What is a digital workplace?

Over the past few decades, the workplace has transformed at an unprecedented rate. While the way we work has been in flux as far back as the agricultural and industrial revolutions, cutting-edge technology has paved the way for drastic changes in recent years. In this piece, we explore the evolving definition of a digital workplace, how this term has developed over time, and the importance of creating an optimized digital workplace.

Definition of a digital workplace

Given the shifting landscape, it can be particularly challenging to define digital workplaces. One of the earliest mentions of the phrase, written by Paul Miller in The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work (2012), describes it as “The virtual, digital equivalent of the physical workplace”. This explanation illustrates the most quintessential element of the term: its role as the digital extension of traditional workspaces. However, the definition does not convey the constant landscape shifts or propensity for change

In contrast, Gartner’s explanation hinges on this very notion of digital workplaces as constant, continuing efforts. The source describes them as “An ongoing, deliberate approach to delivering a more consumer-like computing environment that is better able to facilitate innovative and flexible working practices”. This definition emphasizes the fact that digital workplaces are not static offerings but collections of tools, features, and functionalities that are consciously compiled to optimize an employee’s virtual experience.

Gartner’s definition also references one of the biggest developments in digital workplaces: the shift towards treating workers more like consumers. In recent years, more enterprises have recognized the value in tailoring their digital workplaces to meet the specific demands of their employees. These efforts mirror the way businesses create products that target certain customers. As a result of such customization patterns, digital workplaces can look and feel very differently from one another, based on the organization a user works for and their role within the company. Below, we explore how digital workplaces have evolved as a result of this consumer-like mentality.

Evolution: bringing consumer experiences to the digital workplace

As Gartner’s digital workplace definition illustrates, there has been a significant move to deliver virtual experiences that mimic what workers have grown accustomed to as consumers. Namely, modern digital workplaces need to be personalized, agile, and aligned with specific needs and goals. Just as customers receive advertisements that align with their interests and products that are tailored to specific needs, modern workplaces aim to provide workers with updates relevant to their unique role and tools that increase efficiency.

There are several driving factors that have motivated this move towards a consumer-like mentality. As workplaces continue to compete for the same subset of highly skilled employees, enterprises are eager to attract top candidates. A highly efficient digital workplace that provides employees with all of the tools they need to maximize performance can heighten worker satisfaction by reducing silos, facilitating knowledge sharing, and instilling a sense of brand connectivity.

Modern digital workplaces are also more agile than ever before, as new mobile capabilities empower employees to work without bounds. Just as consumers appreciate flexibility and convenience, studies show that employees who have the option to work remotely report higher levels of satisfaction and productivity. Stakeholders who wish to lure and retain top talent are eager to offer flexible digital workplaces that provide the best user experience possible which can, in turn, maximize performance across the enterprise.

Core components of a digital workplace

Although digital workplaces are constantly changing and evolving, there are several key services that play an integral role in an employee’s virtual experience:

Communication

Communication is integral to the success of enterprises of all sizes. Digital workplaces facilitate optimized communications pathways by providing users with features such as news feeds, email, and instant messaging to support a variety of different exchanges and discussions.

Collaboration

Employees do not work in a vacuum but rather in conjunction with colleagues, superiors, and stakeholders in order to accomplish their daily tasks and reach big-picture goals. In order to drive collaboration throughout an enterprise, a handful of digital tools can be utilized. Options such as task management systems and discussion forums can help employees tackle major projects systematically and recruit the help of relevant colleagues when needed.  

Knowledge sharing

In order to drive performance, enterprises need to capitalize on the knowledge of their entire workforce. Tools such as recognition features and high-touch user directories help facilitate knowledge sharing by efficiently pinpointing experts in various specialties and making it easier for employees to connect with these sources efficiently.

Business applications

Every worker utilizes a variety of role-specific applications on a daily basis in order to perform their day to day tasks. Digital workplaces house all of the virtual tools employees rely on to complete basic work functions, such as managing data, compiling documents, or presenting new information.

Agile working

Unlike digital workplaces of decades past, virtually all modern workplaces provide employees with some form of remote access. Whether it is checking work email on a personal laptop or accessing a company intranet through a mobile device, employees can check-in and receive updates even when they are outside of the office.

Creating an optimized digital workplace

An optimized digital workplace goes above and beyond the core components described above to offer employees a virtual experience that is truly best-in-class. As more stakeholders continue to approach employee experience from a consumer-like perspective, an increased emphasis is placed on cutting-edge workplace features, which include:

Social functionalities

Modern digital workplaces can go above and beyond standard email communication. Rich social features such as @mentions and #hashtags enable employees to communicate with one another in a manner that is expressive and authentic. Reactions can be embedded across content in order to drive virtual conversations and encourage user engagement.

Personalized communications

Just as consumers receive targeted messaging based on specific qualities, employees deserve a similar level of tailoring within their workplace. Instead of relying on mass updates that feel impersonal, modern digital workplaces can house specific newsfeeds that employees can choose to subscribe to or opt-out of. This level of personalization reduces silos and enables every worker to focus in on the news that is truly relevant to their role.

