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Posted by Pauline Rehri

Want to see a digital workplace? Look around. You’re probably in one right now. That’s right, if you are using a computer at work, you’re in a digital workplace, whether it was intended as one or not. The last year and a half has shown, if nothing else, that the vast majority of us can work remotely using some form of digital workplace. We can collaborate on a virtual basis with geographically distributed teams. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that the digital employee experience has been very inconsistent from one organization to the next.

A digital workplace should do more than just exist. It should not simply be whatever ad hoc collaboration and productivity tools your company happens to have thrown together. Two employees connected on laptops comprise a digital workplace, just not a good one. The uneven remote work experiences of the current moment reveal the deficiencies in accidental digital workspaces.

As employees return to the physical workspace, the digital side of the equation is no less relevant. Two employees can collaborate in virtual space even if they are sitting next to each other. What matters is the digital workplace experience and the quality of the collaboration. Advances in search technology, coupled with a new generation of communication and collaboration tools make it possible to build a digital workplace systematically. Using incremental improvements and blocks of functionality, today’s businesses can assemble effective digital workplaces as if they were building with Lego toys.

Defining the digital workplace

What is a digital workplace, really? According to Deloitte, a digital workplace is a “natural evolution of the workplace, encompassing all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace – both the ones in operation and the ones yet to be implemented.” Going with this definition, we should hope that the evolving digital workplace will be better than the old office.

With that in mind, the following elements are essential for a digital workplace:

  • Core communications and collaborations tools, e.g., email, chat and web conferencing software
  • Digital project management and workflow management tools
  • Anywhere/any device access to critical information systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and so forth—whatever systems people need to use to get their work done
  • Anywhere/any device access to data, both structured and unstructured
  • The ability to search for data easily across multiple systems and data repositories

These tools and capabilities form a good start for a digital workplace, maybe even enough to achieve parity with the physical office. However, to take things to the next level, a digital workplace should also make people more productive. Reaching this goal might involve automating workflows and enabling people to find the information they need more quickly than is currently possible.

Going even further, a digital workplace could embody knowledge management (KM) capabilities. KM is about more than just storing information that can be discovered through search. KM organizes information in order to capture unique organizational knowledge. With KM, a business can preserve the proprietary secrets that endow it with a competitive edge—outlasting the tenure of any one employee or group.

Step by step, build your very own digital workspace

How do you build a digital workspace? The reality will be a custom effort most of the time. There are some digital workplace solutions, but in general, the digital workplace should come about organically. Indeed, building it usually means connecting what’s already installed. The better the connections, the better the workspace.

A step-by-step approach is best. First, figure out what employees actually need to get better at their jobs. This will vary from group to group, but watching how people work will reveal useful patterns to apply to the digital workplace design. For example, are employees toggling back and forth between enterprise systems in order to complete business processes? Are they missing information as they go through business process steps? These productivity-killers should emerge as targets for eradication in the deployment of an effective digital workplace.

Enterprise search serves as an essential tool in the process of building a digital workplace. Industry research shows that employees spend an inordinate amount of time looking for information. Enterprise search, which easily spans multiple systems and data repositories, makes finding data a lot easier.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the most important building blocks of the digital workspace have nothing to do with technology. They involve departments like Human Resources (HR) working to establish trust in digital processes—and fellow team members as they collaborate digitally. Managing employees in a digital environment presents challenges, too. It’s not the same as supervising people in an office. Workers need to be more autonomous and feel that they have the authority to act. Self-training is a related requirement. People do best in a digital workspace when they feel they can learn how to do things for themselves.

Scale your collaboration capabilities...

Scaling up a digital workplace can be challenging. What works in one department may not work in another. People may have trouble adapting to a new way of working and resist learning new systems. Again, enterprise search offers a solution. When search is automatically and intuitively integrated into the digital workplace, it can largely scale on its own. Finding data becomes comparatively easy, with employees not having to search manually on multiple systems.

When search expands to cover email, chat and other collaboration tools, employees can find information related to projects and workflows all the more easily. Working this way, the process of integrating enterprise search onto each system in the digital workplace is akin to snapping on a Lego brick onto a structure. Once enterprise search extends to a new system, that system snaps into the overall digital workplace—ready to drive productivity and collaboration.

…and maximize your ROI with a tailored Digital Workplace

The digital workplace generates a return on investment (ROI) on multiple levels. Productivity improvements, for one thing, create ROI, as fewer people can support more business transactions. Increased productivity also leads to improved morale. A good attitude and positive feelings about work, in turn, translate into lower staff turnover, which saves money and cuts down on unproductive on-boarding of new people. Higher productivity then enables people to focus on more meaningful work, which represents an opportunity to get better at engaging with customers and increasing profits.

The digital workplace is here. Companies have them, even if they don’t know it. The important work will involve building digital workplaces that deliver results, such as higher profits, stronger customer engagement and lower staff turnover. There is no single formula for success. However, technologies that enable automation of workflows and seamless connections between major systems support positive digital workplace outcomes. Enterprise search has a critical role to play in the digital workspace development process. By making it easier for people to find and share information, search provides the basis for connecting people with systems and data for an ideal digital workplace experience.

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