The Digital Workplace: Think Strategically, Act Tactically
Managing the digital workplace brings some tough challenges and calls for a mixture of clear strategic thinking, combined with pragmatism about how employees respond to the changes you envisage. Most knowledge work does not happen within processes but is more free-form and people-focussed. The appeal of social tools in this context is that they are better adapted to this kind of work than enterprise workflow tools or more formal document-management tools. The downside is that you never quite know how people are going to use them. This creates several challenges:
Firstly, one person’s freedom is another’s chaos, so there needs to be something that helps preserve findability. A chaotic intranet doesn’t get better with a chaotic wiki on top.
Secondly, leaders often fear that social tools will create a “wild west” of unbridled usage, but often what you get is a ghost town because nobody is sure what the purpose is.
Thirdly, having three tools to collaborate sounds like freedom, but is less productive than everyone using the same tool. It used to be hard to find something in an email, but now that something could be on email, SharePoint, a microblog or instant message. This isn’t just about technical standards but matching working needs of employees across locations, cultures and generations.
Organisations need to have a strategy that focuses on the problems they want to solve, or to put it another way, the capabilities they want to support. They then need to be experimental in seeing what works best; not just tools but approaches to how they are governed, what is communicated, training and incentives for use. Like evolution, each company is its own ecosystem and what you’re looking for is the ‘fittest’ solution.
By thinking in terms of capabilities, we also start to think about how elements of the digital workplace join up. The strategic perspective should look at how people work and provide a roadmap for coherence. For example, what happens when teams go from brainstorm mode to operational mode? How do they transition their online environment to support this? How do you widen involvement as an idea scales to a product, but keep the governance coherent? What happens when you cross boundaries of HR policies or employment cultures?
Ultimately, what makes a digital workplace a success is not the tools, or even the success stories from the early adopters, but how well an organisation is able to turn it into a way of working for the wider majority of employees.
This post was originally published as an article in HR Magazine