This article was originally published on Digital-Adoption.com

What is the digital workplace and why does it matter? In this guide, we’ll learn everything there is to know about the digital workplace, including…

  • What “digital workplace” means
  • Why digital is the future of business, the workforce, and the workplace
  • How businesses can evolve to keep up with the transforming economy
  • How organizational change management can help businesses modernize
  • The importance of digital adoption

And many other important concepts.

To start off, let’s learn the basics about the digital workplace – what it is and why businesses should care.

What the Digital Workplace Is: Key Concepts and Definitions

Different organizations have different definitions of the digital workplace.

For instance, Gartner says that “The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.”

Deloitte says that it “can best be considered the natural evolution of the workplace. Comprised of your employees’ technology working environment.”

And other thought leaders each have their own unique definitions, all of which revolve around technology and the enhanced capabilities that technology offers.

However, to better understand this concept, we should understand what “digital” itself means.

Here are a few important definitions related to “digital” and the digital workplace:

  • The Digital Workplace – Despite surface-level differences in the definitions for this term, there are common threads. Implied by many definitions, for instance, is the idea that the digital workplace leverages technology to innovate, open up new capabilities, and evolve business practices.
  • Digital Technology – Technology, of course, is the catalyst that has helped organizations transform from traditional workplaces to digital workplaces. Technology alone, however, is not enough. As we’ll soon see, effective digital workplaces depend as much upon technology as they do on workflows, skills, processes, and mindsets.
  • Digital Culture – Cultures are composed of individual employees’ beliefs, assumptions, and values. A “digital culture” is open to digital technology, data, and new modes of working. Cultures such as these will be more proficient, productive, and adaptable in the digital age.
  • Digital Adoption – Digital adoption is a process where people and organizations use technology to its fullest extent and for its intended purpose. This is a crucial process in today’s workplace, because organizations that only make partial use of their software will only earn partial returns on their investments.
  • Digital TransformationToday, digital transformation is fueling organizational changes across the entire globe. Organizations change the way they work, operate, and deliver value, all thanks to digital disruption and technological changes. However, technology itself is only one piece of the puzzle … later we will see how digital transformation affects many other dimensions of a business, from the individual user to revenue models to strategies.

Clearly, “digital” is having a profound effect on today’s workplace and the global business environment as a whole.

One of the most important takeaways from the digital revolution, however, is that technology itself is only a catalyst.

Digital transformation, digital adoption, the digital workplace, and other effects are as much about people as they are about technology.

Let’s explore some of these ideas in more depth by looking at some frequently asked questions about the digital workplace.

The Digital Workplace: A FAQ

We have already explored what the digital workplace is … a workplace that extends its capabilities and processes beyond traditional workplaces, through digital technology, new workflows, and new operating capabilities.

However, this definition only scratches the surface of the digital workplace.

Let’s dive a bit deeper…

Why should organizations care about the digital workplace?

Digital workplaces are more efficient, more effective, and more productive.

This is because technology transforms existing processes and enables massive productivity gains. 

For instance:

  • Automation tools, for instance, can perform tasks in a tiny fraction of the time it takes humans to perform the same work … with virtually zero errors
  • Digital communication tools, such as chat and email, allow workers to communicate online, regardless of their location
  • The internet gives workers the ability to work remotely, without needing to come into the office

Although these gains should be enough to entice any business to begin transforming its workplace, there is another important issue: competition.

Organizations that don’t adapt and evolve their workplaces will quickly lose ground to competitors who do.

For all of these reasons – and many more that we haven’t mentioned – organizations should seriously consider investing in digital workplaces.

What are the components of an effective digital workplace?

As mentioned earlier, there are different definitions of the digital workplace, depending on who you ask.

