While the “digital workplace” as a concept has been around for a while now, it has gained significant traction over the past couple of years with the rise of the remote workforce. With promises of increased employee engagement and boosts in productivity, more and more organizations are devoting serious time and resources to designing and building their own digital workplaces.
But what exactly is a digital workplace? Emails and group chats? A realm for people who work remotely? There have been a lot of different takes on the subject, but one definition that seems to get mentioned more than others is from Step Two’s James Robertson:
"The digital workplace consists of a holistic set of tools, platforms and environments for work, delivered in a coherent, usable and productive way."
So, now we get a clearer picture. More than just working online from home, more than just sending emails or using office software, a digital workplace combines all of these and more.
Enter: The intranet
An effective digital workplace takes advantage of the latest business technologies and services relevant to your organization; the ones that help streamline practices, improve productivity, and provide employees with a competent level of accessibility and integration to your organization from anywhere outside of the physical workplace.
Which is why it’s important to develop a strategy for your digital workplace. Clint Boulton from CIO imparts the following advice:
"Your digital workplace should help individuals and teams work more productively without compromising operation…establish a roadmap and blueprint for coordinating digital workplace initiatives across R&D, marketing, sales, customer support, manufacturing, HR and IT."
Sound advice indeed. But before you start building something out, you need a solid foundation for everything to stand on. The field for your football team. The base of your pyramid. And this is where your intranet fits in.
Now, some may assume “intranets” and “digital workplaces” are just two ways of saying the same thing. Well, intranets are in fact not the same as digital workplaces, but they are necessary components of them—if you want your digital workplace to be effective and successful, that is.
The pieces of the puzzle
To illustrate further, let’s take a look at one of the first “big takes” on digital workplaces, Deloitte’s The digital workplace. At the core of their design for an effective digital workplace strategy is the following trifecta: Connect | Collaborate | Communicate
If this were an answer on Jeopardy! the question might very well be “What does an intranet allow your organization to do?”
The very essence of modern intranets is built around the ideals of connecting employees with one another, fostering collaboration, and enabling company-wide communication.
While collaboration or messaging apps, built out with add-ons or combined with other apps, could appear as viable ways to achieve one or two of the above ideals, there would still be a lack of cohesiveness. It would be like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle strewn about on a table, but with the most important piece missing. CMS Wire’s David Roe illustrates:
"With the rise of the digital workplace, tools like Slack, Yammer and Workplace by Facebook, have become the easiest way to connect remote workers to their colleagues, but what gets lost in these tools is the communication connection from executive leaders when it comes to relaying company news.
While these tools have made peer-to-peer communication easier for employees, companies with deskless workers still struggle to keep their employees engaged in the overall business happenings."
The missing piece? An intranet.
Apps like Slack and Workplace are effective at what they do (employee collaboration and communication), but unlike intranets, they can’t be counted on as reliable vessels for company-wide communication, for the distribution of important and targeted content, as documentation repositories or as platforms that can help build culture in meaningful and lasting ways.
Apps also can’t support integration with other digital tools to the depth that modern intranets can. They need to be the jumping-off points of your digital workplace, not the starting points. According to elcom:
"A typical digital workplace would bring together the highly functional intranet of an organisation and extend it to include more applications, easier communication and streamlined corporate strategies"
A modern intranet as the foundation of your digital workplace enables the employer to employee connection. It also provides a home base for company communication and information, with easy access to external resources for everyone. Most importantly, it gives your organization a solid base for your digital structure.
The collaboration tools and project management apps you include in your digital workplace can then build off that foundation by facilitating and strengthening employee to employee interaction. The outcome of which is then an improved employee to customer experience.
Without an intranet as its foundation, your digital workplace will end up being a collection of disconnected digital waypoints. But with an intranet anchoring your digital workplace, your organization will be laying the foundation for success.