What is a Digital Workplace and Why Should You Care?

telework, digital workplace, virtual work, telecommute Digital Workplaces aren’t yet taking the world by storm but they are emerging as a very powerful enabling  technology for the future.  Moreover, they will probably be seen as a critical need as the world becomes more mobile and businesses begin to rely more heavily on social networking.

Before considering the potential value of using a digital workplace it’s important to understand what one really is. Even though the term was first used almost 15 years ago there is still disagreement as to what it  means.  Or perhaps it would be better to say that the term is used in several different ways.


What is a Digital Workplace

In Paul Miller‘s excellent book, The Digital Workplace, he defines the digital workplace as, “the technology-enabled space where work happens.”  He further states that, “it involves all the tools we use to do our jobs:  email, phone, text, intranet, micro-blogging, Internet, office documents, shared documents, teleconferences, video, software packages, smart phones, tablets, and the cloud.”

The Digital Workplace is about an overall philosophy and approach for managing a very flexible and free organization.  He is referring to the digital workplace as the entire underlying technical infrastructure that allows such an organization to exist.  It is a very broad usage that includes all of the technical capabilities that power a modern business organization and really focuses on a management philosophy rather than on how to use a specific system to implement that philosophy.

Mark Morrell, a noted internet blogger, defines the digital workplace even more generally as, “Work is what you do, not where you go to.”  Again, this definition focuses on an overall philosophy for how we approach work.

For the purposes of this blog series I’m going to focus much more specifically on a digital workplace as a collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to work much more effectively together, especially in an environment where the participants may be physically separated from their offices, and from each other, by hundreds or thousands of miles.

For the purposes of this blog entry, a digital workplace is an integrated collection of tools and capabilities that allow team members to connect, communicate, collaborate, and conduct all of their required work activities wherever and whenever they may be working.


Elements of a Digital Workplace

Specifically, a digital workplace should include five basic elements:

1.  Connectivity and Communication:

Information sharing -

  • Intranet – the backbone of connectivity and information sharing
  • Individualized employee homepages and rich profile data
  • Organization charts and employee directories
  • Expert locator

Messaging -

  • E-mail
  • Instant Messaging
  • Micro Blogging

2.  Business Applications and Online Productivity Tools:

  • Word processors
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Presentation software
  • Domain-specific applications
  • Design tools
  • Expense forms
  • CRM systems
  • ERM systems
  • Etc.

3.  Collaboration and Business Social Networking:

  • Online communities
  • Employee blogs
  • Team meeting rooms
  • Wikis
  • Web conferencing tools
  • Team forums

4. Employee and Customer “Crowdsourcing”: 

  • Employee polling
  • Employee surveys
  • Idea generation sites

5.  Remote Working and Mobility:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Mobile/smart phones
  • Home office support
  • Satellite office support
  • Hotspot locator
  • Cellular data communication devices

Why You Should Pay Attention to Digital Workplaces

Digital workplaces have been around for more than a decade and haven’t seen rapid growth during that time.  Moreover, many analysts believe that they are still far from a tipping point.  While growth has not been spectacular there are a number of forces that are likely to drive much more rapid adoption in the future.

In my recent book, Four Dead Kings at Work, I described the basic forces that are driving the world toward virtual and mobile work.  These forces include the explosion of mobile internet access and social networking along with the ubiquitous availability of data and applications by way of the cloud.

Ultimately, digital workplaces are designed to provide a work environment that allows businesses to be most effective in responding to those forces by combining aspects of social, mobile, and cloud.

Why should you care about digital workplaces?

Because the world is going mobile, like it or not.

Historically the story of telework has been about a limited number of workers who decided to work outside the normal office, most of whom choose to telecommute meaning that “outside the office” meant working from home.  Today the concept of telework has evolved to “mobile work” and it involves the vast majority of workers rather than a select few.  Today’s employees are working on a blended stream of business and personal activity that extends from morning until night.  Some of that activity occurs in a traditional office environment but most does not.

The businesses that learn to work most effectively in this mobile environment will have competitive advantage over those who do will be left behind.  Digital workplaces will play in key role in gaining that advantage.