Fully responsive mobile options

While most digital workplaces offer some method of mobile access, not all enterprises have the virtual tools needed to fully support remote employees. In order to facilitate flexible work without losing out any productivity, digital workplaces should extend to native mobile applications and include push notifications to keep remote workers up to speed. Mobile workplaces also enable stakeholders to engage front-line staffers, such as employees in manufacturing or retail, who may not have access to a computer throughout the day.

Third-party collaboration

Whether it is communicating with external stakeholders or monitoring warehouse inventory, virtually every enterprise collaborates with third-party partners. Modern digital workplaces should cut through much of the silos that typically occurs during external collaborations by offering every user access to pertinent documents and communications in a manner that is streamlined and unified.

Seamless integrations

Although every digital workplace includes business tools and applications, there is a great degree of variability regarding the ways in which these platforms are accessed. Optimized digital workplaces help drive productivity by ensuring workers can easily reach all of the tools they need in order to complete daily tasks and meet big-picture goals efficiently.

Benefits of a top tier digital workplace

Establishing an optimized digital workplace requires time and effort, but enterprises that prioritize their employees’ virtual experience will reap a host of rewards, which are outlined below:

Heightened productivity

An effective digital workplace provides every employee with the tools, information, and features needed to carry out their day to day tasks efficiently. This can include centralizing business applications, streamlining communications pathways, and increasing knowledge sharing capabilities so employees can quickly receive pertinent information. Features such as user profile directories, integrations, and task management systems can all play an important role in driving productivity.

Increased employee engagement

Employee engagement is key to the success of any enterprise. Workers who feel connected to their organization are likely to perform better, work more efficiently, and remain in their role for longer periods of time. Digital workplaces represent the organization they are designed to support, so it’s essential for enterprises to cultivate a virtual experience that helps set their employees up for success.

Better consumer experience

According to a Gallup workplace study, companies in the top quartile of employee engagement experience higher customer ratings than organizations with less connected workers. Enterprises that prioritize employee engagement experience a host of benefits as a result, including this boost in customer satisfaction. Digital workplaces can help facilitate better consumer experiences by providing employees with the tools and information necessary in order to offer first-class service to others.

Revenue increases

In addition to better customer service, organizations with higher employee engagement rates enjoy a 22% increase in profitability, according to the same Gallup study. Digital workplaces contribute to profitability by helping workers perform tasks with maximum efficiency and promoting knowledge sharing through optimized communications pathways.

Improved employee retention rates

High turnover rates can prove to be extremely costly, with data from Employee Benefits News estimating that employers can expect to lose a third of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement. Many of the top causes of employee turnover can be prevented by prioritizing worker experience from the start. Digital workplaces can guide employees through every step of their corporate journey, from streamlined onboarding to day-to-day support.

Intranet vs. digital workplace: what’s the difference?

Intranets are such a prevalent and powerful force within many modern digital workplaces that the two terms are often used interchangeably. In reality, intranets and digital workplaces are not one and the same.

According to Gartner, intranets can be defined as a: “network internal to an enterprise that uses the same methodology and techniques as the internet, but is only accessible to employees.” The definition illustrates the role intranets play as platforms for the exchange of ideas and information. This can be done through a variety of built-in features such as newsfeeds, user directories, social functionalities and integrations with business applications.

Intranets are a "network internal to an enterprise that uses the same methodology and techniques as the internet, but is only accessible to employees.”

Gartner

Intranets as an element of the digital workplace

Intranets are often the foundation of a digital workplace, but they may not be the only existing component. Some digital workplaces may be powered almost entirely by an agile intranet, while others might utilize a variety of different features and platforms outside of this internal network. Additional elements within a digital workplace might include physical technology, external platforms for third-party collaboration, and the internet at large.

The relationship between the digital workplace and intranets

For many modern enterprises, intranets can serve as the centralizing force that ties together many of the components of an organization’s digital workplace. The capabilities and customization options for nuanced intranets are near endless: these platforms can bridge communications gaps, connect an entire enterprise, and maximize knowledge sharing throughout an organization. Intranets can also host a variety of other applications, powering employees to perform a multitude of tasks through this centralized hub. Digital workplaces that feature nuanced intranets are likely to provide users with a streamlined virtual experience that can help drive performance and boost engagement.

Digital workplaces: an all-encompassing experience

Ultimately, the most successful digital workplaces provide employees with tools and capabilities that together are greater than the sum of their parts. Even the most advanced features and state-of-the-art programs are virtually meaningless if they are inaccessible to workers. Successful digital workplaces bring a variety of different capabilities together to create one conscious and cohesive collection of tools for employees to take advantage of. Rather than providing a static virtual environment, an optimized digital workplace is constantly evolving in order to meet the changing demands of the employees it is designed to serve. By prioritizing adaptability and seeking out a continuous loop of employee feedback, enterprises can establish digital workplaces that empower every user to engage with their organization and achieve maximum success.

Create a digital workplace that will empower your enterprise

A modern digital workplace with customized tools and functionalities can drive productivity and boost engagement throughout your enterprise. Unily has worked with some of the biggest and best brands across the globe to create nuanced digital solutions that are tailored to specific organizations. If you are interested in learning more about building the best version of a digital workplace for your enterprise, get in touch with one of our digital workplace experts for a personalized consultation today.

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