Digitization not only changes business models and the business processes linked to them. The employee’s workplace is also undergoing constant change. Many companies have now recognised that “work” does not only take place in one place, but in multiple locations or ideally from everywhere.
In view of the current corona epidemic, many employees are being transferred to home offices or self-quarantine. Companies that have approached the concept of “new ways of working” or modern digital workspace (MDW) in recent years are likely to have fewer productivity losses compared to companies that have neglected or given less priority to modern digital workspace (MDW).
Home office and mobile office have long since ceased to be merely trendy terms, but rather arguments for getting employees excited about a company and for retaining them. Tech giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook or Apple recognized this early on and aligned the workplace or MDW to the needs of their employees.
In general, the digital transformation of companies is not possible without a sustainable workplace and mobility concept. Therefore, the digital workplace is often referred to as the foundation of a digitization strategy on which to build actions and initiatives.
From a corporate culture point of view, projects to implement an MDW bring an immense change. Setting up a comprehensive change management system that picks up and familiarizes every employee in the company with the new workplace in relation to the future way of working is simply the decisive factor for success. This factor inevitably decides on a high acceptance and usage rate of applications and tools in the course of the MDW in the company.
This article summarizes how the definition of a digital workplace can be and how a company can make initial conceptual approaches to the MDW project.
In the search for a definitional delimitation of the digital workplace, the searcher is inundated with a multitude of possible definitions. Interpretations sometimes diverge widely.
A much quoted and very concise definition comes from Paul Miller (“The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work”, 2012):
“The Digital Workplace is the virtual, digital equivalent of a physical workplace.”
A combination of existing academic deductions and practical project experience brings us to the following definition:
“The digital workplace is a change in the mindset of an organization or a cultural shift. It is the understanding that the way of working today is different from the past and will be in the future – influenced by the (digital) evolution of technologies.
The digital workplace understands work not as a physical place where the employee works, but as an event that can be practiced from anywhere and at any time based on connected devices.
The digital workplace is a sustainable understanding or an ongoing organizational process and provides an answer to the question of how technologies transform the way workers work; in particular, how and where the work is done.
The introduction of a digital workplace is more than just the introduction of a new IT application. Rather, it is associated with a paradigm shift in the company or a cultural change. Working with new software and hardware components, process digitalization and process automation, workflow integration in consideration of IT security standards are only some of the many circumstances that go hand in hand with a new MDW or to which the organizations and their employees have to adapt. Therefore a common understanding of the future workplace is of central importance. Since every employee is affected by an MDW, it is essential to involve the employees in the conception and implementation of the project at an early stage, especially in order to ensure a high level of acceptance and the associated usage rate. In principle, project experience shows that the added value of the MDW only comes into play if it is considered part of a digitisation strategy and is introduced and developed sustainably.
Stocktaking of the current status of the organisation
In addition to the common understanding, a company can approach the topic of MDW by taking stock of the present situation. In requirement workshops with the employees of the organization, the following key questions, among others, must be clarified:
- Is the existing corporate culture ready for modern working? (do e.g. agile working methods, flat hierarchies etc. already exist)
- How do the divisions, departments and groups currently work or which tools and which hardware is in use?
- Which methods of collaboration do the employees use for internal and external communication with colleagues and customers?
- Are modern technologies such as cloud solutions in use?
- Are there traditional applications that must be continued despite a possible migration to the cloud (keyword: hybrid infrastructures)?
- Which standard processes are installed and where can potential for process optimization be indentified?
- What is the level of employee satisfaction with the current (IT) equipment?
- Can the employees work efficiently with the existing equipment?
- Can employees already use single sign-on, or are multiple sign-on and associated media disruptions part of everyday life?
- Is the MDW initiative also supported by management?
Outline of a target scenario
Once an overview of the current situation has been gained, the company can proceed with the design of a possible target scenario with the critical question of what the MDW of the future should be and reflect in the organisation. Recommended for this purpose are cross-departmental and cross-group requirements workshops (e.g. using the design thinking approach) to clarify important basic conditions, among other things:
- How does the organization define the MDW of the future? (Here it is important to let creativity run free, detached from current infrastructures)
- Is the MDW fully thought through? In general, a digital workplace is not just new software or hardware. It also involves conditions relating to IT infrastructure, IT security, working methods and processes.
- What equipment should be made available to the organisation’s staff in the future in order to be more efficient and fit for the future? There are many software and hardware providers on the market. A comprehensive market analysis is recommended.
- Does the organization have the necessary know-how internally to implement the project plan or are experts from outside needed?
- Do cooperations with other companies exist, so that a first demonstration of a digital workplace can be organized?
Comparison of the initial situation with the target scenario
The next step can be a conceptual comparison between actual and target analysis. The following questions, among others, are to be considered:
- Which delta between actual and target analysis should be closed?
- How far has the organisation already progressed on the way to a modern workplace?
- Which economic levers can be realized with the implementation of a digital workplace (keyword: efficiency increases)?
Conclusion & next steps
Creating a digital workplace is a complex task. The capacities of the company’s own IT staff and the specialist department are usually already largely utilised. Without external partners and service providers who bring their own know-how in this field, the transition to new workplace structures is hardly manageable. In order to operationalize the topic of modern digital workspace, we recommend that companies first conduct a preliminary study or feasibility study. This will help to clarify key questions of principle and general conditions for a potential implementation project at an early stage.