For simplicity’s sake, though, we will distill some of the common elements of different definitions covered above:

  • People – The workforce is one of the most crucial components of the digital workplace. Employees, after all, are the fuel of any organization. Their skills, their engagement, their experience, their motivation, and many other factors determine how effectively they operate in today’s digital work world.
  • Technology – Technology itself, of course, plays a vital role in the digital workplace. This is the engine that enables workers to use tools, innovate, evolve business processes, and so forth.
  • Environment and Processes – The work environment and the work processes are defining elements of the digital workplace. Existing work systems include the virtual work environment, processes, governance, management, and other environmental systems.
  • Business Drivers – Business drivers are those factors that direct and propel every decision an organization makes. In this case, business prerogatives guide and direct the evolution of the digital workplace itself.

A definition used by one thought leader will be useful if one uses that organization’s framework.

However, it is useful to simplify these various definitions into a set of common elements.

Doing this will make it easier to analyze, evaluate, and improve those factors in the real world.

Who is in charge of digitalizing the workplace?

Larger digital transformations will often be handled by business leaders and executives.

Smaller changes may be handled by HR professionals, IT professionals, change managers, or a cross-departmental team.

However, in the digital workplace, it is important to note that digital change is constant.

And when digital transformation is perpetual, organizations that want to stay modern need to manage that change.

For that reason, organizations should consider establishing permanent business functions such as:

  • Change management. Change managers design, execute, manage, and optimize organizational change. Effective change management improves the outcomes of change projects, increases project efficiency, raises the chances of success, and more. This function generates significant returns for businesses that undergo continual change.
  • Digital adoption. Digital adoption is concerned with the oversight and implementation of new digital tools in the workplace. Their focus extends beyond implementation however. Digital adoption managers, for instance, focus on maximizing employee productivity, software utilization, and software ROI, among other things.
  • Learning and development. Because employee proficiency determines their productivity, employee training, learning, and development are key. A workforce that is digitally illiterate, after all, will perform poorly and contribute very little to the organization’s overall performance.

To name just a few.

In order to truly stay competitive and relevant, organizations should create a strategy for continual digital transformation – and a constellation of business functions designed to maintain that modern edge.

What are the consequences of not modernizing the workplace?

As mentioned already, there are many benefits to modernizing the workplace:

  • A more skilled, more productive workforce
  • More efficient, effective business processes
  • A competitive edge in the marketplace
  • More innovative products, services, and processes

Likewise, there are plenty of drawbacks to not digitalizing the workplace:

  • A workforce that is unskilled and unable to keep up with the digital world
  • Business processes that are slower than the competition
  • Organizational performance that lags behind the marketplace
  • Products and services that are out of sync with customer demands

To name just a few.

The bottom line is clear: a digital workplace is needed to keep up with today’s digitally transforming ecosystem.

What role does the workforce and organizational culture play in the digital workplace?

The workforce, as we have suggested, plays a very important role in the digital workplace.

In fact, the digital workplace depends on the workforce in many ways.

For example:

  • A digitally literate workforce is more skilled and more productive
  • Digitally proficient workers can adapt to new tools and new ideas in less time
  • Cultures that are data-driven and digital-friendly are often more innovative and effective with their tools
  • Digital cultures are often more open to change and new ideas

Culture and workforce skills, in short, determine in large part how “digital” the workplace is.

And the more digital and modern a workplace is, the more successful it will be in the digital age.

What are some top challenges to creating a digital workplace?

Challenges and risks will be linked with the type of digital change a business is enacting.

Some common challenges include:

  • Employee resistance. Resistance is a common challenge associated with any organizational change program. It is important to address this obstacle, since too much resistance can easily derail a change project.
  • Learning curves. Implementing new digital technology, new digital workflows, and a new digital workplace all require new knowledge and skills. In fact, as mentioned, digital workplaces need a permanent employee training function in order to stay relevant and productive.
  • Budget constraints. Funding for certain projects can be difficult to come by, especially when business leaders need justification and proof of ROI. 
  • Impacts to business processes and services. Changes to the workplace can impact services, which is why risk management is so important. At the outset of any digital workplace improvement project, organizers should assess risk and create strategies for mitigating them.

To name just a few.

When implementing changes to the digital workplace, organizations should assess their own change proposals. 

Then it will be possible to consider the risks and challenges for each workplace component they are changing.

