of security concerns however, and policies need to be put in place to ensure employees understand what they need to do to avoid security breaches and exposure. For example, using two-factor authentication to login to company approved tools.

4. Becoming More Mobile

The popularity of smart mobile devices in the personal life of an employee or a manager has strong evidence in the context of purchasing, shopping, banking, education and communication.

Mobile technologies also play an important role in breaking boundaries in employee communication and productivity that includes mobile online meetings, online training, video learning and others. 

Many employees now have work related mobile apps on their phones. Employees can receive instant alerts on their phone screen (push notifications) for urgent or important updates; access contact information and central data while they’re away from their desks; submit work related information as part of their jobs such as timesheets and, access self-service areas such as up-to-date rosters and forms, for better productivity all round.

5. Wearables

The rise of wearables in many organisations is slowly being felt today and is now one of the biggest trends in today’s digital market. The wearable market is is exploding in popularity, and worldwide end-user spending on wearable devices has totaled $81.5 billion as of 2021, while the telecom technology changes from 4G to 5G. No doubt IoT will start to make its way into the office.

Experts also believe that many business organisations in the future will deploy more wearable devices on the work floor. The present adoption of wearables in businesses is evident in employee safety monitoring, access control, health and wellness. A number of tech experts have predicted that smart watches will be the largest category of wearables in the future workplace followed by smart glasses and then fitness trackers.

Wearables can help with collaboration and safety by providing real-time data used to make necessary business decisions.

6. Gamification

Businesses have adopted gamification in engaging the workforce through the use of their enterprise social media platforms. The number one goal of enterprise gamification is to improve employee engagement. Gamification is the application of game design techniques and mechanics into a workplace. Gamification taps the basic desires of the user’s impulse which revolve around the idea of achievement and status.

According to NICE Systems, only 31% of companies are exploring or using some form of digital rewards or gaming mechanics.


A digital workplace is also important because it lowers the dependence on a physical work location. This physical freedom of work can provide important changes to how people work, but also how teams are formed and how peers can come together in solving any ad-hoc issues.

Digital Workplace Misconceptions

A digital workplace is not just a fancy re-branding of intranets. While intranets are essential to modern business processes, it is not the only system which allows for digital collaboration in the workplace.

The digital workplace explores engagement on more than one platform. Certainly while digital workplaces are gaining traction in the business world, intranets are a popular platform on which to encourage engagement, facilitate knowledge sharing throughout an organisation and increase employee morale.

A typical digital workplace would bring together the highly functional intranet of an organisation and extend it to include more applications, easier communication and streamlined corporate strategies.


Thriving Digital Workplaces July 2020 On-Demand  - Blog Large Image


The Framework Of A Digital Workplace

While there’s no hard rules involved when designing and setting up a digital workplace, best practices are followed. Deloitte Canada produced an extensive framework for the Digital Workplace, which is still useful today and recommended reading for anyone looking to better understand their own workplace. In their digital workplace framework they featured 4 layers covering the following components:

1. Connection, Collaboration and Communication

It’s no secret than an organisation’s culture guides the way employees work and behave. The people and culture lie at the centre of organisational performance, which normally drive the success or failure of the business. This means that your culture will determine how and to what extent your employees use and take advantage of the digital workplace and intranet platform to collaborate, connect and communicate.

The key here is to understand how the workforce prefers to work. From this, you can develop a change management plan and strategise the digital workplace so that it aligns with existing infrastructure (intranets, portals and other platforms) as well as the working culture of your organisation.

Related reading: [Blog post] How to Create a Digital Culture That Embraces Transformation

2. Technology Is The Digital Workplace Toolbox

All organisations have their own digital toolbox because the tools used and the platforms implemented will depend on the industry, job functions, business strategy and the goals of your digital workplace. 

In most organisations, the toolbox can be broadly defined into categories to support how you communicate, connect, collaborate and deliver your daily services.

Your organisation may or may not require new technologies to support your digital workplace. Some key questions to answer include:

  • What are the tools needed by your employees?
  • What locations will it need to be accessible from?
  • What devices will it need to be accessed on?
  • Which tool is right for the job?
  • Are employees knowledgeable on how and when to use these tools?
  • How do these tools support the goals of the business?
  • How do they function together in incorporation, verification, and the overall user experience?
  • Does it provide an easy, efficient, and employee-centered experience for the user?
  • Does your digital workplace promote ease and promptness in getting the job done?

    Understanding the Digital Workplace in Organisations


    3. Governance, Compliance, Control and Risk

    Challenges are normal in any organisation, thus when you’re creating your digital workplace, you should create a governance model that supports connectivity and collaboration while enabling compliance and mitigating tasks.

    Some key questions to answer include:

    • Who will be part of creating the digital workplace strategy?
    • Who will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of different components of the digital workplace?
    • What are the specific tasks that fall under each person's responsibility? What happens if they go on annual leave or resign?
    • Have you outlined the procedures and processes?
    • Have you created clear user guidelines?

    4. Measuring Business Values through Business Drivers

    The digital workplace can empower your employees and direct their efforts by building communities of interest, driving knowledge management and collaborating in ways that can make sense to the employees and that deliver measurable business values.

    To reap the benefits, the digital workplace should address the existing challenges and provide true business value. Ensure as part of your digital workplace strategy, you create SMART goals that enable you to effectively measure your efforts.

    In Closing

    The businesses that will be successful in the future will be those who tear down the divide between people, technologies and the workplace. If there are no barriers dividing the workforce, everyone will be empowered to do their job, to be creative and productive wherever they are.

    Want more information on the key elements to effectively build and manage a digital workplace? Check out the 'Digital Workplace Best Practices' webinar or the free guide on 'How to Build a Productive & Engaged Digital Workplace' for insights.

    Build an Engaged Digital Workplace Guide - Blog Banner

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