10 March 2020

Digital Workplace series part 2: essential digital workplace tools

By Andrew O'Hara

Last week we looked at defining what the digital workplace is in part one of this blog series. In part two we’re going to look at common digital workplace tools which support the way that organisations work in the digital sphere.

A digital toolbox is quite simply the various tools and technologies that your organisation use. The make-up of digital workplace tools will be different for every organisation and driven by a variety of factors. It’s important to ensure that each one has a purpose and that there isn’t unnecessary crossover with other tools. Alignment is important but duplication and cross-over, although often unavoidable, causes fragmentation, inefficiency and eventually ‘fatigue’ in the workforce.

The critical success factor for building an effective digital toolbox is robust prior planning and careful selection of digital workplace solutions based on research and validated use cases. With so much ‘noise’ around the next best thing, Software as a Service (SaaS) makes implementation easy, meaning it’s all too tempting to deploy first and think later. Whilst this approach may initially deliver some results, long term, it’s likely this will cause more problems than it solves.

Here are six key tool categories that you need for establishing your digital workplace:

Communication

Often split into two categories, this type includes tools which enhance one to one communication and between the organisation and wider workforce. Within this category are tools such as E-mail or instant messaging for one-to-one or group communications, for example, Slack. There are also software products such as portals or intranet, providing organisation-employee or workforce-workforce communication. Communication tools help employees stay connected not just to their immediate colleagues but the broader business community.

Collaboration

Collaboration has a significant crossover with communication, and it is highly likely that one solution will provide elements of both tool types, the key differentiator being the focus on task rather than communication itself. There is also a high degree of crossover with the productivity tool type in that increased collaboration is often a function of productivity tools.

This type is concerned with enhancing collaboration activity and digitalising it with the key focus of removing any physical barriers to collaboration such as location, department etc. An example would be a web conferencing application like Zoom. Solutions in this tool type also extend into the physical workspace and this is a big area of innovation currently with in-meeting room hardware transforming the traditional meeting room into a ‘smart space’ which enhances the collaboration process and attempts to eliminate any potential disadvantages of remote collaboration.

Productivity

Many of the solutions in the productivity tool type are likely to be applications users may already be familiar with, such as Google Suite or Office 365. Having said that, it is important not to just pick what you know. Choose what is likely to be best in the long term. Digital workplace software is an investment so it’s important to get it right.

This tool type centres around presentation, word processing and general ‘office application’ type solutions. However, the functionality these tools provide is becoming increasingly broad and likely encroaches on parts of other tool types. There are also a significant number of established and emerging ‘bolt-on’ productivity tools designed to enhance the experience of working with the established applications in this space. For example, Trello is predominately used as a project management tool with the option to add in additional functions.

It goes without saying that an organisation is likely to have numerous productivity tools which probably will vary by department, function and job role etc. The core applications will likely be consistent but the supporting ‘bolt-ons’ might vary.

Collective Intelligence

Collective Intelligence tool type solutions provide employees with easy, self-service access to organisational skills and expertise. This includes access and connection to subject experts within the business and access to organisational information such as roles and team structures.

The second sub-section of this tool type includes gathering ideas and intelligence from your organisation in the form of surveying, polls, internal forums etc. These collective intelligence tools attempt to address the ‘skills gap’ challenge and act as enterprise-level knowledge capture. They also provide a means of ‘crowdsourcing’ ideas.

Mobility

The mobility tool type includes solutions which allow employees to effectively take their workplace with them. Whether that means taking it home, away on business or on-site, these tools enable and empower employees working remotely.

This includes both hardware and software and can be anything from accessing business applications on their mobile phone to the ability to install a ‘soft phone’ on their laptop or providing remote access to drives, documents and information outside the firewall.

Business Self-Service

Another broad category with a significant amount of crossover, this tool type is primarily concerned with enabling employee self-service of common business functions. The self-service tool type is businesses reflection of the growing trend for self-service in the consumer space. Users are familiar with seeking out information and solutions and being able to complete the required action without interacting with anyone.

Common applications of this tool type include IT services and providing self-service access to HR documentation and services such as expenses claim forms etc.

The types of solution in this category are again broad ranging and include tools such as an HR platform which allows employees to manage holidays and check payslips, to an IT portal which provides guides and access to approved applications.

 

Next week we’re going to follow up on essential digital workplace tools by looking at collaboration in more detail.

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