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Why IT should care about the digital workplace

At its simplest, the digital workplace is one that offers employees access to technology devices and services in a way that boosts engagement and agility. It’s also a melting pot of technology, culture, interior design, business strategy and more.

While every digital workplace is different, the successful ones share characteristics that maximise the creative potential of the workforce and allow new ways of working that deliver better business outcomes. So much so that, at Gartner, we predict that by 2020, the greatest source of competitive advantage for 30 per cent of organisations will come from the workforce’s ability to creatively exploit digital technology.

Many organisations are looking to change the corporate culture in order to encourage workforce innovation. The importance of technology in effecting that change cannot be under-estimated and the IT department should play a primary role. Being tasked with driving cultural change represents not only a significant expansion of the IT charter but also an opportunity to contribute to better business outcomes in a substantial way.

Based on my study of digital workplace programmes, I’ve identified seven ingredients that can inspire and encourage such cultural change:

1) Understand the needs of your employees

Because workforce agility and innovation rely on digital infrastructure, the IT organisation has an increasingly strong role to play in culture change efforts. To make this work, IT needs to have an engaged workforce that see the benefits of digital workplace initiatives. Focus groups are one way of gaining a better understanding of which technologies employees want and the opportunities that can arise from using them.

2) Add a dash of urgency; find a catalyst for change

Digital workplace initiatives require a larger degree of organisational support, than many IT projects. IT departments need to identify the catalyst for change, to support a sell-in initiative to the relevant decision makers. At one global financial services company, the impetus for the digital workplace initiative came from a board level desire to shift the current corporate culture to one that encourages and enables workforce risk taking, agility and innovation. The digital workplace initiative became a key element of a broader set of projects around this goal.

3) Form a coalition; reach beyond IT

Many digital workplace initiatives originate within the IT group and then expand to include other stakeholders that influence the employee experience as the program begins to demonstrate value. This is the ‘bottom-up’ approach. More progressive organisations may start with a multidisciplinary approach and drive the digital workplace effort from the top down. An IT group needs to identify the best approach for their organisation and incorporate the relevant stakeholders to be part of the coalition for change.

4) Capture quick and highly viable wins

By including employees in the planning phase of an initiative, the IT department can set itself up to deliver early wins. The global financial services company, mentioned earlier, quickly identified two sources of employee frustration; the new-employee onboarding process, and access to training resources.

The company encouraged employees to express their frustration and share ideas on improving the onboarding and learning experiences through -employee hackathons. The company was able to generate 15 ideas from 75 employees and quickly move to develop a new approach to onboarding and adapt the learning process to better fit employee’s needs.

5) Importance of long-term vision

Respondents to a Gartner 2015 CIO survey told us that 84 per cent of their planning time is devoted to year one and two, only 13 per cent to years three to five, and a scant 3 per cent to year five and beyond. Moving to a digital workplace demands a rethink. Longer planning horizons will make the IT group a bigger contributor to business successes. The idea is that organisations can gain competitive advantage by carefully exploiting emerging technology, human capital and consumer trends, which requires longer term and sustained planning efforts.

The global financial services company’s two-pronged approach was built around two streams of activity. “Corporate Experience” was primarily led by IT and focused on short-term delivery of more consumerised services “Experience 2020”, involved an internal team made up of higher-level executives from across the business, and looked at opportunities for longer-term cultural change.

6) Communicate the Vision

The digital workplace is a long-term initiative. In addition to regularly communicating the goals of the initiative and progress on current projects, organisations should also spend time engaging employees with future developments.

The global financial services company produced magazine style content exploring how future technologies such as virtual personal assistants, smart badges and sensor networks could deliver personalised services throughout the workplace. The goal was to get employees excited by the potential of new technologies and proactively engaged with focus groups and pilots.

7) Make it stick!

Office aesthetics and facilities are not traditionally the domain of the IT department. However, a successful digital workplace initiative needs to go beyond the roll out of new services and tools and include the digitisation of the working environment or risk a confusing digital experience for employees. IT departments should look at service delivery, such as the creation “genius bars” for delivery helpdesk services, the digitisation of existing facilities such as room booking and conferencing services, but also emerging technologies such as sensor networks that can direct employees to parking spaces.

These initiatives may not directly contribute to better business outcomes but they will contribute to a hugely to building an employee culture that values agility and innovation.

Matt Cain, a Vice President at Gartner

Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional