Congratulations on your investment in the digital workplace. It’s how we do business. Big hitters like Office 365 and Workplace by Facebook, numerous cloud-based collaboration and networking tools. These are now largely the norm for medium and large businesses. But before we get too excited about all this new technology, let’s first ask ourselves a fundamental question: what are we deploying these tools for?
Are we really procuring something as powerful as Office 365 just to create and store documents? Common reasons for deploying digital tools include ‘to be able to work anywhere’, ‘to connect with my colleagues’ and ‘to find the resources I need to do my job’. And is that really the point? To do our jobs? After all, we’ve always needed tools to perform jobs, from crude wooden implements through industrial machinery to the latest in artificial intelligence. These are all tools, yet they all need a purpose. What is the job we need to do with them?
Shovels and pick axes weren’t procured solely to dig holes for the sake of it. They were used to extract minerals, to build railway lines, to plant orchards. And email wasn’t introduced to replace conversations, it was actually intended to leave messages for colleagues to retrieve when they arrived at work.
So why do we see lavish roll-out of digital tools rolled out without a clear purpose beyond a task? When we say we need to find colleagues, we need to ask why do we need to find colleagues? what’s the necessity that makes us want to talk to people outside of our office?
Digital workplace confusion
It’s actually very simple to see why we struggle to find a clear purpose for our digital tools, as the graphic below shows. We try and band everything together as the digital workplace yet our expectations of it change pretty much annually. It’s actually rather unhelpful to try and group all of these disparate things together.
An example of confused purpose is enterprise social platforms commonly being used as communications tools, to disseminate top-down messages. Sure, they are more than capable of doing it but is that the reason they exist? Is that why we should be on there every day? To see our CEO proudly talking about some shareholders we have no connection with?
Communications, networking, finding content, working on documents collaboratively. These are all ‘what’s’. These are what we do to do a job. And with so many ‘what’s’ in play, it’s increasingly difficult to focus on the needs of our workforce and our customers. So let’s dig a little deeper and see what digital tools can really do by thinking beyond the ‘what’. By thinking about the true capability – the ‘why’. Why do we really need these potentially powerful tools? Here are some suggestions that provide a higher purpose.
Empowering the workforce
‘We need these tools to give our workforce a voice.’ Not an occasional opportunity via surveys, but a voice across everything that we do to improve everything that we do. Typically new projects look backwards, following convention, experience and ‘best practice’. Fine. But if we want to change, to raise the bar, we need fresh input, new ideas, candid learnings. Consider digital tools as empowering tools: throw away the shackles of the cubicle and have these discussions out in the open, ‘working out loud’.
Tools alone, of course, won’t fully deliver this. Left alone, people will continue with their existing habits. But using these same tools we can unearth the blockers to collaboration and challenge them. Out in the open, in candid discussions. With these two simple, empowering motivators we can realise the maximum potential of these tools.
And that’s why it’s critical to determine the ‘why’. The high level driver. Once we see and understand that, we can determine the tactics to deliver it. Digital tools will be an important part of this mix, but we may also need other tactics: training, engagement, leading by example. The digital workplace tools become the place where we can safely and honestly put it all out there. To offer a view or to feed in a problem – not a passive workforce, but a workforce with a voice, influencing decision making and delivery.
The quest for innovation often bypasses the collaborative power of digital workplaces in a focus solely for new ideas. Innovation thrives in environments where seemingly unconnected elements combine into new thinking. The organic, spontaneous realisation that we’ve stumbled across something. Digital networks are excellent innovation engines, connecting people with people, allowing half-formed ideas to intersect with other half-formed ideas, opening the door to insights, trends and problems.
Deploying digital collaboration tools to support an innovative workforce is a truly powerful purpose. And again, like any broader business purpose, we use the tools as part of the mix. An innovation strategy needs engagement, training, catalysts and communities powering the way. But then how amazing that we have such great tools to deliver all of these things: enterprise social networks for innovation communities and engagement, team spaces, spaces for disruption, content and collaboration spaces for training.
To be more innovative is a clear high-level purpose. It gives us permission to disrupt, it links bottom-up thinking via the various tools that comprise the digital workplace. This is an environment in which innovation thrives.
Find it yourself
Digital workplace tools open the door to many possibilities. But whichever way we go, we’ve got to get that clear purpose out there. Once we know that, we can plan. Providing hands-on and bottom-up engagement to make us thrive. Getting us to think of how best to make the digital workplace a safe place to work out loud, to be open and honest, to disrupt. As long as we’ve thought about why and how we will work, the digital workplace is an exciting place. Without this, digital tools become a mess of overlapping, under-used and sometimes counter-productive tools.
Don’t leave the tools to it. A spade won’t dig a hole by itself, likewise SharePoint won’t deliver collaboration by itself. What are we collaborating for? Uploading documents is one tiny piece of a digital future. With a bold vision, we can unleash the power of our workforce to achieve so, so much more.