Key Elements of a Successful Digital Workplace

Earlier, we looked at some of the key components of a digital workplace:

  • People, who must be skilled, connected, and motivated
  • Technology, which must be modern, relevant, and fully utilized
  • Systems, which should efficiently manage and control the work environment
  • Business drivers, which will guide the digital workplace

Next, we will look at ways to improve these components – goals an organization can strive for when evolving and adapting their digital workplace.

Digital Maturity

Digital maturity is a measure of an organization’s digital capabilities, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The maturity level of an organization depends on all of the aforementioned components, including:

  • The organization’s technological capabilities. To keep up with the digital ecosystem, organizations need a modernized IT infrastructure, as well as modern tools for their workers.
  • Workforce skills and abilities. New employee training programs and onboarding programs can help the workforce stay productive and proficient, even in today’s ever-changing business environment.
  • Digital strategy. Digital economies require innovative digital strategies that are technology-driven and customer-centric.
  • The digitalization of business processes. Digitally mature organizations implement modern business practices and processes, such as lean or agile. These increase efficiency and speed, decrease waste, and produce better outcomes.

When determining how best to advance their digital workplace, organizations can use digital maturity as a scale and a goal.

That is, they can aim at improving their digital maturity level by evolving their digital workplace:

  • Improving people’s skills and attitudes towards technology
  • Adopting digital technology that improves organizational effectiveness
  • Implementing new systems and business processes that increase efficiency and performance
  • Following new organizational strategies and digital strategies that are relevant in the digital economy

A well-rounded change strategy that addresses these areas can help an organization – and a workplace – become more digitally mature and more effective.

A Digitally Skilled Workforce

Digital literacy is just the beginning…

Employees also need to be skilled and proficient with their tools, in order to be productive and add value.

There are several steps a business can take to enhance its workforce’s capabilities:

  • Effective employee onboarding. Employee onboarding helps new hires integrate into the workplace. Among other things, this includes product tours, job training, and initial software training. Ensuring that employees have effective digital onboarding can help them stay productive and proficient, maximizing their value in the workplace.
  • Employee training. Training should continue well after the onboarding phase is complete. The right training solutions can not only ensure that employees are fully capable, it helps improve engagement and satisfaction over the long term.
  • Career development. Career development is distinct from training. These programs are designed to provide career guidance, mentorship, advice, and more. They can help employees become more loyal and engaged, while also providing them with a variety of skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Below, we will learn how certain training software – digital adoption platforms (DAPs) – can aid with workforce training.

Integrated Digital Workflows and Processes

Today’s typical worker will utilize multiple tools throughout their daily routines.

For that reason, digital workplace management should focus not just on skills, but on integrating workflows and processes.

To maximize process efficiency, therefore, emphasis should be placed on:

  • Using digital tools to their fullest extent. Organizations should focus on maximizing the value from their software investments. In part, this is accomplished through training efforts, as mentioned above. However, a prerequisite for this is designing processes that actually utilize those software functionalities.
  • Maximizing cross-platform productivity. Because workflows often make use of several tools, organizations should strive to maximize workplace productivity … not performance with a single tool. Training and business processes should be designed with this aim in mind.
  • Improve digital collaboration and work methods. A truly digital workplace makes the most of digital capabilities, such as remote working and online collaboration. These capabilities can enable new levels of efficiency and productivity, while also improving the work environment itself. 

In short: digital skills training focuses on bottom-up improvements, while a top-down focus on processes is aimed at integrating workflows.

The overall result is a more efficient, more effective workplace.

Modern Digital Technology

Of course, digital technology itself is another foundation to a modern digital workplace.

To that end, organizations should implement a set of technology stacks designed to streamline workplace functions.

