By Gloria Lombardi

They have just launched “The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future.” Paul Miller is the CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG). He is also author of ‘The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work’. Elizabeth Marsh is DWG Director of Research.

In this interview, they share how digital tools are dramatically changing our experience of work. Plus, how organisations can create greater value by harnessing the power of their digital workplace.

Gloria Lombardi: Your book addresses the shift from the intranet to the digital workplace.

Elizabeth Marsh: By ‘digital workplace’ we mean all the technologies and tools that an employee uses to get their work done. It is not a bigger or better intranet. This is where sometimes misconception comes in.

Nevertheless, the intranet can very much be a focal point for understanding the wider digital workplace. It also acts as a point of integration. So, we see intranet managers as having a very important role in the digital workplace. Yet, this is just one aspect of it.

Paul Miller: One of the terms we use in DWG is ‘intranet-driven digital workplace’. It means seeing the intranet as a starting point, and a place for holding together many other different tools. It unifies communications, mobile, HR systems, procurement and all the other aspects of a digital workplace that would not be considered purely as part of an intranet.

The intranet is essential. But, the digital workplace is transformational. No CEO gets really excited about their intranet. But, they do get excited about the digital transformation of work. In a holistic and integrative way of thinking about it, it implies an entire new mind-set around work.

GL: What type of mind-set are we talking about?

PM: Personal accountability. Taking the responsibility for your own results, productivity and capabilities. The industrial revolution produced a relationship between employers and employees, which was like a parent-child. ‘You feed me and everything will be OK’. In the digital workplace, relationships are more informal and between equals – we talk about ‘freelancing the organisation’.

In a digital workplace we do not judge people based on how busy they are, but on the quality of their delivery. As a CEO of a company I accept different ways of working from my employees, as long as the quality of their outputs is what is expected.

Plus, you need a flexible mind-set. You are working far more virtually. The expectation of going to a specific office every single day and having a repeated pattern of work is something that people are leaving behind.

EM: No matter how well we design and implement the tools, if we do not get that mind-set right, a digital workplace will not work. At every level of the organisation we need to ask ‘How do we help people to shift that mind-set? Is training part of that?’ More than anything, leadership should model these new behaviors.

GL: What types of organisations are successfully supporting the idea of a digital workplace?

PM: IKEA is a good example. They did a series of interviews around the whole organisation – in their stores, warehouses and offices. They asked employees what the digital workplace meant to them. They did not explain to people what the digital workplace was; they just asked the question. People immediately started talking about it. The company brought HR, Facilities, Communications, IT, and all the different part of the business together to think about the future of their digital workplace.

Adobe is another one. They wanted to figure out how to compete as attractive workplace in Silicon Valley, where physical workplaces at the top companies are so compelling. They looked at the flexibility that only a digital workplace can provide people with to differentiate themselves.

Unilever also understands that is about giving employees a choice. They don’t say ‘we want you to work from home’, or ‘we want you to work in the office’. People are given options that they did not have in the past.

EM: Another example is Virgin Media. They started out by talking with their people, and observing how they worked to figure out what they really needed. That research and gathering of feedback was essential.

Then, they started implementing very simple changes that would help staff in their daily job. They asked themselves ‘What does this big and bold idea of a digital workplace really mean to our people everyday?’

GL: Where is digital workplace making the biggest impact?

PM: Many think that the digital workplace affects primarily the knowledge worker. But, I think that the most radical change is on front-line roles, such as logistics, delivery and retailing. I call people in these roles as ‘the digitally disempowered’. Some of them have mundane jobs. Yet, empowering these staff with technology can completely change their experience of work.

With the right tools in their hands, they are more effective, productive, and they have better customer relationships. At the end of the day, their job may still be mundane, but if you give them some level of influence over how they work, that also impacts on their level of wellbeing and satisfaction.

GL: The changing role of internal communications in the digital workplace. What’s your view?

EM: With employees working across multiple devices and channels, communicators need to think and plan carefully how to deliver their message.. A scenario where a new joiner chats with the CEO via social media is becoming much more common. The new role of the communicator is to optimise that ‘connectedness’.

PM: To add value, communicators need to empower staff to be part of the interactions happening on channels such as Chatter, Jive or Yammer. It is about evangelising new tools.

They are also required to have a full digital and technological understanding. The technology itself is getting simpler. The real requirement is to formulate a digital strategy for the organisation. The question is not, ‘we need to upgrade to SharePoint 2013’ But, ‘why and what we are going to do with these tools?’

GL: Today, we emphasise the word ‘digital’ to distinguish it from the physical workplace. Do you think we will still need to talk about ‘digital’ in future?

EM: It is like the word ‘social’ for the intranet. It is now becoming so embedded that soon we won’t talk about the ‘social intranet’ any more. The same will happen to ‘digital’. We will not need to talk about it anymore, but that is some way off yet.

PM: For me, that will happen in a couple of decades. Changes are always bigger than what organisations think. We all expect that the whole digital workplace will be happening in a matter of years. Yet, it’s still so new – we are only in the 1% of what really a digital workplace can deliver for us.

GL: You write about a “new work ethic of freedom powered by digital tools.”

PM: The industrial revolution turned workers into efficient machines. The digital workplace gives people their own humanity again. On a practical level it enables flexibility. People organise their working schedule and have influence over their experience of work.

In our book we talk about ‘artisans’. These employees work very hard, 24/7. But they do that because they are passionate. They are addicted to work. One of the reasons, is that these people’s experience of work is much more enjoyable in general. They are not outliers. They are part of the digital workplace movement in which every job becomes fundamentally more enjoyable. I say, ‘It has been infected with freedom’. Infected in a positive way.

Some of the messages we hear around technology are quite negative. For example, “digital detox’, ‘the technology is destroying our relationships’, ‘what are you doing when you work from home?’ But, with all the innovation coming through it, we should start seeing it as something positive. The digital renaissance we are living through is an extraordinary period for humanity.

——————–

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate