On the 26th and 27th of February 2019 the digital workplace group presented DW24, a 24 hour webinar which looks at key topics and themes relating to digital workplaces. This provides a fascinating insight for digital workplace practitioners. Allowing them to take a behind the scenes look at what their peers in other organisations are doing with their digital workplace programmes.
Here are some of my observations I’ve noticed this year, reflecting back on previous years and events.
Digital Workplaces continue to mature
One thing that struck me this year was the way in which digital workplaces are maturing. Technologies and ideas which seemed new a few years ago are becoming much more commonplace. Approaches such as customer journeys and design thinking seem part and parcel of how digital workplace teams now work. The external focus on the customer experience has been translated into the employee experience focus for digital workplace teams.
It’s also interesting to see the job titles of many of the presenters have changed. Several years ago this would have been Internet managers or Internal Communications Managers or IT professionals. Now we see Heads of digital workplace, Directors of Digital Communications, all suggesting a more senior position within organisations for those working in the digital workplace arena.
Digital work is maturing
It’s not surprising then, that ways of working in the digital world are also maturing alongside the platforms that support them. Earlier DW24 events perhaps focused on technology, strategy, governance, adoption and activation. Now we see the nuances around digital work. The focus now seems to be ensuring the digital workplace extracts more value for colleagues and organisations. The challenge to work effectively continues and the challenge for digital workplace teams to support their colleagues in working smarter remains.
Sharepoint and Office 365 still dominate. Other platforms reflect the diverse needs of companies and perhaps perceived limitations of Microsoft’s offerings. Workplace by Facebook didn’t seem to be mentioned as much as I’d thought it might. For a few organisations, the use of AI and bots which perhaps a few years ago would have been more theoretical, now have some solid use cases emerging. It’s an area that is still developing with perhaps only those more mature digital workplaces having leveraged this technology, for now. What this means for those teams who feel they are starting perhaps a little behind the main field? Well as Susan Quain from Fidelity mentioned, they can leverage these new technologies and use cases that are already out there and leapfrog their peers.
Teams and organisations have also matured in terms of their ability to develop their tools. This might be in house or externally. I sense the approach within mature digital workplace teams and connectivity between IT and business teams mean they are more aligned and have development resource more readily available. This may also reflect the fact that off-the-shelf solutions are improving the user experience. Making it much easier to integrate these platforms into the wider digital workplace for organisations. As was seen in several of the official sponsor segments. I got the distinct impression the old ‘them and us’ discussions around IT, HR, Internal Comms and the business have smoothed and more cross organisational governance and ownership is becoming more the norm for many.
Yet again metrics was a topic discussed by many of the presenters. What I found interesting here was the challenge to get the right metrics and show business value for the digital workplace continues but many organisations are now able to capture the data from the platform or more impressively from business related data to support and define the key metrics for their ongoing developments. What impressed me here was the Avanade presentation where they started off with business metrics and then aligned that with digital workplace developments. Also Aaron Kim from Royal Bank of Canada showing how they use metrics from Jive was fascinating. Seeing the depth of detail available in a social platform and the potential to spot opportunities and issues in your communities is awesome. This is something which SWOOP analytics for Yammer and Workplace also allows.
There’s clearly room for improvement here for many, but a focus on colleague journey’s, removal of barriers and easing their ability to perform their core tasks provide one way to bridge the gap between business activity and digital workplace developments.
Information overload came up in several of the presentations with teams looking at how can they improve the overall experience for colleagues. As I believe Troy Campano, Senior Enterprise Architect – Digital Workplace at Liberty Mutual Insurance stated:
“it’s not about information overload it’s about filter failure.”
The challenge then is providing improved experiences, simplify information and how it is presented and using new solutions, such as bots, to extract and integrate tasks within the right context.
Impact of culture on the digital workplace
It was fascinating to see the presentation from Elena Bogdanova regarding Russian intranets and impact of culture. It’s one of the benefits of Dw24 that, whilst still focused mainly on Europe and Americas, other regions are represented too. So useful to see a wider perspective and understand the needs to appreciate cultural diversity in the digital workplace. This can also be seen in the non-corporate presentations, such as from the University of Leicester and the discussion around Digital Nations.
The topic of digital skills appeared around two areas, firstly the new skills that employees need to work in the digital workplace. Secondly the skills leaders need to lead in a digital world. Several times the topic of the future of work and the impact of AI and automation on jobs was highlighted. With significant changes forecast, the need for colleagues to adapt to these changes is vital. It may not be clear what the specific solutions and the skills required will be. However, we need to help leaders understand the impact and benefits of digital on work and support colleagues in a life-long learning journey to enable them to work smarter as their work becomes augmented with AI.
Human centred. Always.
The topic of people, users or employees arose in several sessions. A common theme; the move towards focusing on colleagues as real people, rather than using dehumanising terms such as users, or staff. This was best seen in the presentation from Marc Cantwell VP, Integrated User Experience, American Express. This session was a personal favourite of mine as he talked about the concept of the servant workplace.
“The digital workplace exists to make your colleagues more successful at the thing they were hired to do.”
Marc is an advocate for getting out there, spending time with colleagues, observing them in their natural habitat. Like David Attenborough with a laptop.
The lunch menu appears to remain the most important piece of content for many digital workplaces. I find this somewhat reassuring. Technology is advancing at an ever increasing pace. Topics like AI and bots are now more common. But behind it all, working away in their digital workplace are our colleagues. Humans with all their human needs. Like a decent lunch.
This seems to support Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. With all our clever technology, our basic human needs and motivations drive us. So, perhaps Digital Workplace teams should, in the words of Orson Welles “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” Or at least make sure the lunch needs are met, allowing us to focus on higher needs.
Communities were not a topic that was directly mentioned in the sessions I saw, but an emerging topic in the background of several of the sessions. Many successful digital workplace programmes have ambassadors or digital champions as part of the adoption and activation process. As we move to conversations around knowledge sharing, lifelong learning, working out loud and the future of work, the need for communities and ways to effectively manage them within organisations increases.
OK, yes, I know I’ve listed more items than I said would. However if there was one theme which has run through all digital workplace events I’ve attended, it’s this. Whilst some basic principles and common good practice exist, there is always a need to adapt, change and do things uniquely required by the context for your organisation and your colleagues.
Dw24 was not the only conference taking place at the same time. The IntraTeam conference was taking place in Copenhagen and we saw several speakers take part in both events. I’m not sure if this suggests a weakness, perhaps just that the most interesting are in high demand. It was great to see a truly global event with people calling in from all corners of the world to present their perspectives on, what continues to be a growing industry.
While I wasn’t able to attend the full 24 hours, some people have lives outside digital work, the sessions I saw where fascinating and the event provided a good pulse check on the state of the digital workplace industry globally.