What is the digital workplace? Mostly harmless

I think I’ve worked out what the “digital workplace” is:

If you think an intranet is that internal Website you browse on your PC at work, where a small number of people publish stuff for everyone else inside your company or organisation then the digital workplace is that and more – this includes mobile and remote access, but also other Web-based tools that employees use to get their work done. Wouldn’t it be great if this all worked together, in a useful and usable way?

This might be considered a more polite version of my 3 intranet truths πŸ˜‰


If you don’t define an intranet in such a narrow way, then really the digital workplace is just a fancy word for your enterprise information system*. For those with legacy IT or technology-driven architectures (rather than being user-centred), the digital workplace is just a concept to push you towards a more progressive IT environment for your users. If you are already on that journey, well done – nothing to see here πŸ™‚

Yes, I’m a digital workplace skeptic; but if all the digital workplace idea is about is a bit of clever change management to get some intranet managers to think more broadly then its mostly harmless and may even do some good. The reason I say this is that (based on what I’ve read so far), the digital workplace:

  • Still lacks a business case or imperative.
  • Doesn’t address the capability or place within the organisational structure of traditional intranet managers to actually deliver the digital workplace (although this could be part of a strategy to raise the status of intranet managers?).
  • Doesn’t address the organisational, operational and fundamental workplace impact of what Headshift | Dachis Group describe as Social Business (Dion Hinchcliffe has been documenting trends and issues in this space for some time).

*A good introductory text to this topic is something like Information Systems Management in Practice or similar.



7 thoughts on “What is the digital workplace? Mostly harmless

  1. Good post, James. I agree, you could say the new digital workplace is a good old intranet. The problem is most intranets only stored lots of content, but didn’t really support work. I think that a reason why you see more talk about the digital workplace. It’s basically saying: The intranet should connect to what’s going on in the organisation (structures, processes and networks) and should support knowlege work(ers). If this is the reason why we’re talking about digital workplace, I’m OK with that, as you say.!

  2. The ‘digital workplace’ (or whatever people call it) is far more than grouping some technology as a response. For me it’s a enabling cultural change to the way we work, manage, lead and combine work with the changing needs of our life. If you shepherd some technology products under a banner for employees who still spend hours travelling to an office to plug into a network extension and spend one day ‘working at home’ where they complete their standard weekly powerpoint presentations, then this fails to understand what can be achived.The digital workplace is a mindset and technolgy toolkit that enables organisations and employees to truely shape the environment where they can innovate, create and begin to gain some work / life balance that reflects the growing change of the society we live in. It will provide us the ability to be flexible and agile, enabling us to combine work with true quality of life – raising our children (rather than atching 30 minutes before bedtime) and caring for elderly relatives, having freedom to think and create in an environment create by the you rather than sat at a white desk, in a white office. Organisations that have the tools but still expect powerpoints, use the term ‘working at home’ and continue with the statics processes around people development and innovation (just look at the standard yearly appraisal systems) will be on the wrong side of the digital divide.Leaders need to understand where best employees can innovate and create, employees need to develop disciplines and behaviours that understands that the physical office is perhaps the worst place to get their work complete and Intranet Managers, or whoever is respoonsible for stewardship of this toolkit need tolearn more nuturing and relationship skills rather than managing a database behind a firewall.It’s a ‘must happen’ for organisations (particularly in the West) that will enable us to complete in a new economy. The alternative of more of the ‘corporate shoulder pads’ of the 1980s is something that will ensure organisations fail to atract the best talent and the best responses to changing markets.

  3. Thanks, Mark. Based on my own experience of remote and distance working, you do need some enabling technologies but the fully integrated vision I’ve seen painted isn’t necessary – its actually more about changing the business culture and organisational architecture. Once you do that, then more sophisticated ‘digital workplaces’ might come into play, but technology can’t actually lead this change. However, I still feel like I’m getting mixed messages about the digital workplace concept – it is about a better integrated intranet and/or about enabling work/life balance for staff?

  4. James, I think this is a case of “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” :-)My take is that there is broad agreement that the working environment within organisations needs to change, alongside cultural and process changes.At this point, there are a few terms that have surfaced to describe this new future, including social business, digital workplace and enterprise 2.0.I think it’s safe to say, that none of these has gained mainstream adoption as concepts, beyond a core group of promoters.For me, I’m relaxed about terminology, recognising that different organisations will connect with different terms.I just don’t see the point in declaring war between social business and the digital workplace! I think there’s some lessons to be learnt here from the republican campaign in the US at the moment πŸ˜‰

  5. James – I don’t think its a case of declaring war, but all these phrases and concepts need to stand up and be counted at some point. While the names themselves aren’t actually important except as cognitive rallying points, they still deserve to be unpacked and challenged. From this perspective, Enterprise 2.0, Digital Workplace and Social Business aren’t interchangeable. There is also an element of ‘terra nullius’ to the DW rhetoric right now, but the intranet landscape actually contains a whole ecosystem of participants. In this respect, I’m not seeing the DW describe a new future but (hopefully) it might open the eyes of some people.

  6. I’m far from sold on the term “digital workplace”, but nor do I think CEO’s are looking for their businesses to be “social”. But who’s to say…In terms of describing a new future, what were your thoughts on our “A week in the digital workplace”? Not ambitious enough? πŸ™‚

  7. This is a misconception: CxOs aren’t buying ‘social’, they are buying a strategic or tactical response to change in the environment created by social software and related technologies. This is a value chain shift, not an enhancement. It’s also a choice.I did like the ‘a week in…’ journeys (UCD and Social Experience Design are key tools Dachis Group use too) – but I didn’t get a strong sense of the cohesive business case behind it, although there were lots great ideas that I liked. As I talked about earlier, no doubt the journeys would be a real eye opener for some but not so much for others. My big concern is the ability of traditional intranet managers to execute that vision.

Comments are closed.