Here are a few technologies and points to consider:

  • Digital adoption platforms (DAPs). DAPs are digital training solutions that ensure employees stay proficient and productive, even in fast-changing workplaces. These tools offer in-app guidance and training that streamline the user experience, improving engagement while decreasing frustration and time-to-productivity.
  • Multi-functional enterprise-grade SaaS platforms. The larger the organization, the greater their needs. Robust, enterprise-grade tools provide integrated solutions for a wide variety of business functions. Examples of important SaaS platforms include: CRM platforms, HCM solutions, ERP software, marketing automation platforms, and more.
  • Industry-specific software. Most businesses need software that fulfills their fulfills their fundamental business needs. CRM platforms, for instance, assist with sales and marketing. However, businesses should also investigate and invest in solutions specific to their industry. Agile software developers, for example, would do well to invest in agile software development solutions, such as Jira.
  • A modern IT infrastructure. Cloud computing, hardware, IoT devices, and other infrastructure elements affect workplace efficiency. When an organization has a modern IT infrastructure – and the skills to utilize its digital tools – then the workplace will be that much more digitally mature and effective.

Digital technology is naturally a foundation for any digital workplace or organization.

As we have seen, though, technology itself is only a piece of the puzzle. 

Organizations also need the right strategies, processes, and skills.

But then the question arises … how does an organization actually implement change and evolve their workplace?

A 5-Step Process for Designing a Digital Workplace

Let’s learn a straightforward method for improving and digitalizing the workplace.

The process covered below outlines five steps that any organization can follow, regardless of their current digital maturity level:

1. Assess and evaluate the current state of the workplace.

The first step in any business process is evaluating the current state of affairs. 

Areas to assess include:

  • Digital maturity. Digital maturity, as mentioned, includes the technological capabilities of the organization. This scale can provide a rough idea of where organizations are in their digital development and where they need to go.
  • Workforce skill levels. Workforce skill levels can be gauged as a whole and on the individual level. This information will help determine what types of training are needed, whether organizations should hire new people, and so forth.
  • The workplace culture. The culture can be either conducive to digital change, resistant to change, or neutral. Real cultural change can be costly and taxing for employees – however, if it can result in performance improvements, then changes may be worthwhile.
  • Change readiness. This refers to how open, ready, willing, and capable an organization is of organizational change. The more ready a business is, the more efficiently it will be able to make the change.

Once collected and evaluated, the information above can become the launchpad for the development of strategies, plans, and roadmaps.

2. Make the commitment to change.

A commitment is the first step to actually effecting change.

To maximize the chances of successful changes in the workplace, that commitment should come from every level, including:

  • Employees
  • Business leaders
  • Managers
  • Partners and vendors

In other words, all stakeholders should be on board with a change project.

However, obtaining that support is easier said than done.

Stakeholders require convincing, and proving the value of digital workplace improvements takes effort.

To make a business case for the value of change, the best place to start is with the benefits explored earlier.

That is:

  • Digital workplaces are more efficient and effective than traditional work environments
  • Employees who are digitally literate will be more productive and more engaged
  • Businesses that don’t evolve their workplaces will be left behind by competitors that do

When possible, collect data and perform initial assessments. These can be used to make projections and bolster business cases for the value of workplace transformation.

3. Design an organizational change strategy and roadmap.

After obtaining executive sponsorship and stakeholder support, project coordinators should develop a strategy and a roadmap.

Here are a few tips that can help organizers create effective roadmaps:

  • Design a stage-based roadmap with clear, achievable goals. Roadmaps are commonly used in many business projects, from change management projects to software development. These roadmaps should have timelines and deadlines, yet it is important to be flexible. 
  • Create metrics and KPIs based on those goals. The right metrics can offer insight into the health of a project, on the one hand. On the other, they can be used to demonstrate progress and the value of the change project.
  • Address obstacles within the strategy. The assessments performed earlier should highlight potential roadblocks. The change strategy should address these and mitigate them as much as possible. For instance, if the assessments reveal attitudes that are averse to change, then project managers should plan to diffuse resistance before it becomes a problem.
  • Follow change management best practices. Projects that aim to improve the workplace are organizational change projects. And, as such, they should be managed like organizational change projects. Change management frameworks, principles, and best practices can help coordinators execute efficiently and get the best results from their endeavors.

Workplace improvement projects – as with any other business project – should be executed carefully and managed with care.

4. Implement and manage.

As a general rule, the more sophisticated and well-structured the approach to change, the better the results will be.

