Q&A with Gartner expert Michael Woodbridge

Michael Woodbridge, VP Analyst, Gartner Research & Advisory, and Conference Chair 


Employee collaboration is critical to improving productivity and efficiency. How do you enable workforce collaboration through a digital workplace?

There are different types of collaboration, it is not just about technology and the way to drive greater levels of collaboration, but also increasing productivity. At Gartner we have a model that a few of my colleagues have developed, around how to encourage adoption and increase effective collaboration capabilities within an organization. This model is called ACME, which stands for Activity, Common Context, Motivation and Enabling Technology.


At a very high level, there are important things to understand. Firstly, there’s the importance of understanding the Activity and broad array of collaborative activities which range from: personal collaboration, ad hoc unstructured collaboration, process driven transactional collaboration, and full-blown crowd collaboration. In terms of If you take crowd sourcing for example, it’s important to understand the actual activity around collaboration. 


Secondly, it’s important to have a Common Context, the C in ACME. There are two areas, one around the transactional parts of that context (the objectives, the plans, the goals that are to be achieved by this collaboration). This materialises in many ways including: applications, collaborations, structures, and document structures. The metadata captured is important to make visible and accessible to people that are collaborating in one of those activities. The other area is around the social aspects of that context, outlining the common sets of beliefs, values and rituals. This materialises in a way people communicate within a collaborative initiative.  


Thirdly, Motivation, the M in ACME. It is important to understand and drive the motivations for people to collaborate effectively.  Motivation is about having a management incentive to encourage collaborative work styles by breaking out of traditional silos and collaborate with colleagues in other parts of the business or beyond your required remit. This would include working with the HR department to provide training on technology adoption and how to use them effectively. In addition to this, to demonstrate the effectiveness to employees about the benefits of working in a collaborative way, this would involve using team-based metrics.


Lastly, it’s about Enabling Technology, the E in ACME. This section focuses on choosing the right technologies for the right activities. There are fundamental principles to selecting technology, it should enable and support mobility for seamless access across mobile devices. Cloud delivery is important for continuous innovation and deployment of new services into the services that they offer. This includes self-service  which defines how users consume the collaborative services, how they utilise those services and how they set them up. The ability to effectively manage and include external participants in the collaboration activity is important for some of these activities, that expands and goes outside the organizational boundaries.


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With culture being one of the biggest barriers for scaling, how do you drive adoption across a diverse workforce?

This is an important aspect as the objective of a digital workplace is to increase the digital dexterity of all employees. It’s not just employees that are; technology savvy, come from the IT department, new to the workforce, and have a large degree of familiarity. It is about increasing digital dexterity for all employees and closing what is likely to be an increasing digital dexterity gap. 


As new technology like software as a service including AI enter the business, the ability for employees to effectively exploit that technology becomes harder. Technology increases quickly, whereas employee capabilities don’t necessarily increase at the same rate. Therefore, it’s important to understand this within your organization. There are distinct and diverse work styles based across different business groups and demographics within the organization. This refers to the contextualisation and the motivational aspects of the previous answer around A-C-M-E. This would highlight a common context for working in new ways and being able to understand what motivates and drives different groups within the organization. This could be done through effective change management by bringing in the key stakeholders from various groups and departments within the organization. This also involves gathering the team together and focussing on the context and motivation to provide an experience that is suitable for all employees and supports all these varying different work styles.


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New challenges around current and future workforce are emerging, what are the trends’ impact on digital workplace strategy this year and beyond?

It’s the arrival of a digital workplace in most organizations, and something at Gartner we’ve called the ‘new work nucleus’. This is an entire replacement of the office productivity suite of products that we have  had in our organization for the past 30 years. In real terms, it includes the cloud office suites like Office 365 and Google’s G suite. This provides a whole new series of tools for doing the types of work that we have done for many years but tackling it in different ways. Therefore, this comprises new ways of setting up meetings, sharing and collaborating on files inside and outside the organization. All those things are new ways of working that have arrived in our organization. This in turn drives the biggest challenge  in ensuring an effective way of adopting new ways of working. Many organizations turn these services on and leave users to work out their best way of working, with little structure or motivation.


Organizing the new work nucleus into an effective way of defining how the organization works going forward is a major challenge. At a practical level and future level, the introduction of embedded analytics into almost every user experience is increasing. The block chain is starting to find a place around governance, security, audit, records management and we are starting to see this threaded more into applications. The biggest is around AI and how this is being used to enhance productivity, drive greater classification of information that’s stored within these platforms and automate further business activities. How organizations plan for those capabilities arriving in their organization and deploy them effectively is going to be a future strategic challenge.


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How does Gartner Digital Workplace Summit help IT and business leaders build their digital workplace strategy and sell it to their organisation?

Gartner Digital Workplace Summit is the primary conference for digital workplace leaders, and we have gathered a huge amount of content from Gartner experts and industry practitioners to align with our theme. Our theme is ‘Embrace the Future of Work: Prepare. Adapt. Transform.’ and there are two parts to that. The first part focuses on ‘embracing the future of work’ and  that the future of work is already present in many organizations, but not effectively deployed, utilised and adopted by the employees and organization and that’s why we talk about embracing the future of work. The second part focuses on ‘prepare, adapt, transform’ section recognises that we have attendees that are at various levels of maturity in their journey to establish a digital workplace, from those that are at the planning strategizing stage, to those who are trying to scale and use the digital workplace to really be the foundation for a digital transformation. 


In terms of the practicalities, we have tracks that are targeted at the major foundational components of a digital workplace. This includes; Transforming the employee experience; Learning technology and application strategies; Understanding program and project management associated with running a digital workplace; and Preparing for the future of work to innovate and drive change within organizations. A very comprehensive set of sessions and tracks that cover the entire remit of a digital workplace.


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What are the highlights from this year’s conference?

This is our fifth Gartner Digital Workplace Summit. This year sees us bringing an abundance of new content and expert analysis to the conference (only 5 out of the 46 Gartner sessions we are running are materials that we have presented before at the Summit). These five sessions are important as they are the foundational, practical elements that people who are new to a digital workplace journey would need to pick up and take away as actionable advice. Likewise, we have a great set of returning experts who have been around the digital workplace experience for a long time. We have returning and new experts that come from different areas to provide coverage, and a fresh perspective to both the expert sessions and for the one-on-one sessions that are running in the Summit. 


Also, we have great keynote speakers including: Professor Eddie Obeng who will talk about how humans and machines shape future work. Eddie’s has an energetic engaging speaking style, and his session will be a lot of fun. It’s not one to miss! We also have Cathy O’Dowd who is a mountaineer, an Everest climber. She’s a motivational speaker and will provide adaptable advice to building effective teams for the challenges that we face in our work life. Overall, there will be a great set of new vibrant content that will be engaging for anybody who attends the Summit. 


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