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Why digital transformation starts with a digital workplace

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock)

Forward-thinking enterprises are eager to embrace digital transformation. Yet there’s a lot of confusion about what that will look like—let alone how to get there.    

Eight in 10 (opens in new tab) organizations mistakenly think email and social media use are enough to constitute a digital workplace.     

More than half (opens in new tab) expect mobile devices to automatically solve their productivity problems. And while 72 percent believe (opens in new tab) the traditional workplace will be obsolete in four years, three in four haven’t yet provided employees with seamless access to software and applications outside a physical office.  Perhaps the biggest misconception, however, is the idea that transformation simply means investing in digital technology. If you buy it, change will come—or so the thinking goes. But technology alone, without a digital workplace to fully support its use, will fail to live up to its full potential.

That’s why digital transformation has to start within. It takes an organization-wide cultural shift to truly leverage the power of technology. In other words, companies need to create a good employee experience first in order to ultimately deliver a good customer experience—and that means focusing on building a digital workplace.    

“Digital pathways vary from organization to organization, but one element of transformation remains the same,” says entrepreneur Dan Newman (opens in new tab). “The humans working on a day-to-day basis within a business are the ones who determine the success or failure of any tech implementation.”    

The majority of enterprises say they’re planning on investing in building their digital workplace within the next two years (opens in new tab). Starting with an internal transformation and then expanding outward is the best way to ensure success. 

What will the digital workplace look like?

Just a few years from now, most of us will be interacting with artificial intelligence at work. Half (opens in new tab) of our team communications will occur via mobile apps. One in five (opens in new tab) of those communications won’t contain any text.  

In a successful digital workplace, employees are engaged, productive, and mobile. But these are all byproducts of the transformation, not the purpose of it. To get there, enterprises need to be clear about what strategic goal they’re aiming for. So what makes a workplace truly digital?    

Gartner defines a digital workplace as an environment where “employees are able to quickly and easily share what they know and find what they need with consistent experiences across devices and locales”. According to Avenade (opens in new tab), it’s one that empowers employees to drive business growth through the use of digital tools, regardless of their location.   

However, one thing is abundantly clear: the digital workplace centers on employees—what they need, how they work, and how they engage with their work.    

New digital technologies have opened new opportunities for transforming the way we work. Mobile apps, for example, can reinvent or streamline workflows and eliminate busywork from business processes. They can mobilize information and knowledge so employees can easily share and access it when needed, no matter where they are. Organizations that achieve a true digital workplace report a bottom-line impact (opens in new tab) of: 

  • Increased productivity—67% 
  • Employee engagement—53% 
  • Revenue growth—43% 

But retrofitting technology to old ways of doing things won’t produce these kinds of results. Business leaders need to be constantly asking how digital tools can serve their employees in new and more efficient ways.    

“Building a successful digital workplace demands a fresh approach to business processes and removing the activities that get in the way of solving business challenges,” says Gartner (opens in new tab). “Re-engineering such processes requires a careful analysis of how employees currently work and engage each other, and adding new tools and adapting outmoded processes.” 

Prioritize the employee experience     

These new ways of working will require significant behavioral changes from employees, which is why it’s critical to engage them in the transformation process from the beginning. Actively engaged employees not only prove more productive and innovative, but when empowered, they can help propel innovation and growth within a company.    

“A digital workplace can drive that engagement factor up by enabling employees to have the right information and tools at the ready,” says IT leader Erin Leary (opens in new tab). “Done well, the digital workplace can empower and enable employees to do their best, and engaged employees benefit the business.  The most successful organizations will be those that are willing to:   

Cultivate a digital culture. The linchpin to engagement is creating a culture of autonomy, accountability, and empowerment. Employees “want to find fulfillment in their work, and they want to perform in collaborative, forward-thinking environments,” Newman says. “Adjusting mindsets to look forward and embrace digital change is the first step in becoming a mature digital company.”    

Change everything. As the digital workplace matures, it will demand significant changes throughout the organization, including new internal processes, departmental structures, incentives, skills, and behaviors. It is important to consider how employees currently work, assess what activities they spend the most time on, and understand how technology can be used to help them be more productive.      

Curate digital experiences for employees. Designing a better user experience for employee-facing apps will be a major focus for at least 40 percent (opens in new tab) of large enterprises. Businesses need to be able to offer consumer-grade digital experiences to employees that make accessing and consuming information easier, completing tasks faster, and allow workers to get contextualized data delivered right when they need it.               

Create a human-centered workplace. Despite the ubiquitous use of technology, employees must remain the focus. In addition to making workers more effective, enterprise technology should help them maintain a desirable work-life balance and establish clear boundaries between work and nonwork.  It takes an internal-to-external approach to make an organization truly digital and one that will require business leaders to consistently ask the right questions and assess issues associated with change in order for it to succeed. When enterprises leverage tools to build a digital workplace that empowers employees with the technology they need to be engaged, effective, and more productive, the change inevitably ripples outward to drive transformation and facilitate better customer experience.  

Elle Sidell, Digital Marketing Manager at Sapho (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Chombosan / Shutterstock

Elle Sidell is a Digital Marketing Manager at Sapho. Previously, she worked on web content for business stakeholders at AVG Technologies and has experience in content creation, copywriting, and managing the online presence of several SaaS services.