They may never love digital workplace technologies, but we can do more to show employees how tech can help them connect, collaborate and succeed.
Digital workplace applications offer exciting innovations designed to make work life easier and more productive, so why do employees often react to them with a shrug — or a grimace?
“Digital workplaces are designed to facilitate new ways of working and equip people with the digital dexterity they need to drive enterprise goals like digital transformation. The problem is, too few employees understand or share the vision of the leaders developing the applications,” says Matt Cain, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner.
If IT leaders really want employees to embrace the digital workplace, they may need to ditch outdated views about workplace tech and more actively engage with key stakeholders to hear their concerns and show them the tangible benefits of digital workplace strategies.
The digital workplace comprises the entire portfolio of applications, devices, facilities and enabling services that elevate digital dexterity and power new ways of working — and contribute to employee experience and engagement.
Gartner defines digital dexterity as employees’ ability and ambition to take full advantage of existing and emerging technologies to drive business outcomes — and it’s increasingly important as the digital component of most jobs grows. Good digital workplace strategies are what’s needed, then, to develop an engaging and intuitive work environment to boost digital dexterity.
Despite this clear case for the digital workplace, many IT leaders struggle to drive adoption and utilization of important workplace technologies, let alone excitement.
The key to success is demonstrating the ability of digital workplace technology to make life better for employees, whether tech is improving their day-to-day activities or equipping them better to excel during digital transformation when processes and ways of working shift.
But IT leaders will have to ask themselves whether their own assumptions about workplace tech are outdated. Common misconceptions, such as the three cited here, could stop you from winning over workplace tech users, so it may be time to shift your mindset.
Myth No. 1: Technology adoption will happen without culture change
The pandemic forced remote work into the mainstream, but don’t mistake all that tech usage for a sudden embrace of the digital workplace. In reality, many organizations continue to organize work and make decisions the way they did when everyone worked together in an office.
For example, video meeting solutions and visual collaboration applications have been widely adopted, but most organizations use these tools to emulate previously existing communication and collaboration experiences. They are missing the opportunity to change processes to reap the full benefit of digital workplace technology investments and initiate new ways of working.
Demonstrate, instead, how employees can leverage workstream collaboration applications to reduce the need for meetings or attend fewer meetings (or catch up on missed meetings) by tapping meeting recordings and transcriptions. Or show how visual collaboration applications can do much more than simply reproduce a physical analog conference room whiteboard.
Create a culture of workforce digital dexterity where leaders and managers celebrate and promote the advantages of technology acumen, and make clear the connection to career advancement.
Develop an “our way of working” narrative that helps employees determine what applications to use when, and the proficiencies expected of them.
Develop a peer advocates and champions program at the team level to support the cultural and best practice changes desired by the organization.
Myth No. 2: Collaboration happens when people work together at the same time
Despite the growth of distributed teams (even before the pandemic), many business leaders still view collaboration through a synchronous lens, assuming that it occurs best when employees are in the same place or application, working on a common task. But Gartner research shows that asynchronous modes of collaboration are just as important, if not more so, for achieving high team innovation, especially in a hybrid world where work schedules often overlap less.
To support and enable these future-of-work trends, consider using what Gartner calls the “New Work Hub” as a model for selecting and combining applications and capabilities to enable the flexibility required by new ways of working, especially around collaboration.
While the work hub is a technological construct, take an employee-first approach to understanding the workplace capability needs for each functional department, business unit and employee group. For instance, customer support services may require distinct capabilities to interact, share and receive documents with clients, with data privacy guaranteed and compliance and security integrated for safe external collaboration.
The best way to drive adoption is to create a culture of technology curiosity and sharing, where teammates help each other grow their digital skills by showing how applications improve outcomes in the course of their work. Employees’ top preference for skill development is peer learning according to the Gartner 2021 CIO Technology Skills Outside of IT survey.
Ensure effective and equitable access to collaboration by designing a purpose-built new work hub at the center of your digital workplace framework.
Accelerate work transparency and accountability by using collaborative work management applications to visualize work and optimize the interactions between employees.
Enable teams to experiment with new collaboration styles, grow communities and strengthen weak ties by introducing knowledge/wiki and social networking collaboration tools.
Empowered by the availability and power of low-code and “no code” development tools, citizen developers and other business technologists can now create new business applications using development tools and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. If you are still dismissing such activity as “risky shadow IT,” think again.
With in-depth knowledge of business activities, citizen developers tangibly contribute to a range of business objectives and improve business processes, decision making and even customer-facing capabilities. They perform any number of activities once owned by IT, such as:
Integrating data and designing analytical models
Creating and training algorithms
Building or customizing user interfaces
Creating new and improving existing software functionalities
Business-led technology delivery is an essential ingredient for accelerating and scaling digital transformation and expanding meaningful workplace technologies, so embrace it.
Take the work of any citizen developer seriously by helping them develop their skills safely with access to training, data and other resources they may need.
Work with business unit leaders to redesign and redefine technology delivery models and responsibilities through the formation of fusion teams.
Facilitate a community of practice for citizen developers across departments to share knowledge and solutions they’ve built for effective scaling.
Employees rarely share the digital workplace vision held by the leaders and teams who provide and operate the applications we use.
To spur tech adoption and utilization, and grow digital dexterity, IT leaders need to demonstrate the tangible benefits of digital workplace strategy to users.
And they may need to rethink some outdated misconceptions about what people need from the digital workplace and how to deliver it.
Matt Cain, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, is a futurist focusing on the intersection of technology, job skills and workforce culture. He founded Gartner's Digital Workplace and Digital Dexterity key initiative, which is designed to help executive leaders plan and execute technology strategies that incorporate consumer, workforce and business trends.
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