What is the Digital Workplace?

Do you remember the first day you started work?

Perhaps it was in a fast food restaurant or shop. Perhaps it was, like me, in an office. Maybe there was a computer there, maybe not. For me, there was a large beige box. It had a large CRT monitor attached to it that didn't leave much space. There was a beige phone next to it with an extension number scribbled in pen on top. When I'd found the right person who had an envelope with my password in, I logged in and found a blank blue desktop. I opened up Internet Explorer and there was a page showing some of the corporate news, some deal related news, a few links to key applications that "everyone" used and a big navigation bar along the top with a search box next to it. I browsed through some of the pages trying to suck in some information. Some had helpful details, some had conflicting details, some were obviously out of date. PING. I received an email from another colleague with some useful links and a lot of attachments that had to be printed, filled out and posted to various departments. I had to update my extension number on to the corporate phonebook. There was a huge shared drive with hundreds of documents to hunt through to find anything useful but I also needed to ask colleagues for documents they'd stored on their C drive. After a few months of getting used to it, I started to feel a little productive.

Class assignment

Fast forward to my last new starting day. Two flat screen monitors with a tiny box interfacing my virtual desktop. I logged on to the phone with my new ID that was there waiting in my email and it was already showing on my corporate profile. Opening up the browser showed corporate news, local news, news for my area and a set of links. Search was prominent and the page was dynamic. There was a new joiners section with all the details I needed to get going and nothing needed printing out. There was still a large navigation but most of the content was up to date and useful. There was still a shared drive but there was also a set of sites holding relevant information. Booking leave was online and if I had a question, there was a prompt asking if I needed help that then showed me what I needed to do. Even more, I could talk with others in the organisation, commenting on new ideas and seeing what people were thinking about - the pulse of the organisation was there ready for me. I had access through mobile apps and could log on to my virtual desktop from anywhere.

I'll confess, I have added some gloss to the latest story. Not everyone engaged online and not all information was straight forward to find. Commenting and sharing were active in some places but non-existent in others. At the time, news was very top down driven still and finding out what other teams were up to was hard. But all this was changing, people were collaborating more, sharing more information, getting engaged across different previously siloed areas. What was enabling this - the Digital Workplace.

The Digital Workplace isn't just one single thing

It's the use of digital platforms to get greater productivity for staff, aiding collaboration and knowledge sharing. The phrase first came to my attention as a member of the Intranet Benchmark Forum that became the Digital Workplace Group. Is it just a fancy name for an Intranet? No, as it encompasses how you engage with many other items, how you can work from anywhere, how you can chat with other people you've never met but have similar passions to, how you can find out what is happening across an organisation, how you can form groups to get things done, how you can tell everyone else what you think is the Digital Workplace.

Does this sound like a load of waffle repeating what others have already said? Possibly. Plenty of people like Paul Miller, Gartner, Ephraim Freed, Christian Buckley and many others have spoken about it and often in a more eloquent way than I have here. What I will talk about is how digital workplaces can be established and the many challenges along the way - both technical and related to people. It's a bumpy road so what 4x4s are out there to help.