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Digital Workplace Trends report 2013 – Review

Digital Workplace Trends report 2013 – Review


Jane McConnell kindly shared with me a copy of her latest Digital Workplace Trends report, based on a survey of 362 organisations covering their current activities and future plans. This is the seventh time she has run her survey (it began as the Global Intranet Trends report in 2006), so can genuinely claim to be an insight into longer-term trends.

The way the report defines the digital workplace (DW) is

“A coordinated, holistic view of information, collaboration and application platforms, services and tools used by the workforce to support their work. It includes managed, collaborative, social and mobile dimensions”, though it recognises that organisations may not necessarily use the DW term itself.

The structure is based on 7 key trends:

  1. Transformation
  2. Mobile
  3. Social collaboration
  4. Process
  5. Experience
  6. Investment
  7. Change

Helpfully, each page is designed to be self-contained so that it can easily be pulled up to inform meetings and conversations.

As an evolving topic within our industry, it is so important to have resources that have substance to them rather than just rhetoric, so Jane deserves much credit for taking a lead here.  The report is full of notable figures that help dispel some of the hype. For example, Enterprise social networks, contrary to the impression given by much of the industry press, is actually “still on the runway” as Jane puts it, but we can see a shift in intent: “the proportion of organizations that say they have ‘no plans for social networking’ has dropped radically from 38 percent just 12 months ago to 7 percent at the end of 2012.”


Some of the things that struck me in particular were:

1) “Most organizations where there is resistance to social collaborative ways of working report slow success in overcoming resistance. Interestingly, education, training and change management are areas where only 14 percent of budgets is spent”. Even though many digital workplace managers would intellectually agree that people are the most significant factor, this isn’t translated into where the resources are going. I suspect that this is because the tangible elements – normally the technology – are more inherently ‘plannable’ than softer issues like change. This is reflected in relatively low reported satisfaction with adoption levels, even amongst the early adopters where there is a big gap between availability of things like people-finders and their actual uptake.

2) The two top strategic goals for developing a Digital Workplace are “reduce costs” and “increase organizational intelligence”.  Jane observes that they are potentially contradictory, implying that both goals appear within the same organization (rather than this being a basic split in the data). It makes me wonder if the second factor is the overriding one, i.e. that organisations are primarily cost-cutting but looking to the digital workplace to help maintain the status quo with fewer people, rather than keeping the number of people the same but looking to grow more efficiently.

3) There are significantly more  DW programmes for what Jane calls ‘floor-field workers’ (blue collar) than ‘desk-office’ (white collar) organisations. The implication is that the DW is more established for office workers and that enterprises are focusing on catching up for those who are not office based. It is encouraging that organisations are explicitly thinking about how to bring the benefits of technology to the front line – I suspect now that mobile approaches are more viable – and hopefully eroding the rather abitrary ‘knowledge worker’ split, as if floor-field roles are knowledge-free. However, the report notes that predominantly floor-field organisations are still much more efficiency driven than organizational-intelligence driven. One case study I liked was “Architect of the Capitol” (the team that maintain the buildings on Capitol Hill), where they talked about ‘onsite teleworkers’ – the maintenance crew who are not office based but where 98% carry a mobile device.

4) User Generated content such as sharing images, commenting and rating is now a well established concept, but less than half the companies in the survey have deployed it, and satisfaction is generally low. This is far below what my intuitive estimate would have been, given the technical prevalence of tools like SharePoint. However, where rich media such as video sharing exists, satisfaction is generally higher.

5) By contrast real time video conferencing and messaging has become widespread, and people seem to ‘get’ the advantages of this more readily, with satisfaction levels much closer to deployment levels.

I don’t want to give away all the headlines in the report, but there are many more gems, including shockingly low levels of governance, a shift in leader support, and a sense of post-social bedding in going on.

Thoughts for next time…

The report does have some limitations. The data-gathering approach means that there are issues of selection bias in the data set, because a major incentive to take part is a free copy of the report. This probably makes the figures higher than would be seen in a random sample because participants are actively interested in the topic (for example, around 30% said they were using responsive design in mobile applications, which feels somewhat high). However, I would much rather have the data and be aware of this limitation than not have it at all, and the breadth of Jane’s recruitment approach probably makes it more reliable than much of the vendor-sponsored data available.

Secondly, the definition of the DW given at the outset is very broad, but there are areas of the digital workplace that are not then represented in the data. Perhaps in future the survey could include questions on areas such as online processes/workflow, agile workplace adoption and even a measure of what role email is playing still.

Another suggestion for the next version of the report is to make less use of the  ‘early adopters’ segmentation. The idea is to show where organisations are evolving, but sometimes the numbers just correlate with the selection, whereas segmentation by company size or by sector might give more nuance. For example, sector data works well in the executive summary:

“Usage of the cloud varies depending on the sector of activity with 70 to 80 percent of organizations in education, software and industrial manufacturing saying the cloud is “relevant” for them.”

That’s not to say early adopters isn’t sometimes a useful slice, such as when it hints at the transition curve by looking at the lead group, for example:

“The greatest resistance to new social collaborative ways of working comes from senior management for the majority of organizations but from middle management in the early adopters. Major concerns are lack of business value and wasting time”

The drawback is that the cause and effect is perplexing. For example, the report states that “senior management is three times more likely [in early-adopters] to be acting as role models than in the majority”

If the next version could find a way to show whether the early adopters faced and dealt with senior resistance and have now moved on, or if what happened is that they are early adopters directly because they had leadership backing to give them a sprint start, then that would be enormously helpful. Or to put it another way, the survey shows correlation, but not always whether these factors are necessary or sufficient.


Overall the report is a uniquely valuable resource for anyone working on intranets or the digital workplace, and provides a well-balanced reference point for those developing strategies or putting together a business case. Jane has done a fantastic job of not just conducting a thoughtfully-designed survey but also brining a rich layer of insight and interpretation on top. Excellent value and well worth purchasing – see www.digital-workplace-trends.com.

Disclosure: Jane and I run a group on LinkedIn together called Digital Workplace, but I had no involvement in the Digital Workplace Trends report.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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