By.Yun Chen

What is a Digital workplace? To use one sentence to summarise, it is an environment, a technology solution, a business strategy and a digital transformation process.

Digital Workplace as an Environment

The workplace is an environment where people work, either physically or virtually. E.g. people are working from home more nowadays, in a virtual office; students are home schooling, in this COVID-19 pandemic. Digital workplace should provide this flexibility to make people to have meetings online, use IT systems (either cloud computing or in-house software) for communication and collaboration. It should also allow employees to Bring their Own Device or Apps (BYOD/BYOA) to work for maximised productivity. Some social media platforms also have contributed to it, such as LinkedIn has launched an employee directory search service and LinkedIn Learning for continuous professional development, which helps hugely with employee training. However, all of these cause challenges to an organisation’s IT department in terms of system compatibility, cyber security and data protection etc. That is why digital workplace is also related to business strategy, which we will talk about later.

Digital workplace also potentially enables more of a personalised physical working environment. Along with the technology development, space itself can become very intelligent. Buildings can detect the environment and who is in, then react automatically. E.g. the lights can be turned on or off depending on the time during the day, or even depending on the mood of the people inside. There are also some co-work spaces provided by 3rd party orgnisations where you can use the space and facilities there to meet your clients or even have a small office with all necessary working suppliers. WeWork is an example of this kind of co-working space.

Digital Workplace as a Technology Solution.

The second aspect to thinking about Digital Workplace is as a technology solution. We have discussed technologies used in digital workplace to help with creating smart environment. E.g. To realise a smart building and workplace, Internet of Things (IoT)- related techs are essential. Sensors need to be installed in the building to detect people, temperature, light etc. and control hub is required to manage these IoTs. Artificial Intelligent (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are used in business operation, to automate tasks reducing costs and increase productively. There are some good examples of AI/RPA use cases in business world, e.g. UK insurance firm use RPA to detail with 3000 claims a day, which is much quicker than without; NHS Shared Business Services use RPA, which enable them to close 180 sets of accounting books every month in just 4 hours ; and US firm introduced service desk robot to answer 62,000 phone calls a month, solving 2/3 of the problems without human help; Amazon fulfilment Centre use warehouse robot army to help the company fulfil its ever-increasing promises of speedy delivery.

Besides hardware, software is also an important part of tech solution for digital workplace. All technologies work for people. So, what systems are mostly suitable to the business to enhance employee’s experiences? To increase their productivity, support connection and enhance collaboration? Seamless communication needs to be facilitated by appropriate software over web and mobile platforms, such as MS office 365 package and Google G-Suite etc.

Digital Workplace as a Business Strategy.

Digital Workplace is also a multi-layered strategy, which needs to be embedded into business model appropriately. As shown in figure below, user is the centre of this strategy, with appropriate technology to facilitate people’s collaboration, communication and connection. Control is the 3rd layer which refers to governance, risk and compliance. Monitoring and protection mechanism are essential to all digital workplace. (e.g. the University just adopted multi factor authentication to protect secured login to its online platforms.)  This mechanism sets up a security working place for people to share information. By implementing digital workplace, the organisation should be able to achieve certain measurable business value. – It is also drivers for business to adopt digital workplace strategy. E.g. The University adopted Teams to talk to students because it will enhance students’ engagement with teaching team; We use SharePoint for coediting documents because it supports collaboration and co-creation between employees.

Source: The digital workplace: Think, share, do. Deloitte

To summarise, setting up a digital workplace requires consideration on people involved in the process, technology choice, control (which refers to policy on governance, risk management and compliance) and also need to think about what are business drivers. Why are you doing it and what benefits can you get from this transformation?

Digital Workplace as a Digital Transformation Process

Digital workplace is not a one-off event; it cannot be made overnight. It is a gradual process, one kind of digital transformation process from traditional workplace or Intranet. As shown in two equations below, when an organisation sets up their own file server and information systems for business management (whatever it is physically or virtually) they get their Intranet running inside their organisation. But only if this network is agile enough to support co-creation, it can be called a digital workplace.

This transformation process is essential, why? Sometime it is forced by external factors which are out of organisation’s control, such as the increased expectations of marketing/customer, threats from competitors or unexpected situations like current pandemic. But most drivers of the change come from inside of organisation, to solve existing problems inside the business process (or Intranet, e.g. information overloaded, data redundancy and no-concurrency) or just to make the working environment better. Because nowadays, especially to Millennials and Generation Z, work is not a location anymore, it is a kind of activity.

All these issues made leadership to think about a new approach, which can help with quality and fast information, can support innovation and collaboration across organisation, and can be agile enough to respond to change and support continuous learning from the change. Digital Workplace is a very promising solution!  What are your views on it? Any obstacles you found in your working environment caused by business process or IT systems? Any examples you know using AI or RPA techs to help with efficiency/productivity? What are you desired digital workplace? Share your thoughts here or on social media #Passion4Digital.

You can also learn more about digital transformation in different sectors in our new book.