Disruptive innovation in business is as old as business itself, but technology has pushed the pace of change to staggering levels in the last 10 years. New startups go on to huge IPOs while venerable companies that have been around for generations declare bankruptcy when they can't recognize and respond to new market forces.
Being the top dog in any business vertical requires finding the right technology, people, and processes to deliver value to the customer – also known as digital transformation – and that starts with the digital workplace.
You're Not There Yet
But wait, we already have email, smartphones, and laptops. Don't we already have a digital workplace? While all businesses do operate digitally on some level, a true digital workplace – as defined by Gartner – is "an ongoing, deliberate approach to delivering a more consumer-like computing environment that is better able to facilitate innovative and flexible working practice." In other words, the workplace should no longer be viewed as simply a physical space, but an environment where workers can contribute on their terms using technology that makes them effective and collaborative, wherever they are. It allows them to solve problems and create opportunities that create unanticipated value for the organization.
Why Is It Important?
When any legacy business struggles to compete with a newcomer, the consensus invariably is "they weren't nimble enough." Being able to think outside the box and compete with disruption is driven by a digital workplace in multiple ways.
- Flexibility – can change at the speed of business
- Productivity – more effective ways of working and collaboration
- Leverage automation – repetitive tasks can be automated through tools like AI and machine learning, creating a hybrid workforce
- Stimulate innovation – an environment that's not stagnant and is open to change fosters new ideas
- Talent – better tools and working environments attract the best and brightest
Barriers to a Digital Workplace
With so much to be gained from a digital workspace, everyone should be on board, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Gartner recently predicted that only a quarter of midsize and large organizations will successfully target new ways of working in the majority of their initiatives by 2021. It defines new ways of working as "distributed decision making, virtual and remote work, and redesigned physical workspaces."
Barriers to implementing a digital workplace can include an inflexible culture, the overall perception of how difficult change will be, and legacy systems that block the adoption of new technology thanks to incompatibility and siloed data.
You're Doing It Wrong
Another problem is the piecemeal approach that many organizations take when adopting new technology. It's understandable. The way technology has evolved, it's natural that things were brought on board without a lot of consideration of the bigger picture. But now, we've got a fragmented coalition of apps and devices that don't necessarily play well together – raising the question of your technology helping or hindering?
Consider how much time workers spend hopping from one platform to another looking for the information they need to do their jobs (19 percent), or how many interruptions they deal with from various email and messaging apps that demand their attention. One study found workers are distracted or switch tasks about every 3 minutes and it takes them 23 minutes to come back to where they left off.
The point is new isn't always better and the adoption of new technology must be considered holistically with an emphasis on the end-user experience, productivity, and business goals.
The digital workplace must also service all workers wherever they are. We've mainly catered to the traditional office or to remote workers, while many field, factory, and retail workers don't currently have access. Digital workplace solutions must be mobile and cloud-based to reach those underserved employees.
How Do We Get There?
The digital workplace has to start with a human-centric and strategic approach. To be successful, workers need end-user experiences that are comparable to the technology they choose to use in their personal lives.
"Digital workplace leaders must realize that their role as the orchestrator of change is fundamentally moving away from previously ingrained leadership practices that view employees as a group resistant to change rather than involving them in co-creating the path forward," offered Gartner's Carol Rozwell.
What does that look like? Instead of top-down solutions, Start with listening to end users and empathizing with their challenges to get a better definition of their needs long before you start looking at possible solutions.
Once you understand end-user needs and business goals, then you can define what a digital workplace means for your organization and establish the key performance indicators to measure the value of potential solutions. With that data in hand, you can plot your innovation roadmap to success.
Other Things to Consider
Getting leadership on board is critical to successful change initiatives. It's a horrible message to send if you want the rank and file on a new communication platform and the CEO insists on using an old one.
Communicating early and often is also key. Humans are naturally resistant to change, so explaining the benefits of what's coming and when helps smooth the path.
A good training plan also reduces frustration and lessens any ill will.
Be a Change Agent
Once you've established your nimble and productive digital workplace, you're on the path to true digital transformation and will be ready to take on disruption – or hopefully become a disruptor yourself.