However, regardless of how sophisticated the change strategy, it is unwise to “set and forget” any business project.

Instead, coordinators should:

  • Take a direct hand in managing the project
  • Regularly hold reviews, collaborate, and maintain communications with team members
  • Enlist the help of change advocates 
  • Lead from the ground, by setting an example and providing hands-on support

In other words, not only should project coordinators manage projects, they should also provide strong leadership.

This approach to project management will improve outcomes, while decreasing costs and waste.

5. Measure, learn, and stay agile.

Throughout the project, it is important to continue collecting data and adjusting the program as necessary.

That is:

  • Monitor metrics. The aforementioned metrics and KPIs should act as the pulse for the health of business projects. 
  • Learn from that information. Data will offer insights into trends and patterns, which will then help coordinators understand the project’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Stay agile, adapting the project as necessary. Agile business processes value adaptability and responsiveness over static plans, which helps projects stay relevant to real-world data – rather than predefined plans.

There is no single recipe for a successful digital workplace.

Businesses should instead design a workplace that meets their own unique needs and circumstances.

Best Practices, Principles, Dos, and Don’ts

Finally, we will look at a few tips that can help organizations develop better digital workplaces, along with a few pitfalls to avoid.

For instance, one pitfall is over-reliance on technology.

That is…

Don’t assume that software deployment will automatically upgrade the workplace.

To reiterate, technology alone will not digitalize a workplace.

It is true that technology is the foundation to a digital workplace, but it is only the foundation.

In addition to software implementation, it is important to:

  • Focus on the workplace as a whole, including the workforce, the digital strategy, organizational strategy, and organizational performance
  • Look at workflows and work processes, not just individual tools or applications
  • Improve employee skills, as well as their mindsets, behaviors, and attitudes

Because the workplace is an amalgamation of these elements – digital tools, human behaviors, organizational culture, workforce skills, and so forth.

For that reason, it is important to take a holistic, top-down view of the digital work environment. 

Only then can organizations design digital workplaces that are integrated, efficient, and effective.

Establish a permanent digital adoption function.

Digital adoption is an important element in today’s ever-evolving digital workplace.

This process focuses on:

Ultimately, digital adoption is about maximizing the ROI and value of any software investment.

The more effectively an organization can utilize its software the better they will be able to adopt and implement digital tools in the workplace.

Implement structured approaches to organizational change management.

Any organization that wants to develop a digital workplace will need to undergo change.

And because organizational change isn’t easy, it is important to manage change programs.

Above, we briefly covered change management.

But let’s look at a few main benefits of this discipline in more detail.

Structured change management…

  • Improves the outcomes of organizational change projects, such as workplace improvement projects
  • Increases efficiency and decreases waste
  • Helps to overcome common obstacles to change, such as employee resistance

Among other things.

Organizations intent on improving their workplace would do well, therefore, to research key change management topics, such as:

  • Change management frameworks. These models are step-by-step roadmaps that help organizations understand, implement, and manage change projects.
  • Change management principles and best practices. Organizational changes can and do fail, which is why it is important to understand how to manage these projects effectively and maximize the chances of success.
  • The role of communication and culture in change. “Soft skills,” such as communication, are essential to the success of organizational change projects, since humans are the ones driving change. Understanding these elements can help reduce barriers to success and increase project efficiency.
  • Digital transformation and digital adoption. Today, digital is an unavoidable component of every business process. And, in many cases, it is also the cause of change. Understanding the role of digital technology in organizational change, therefore, can prove invaluable when managing any change process.

For more information on these topics, consider visiting blogs dedicated to the subject, such as WalkMe’s change management blog.

Final Thoughts

As we have seen in this article, the digital workplace extends beyond the implementation of new software or technology.

Technology does enable new levels of productivity and performance, it is true. 

However, without the right ingredients – from digital adoption functions to employee training to change management – it is impossible to create a true digital workplace.

To successfully transform the workplace and achieve the benefits of digitalization, organizations must take a sophisticated, multi-pronged approach to change.

The right approach can dramatically change the workplace as a whole, opening up new possibilities in terms of productivity and performance.