Making sense of your Digital Workplace

Sam Marshall (ClearBox Consulting)

What is the opportunity for the digital workplace? What are the things that matter most to your employees? What changes in management and mindset are needed? Sam Marshall, owner of ClearBox Consulting, discussed these, and many more, questions in his presentation about the heavy subject: digital workplaces.

The intranet has an identity crisis and we’re not quite sure what it’s for anymore. To begin with, we should work out the purpose of our entire digital workplace. Then we can define the purpose of the intranet within that. These are the words of Sam Marshall at ClearBox Consulting, and his presentation at Intranätverk: Malmö focused on the issue: how to make sense of your digital workplace. According to Sam, intranets are not about technology. They’re about people’s behavior – how they use the intranet. The fact is that we’re actually pretty bad at predicting how technology will be used in practice, and we have to ask ourselves: what’s the plan for how we want people to use this technology? We always have to bear in mind that the most important thing is what people want to achieve.

Digital workplace manifesto

During his presentation, Sam spoke about 11 guiding rules that together make up the “digital workplace manifesto”.

Work is no longer a place

It’s quite fair to say that work no longer is a place, at least for people spending most of their working hours in front of the computer. More and more people are working from home, which has two big plus sides: it often increases productivity among the workers and the organization can save a lot of money. The downside is that if you can work from anywhere, you can’t leave your work behind. Sam refers to the words of Dave Coplin, Microsoft: “We need to stop thinking of work as a destination and ask ourselves: what’s the best place for me to work today?”

Manage the outcome, not the process

This is basically about setting up goals and achieving them in the best way for you. How you reach your goals doesn’t really matter, as long as you reach them within your time limit. Sam explains that this relies on trust from your boss, and even more tricky; it actually relies on trust from your peers. When you’re always working from home and rarely pays a visit to the office, your colleagues might wonder what you’re actually doing. A good way to get around this is to use micro blogging such as Yammer or Twitter and share your process as well as your thoughts.

The digital workplace should be a pleasure to use

There’s no secret that head offices tend to look pretty fancy. But the fact is that only a minority works in the head office. Their main contact point is instead the intranet or the digital workplace. Therefore, we should work on making the digital workplace a pleasure, which most certainly will have an impact on employee engagement.

Collaboration only works if we do it in the same way

Sam explains that it’s important for the organization to set out some standards. If that isn’t done, you will recreate the physical silos with digital ones.

Let me be myself online

If you’re not physically present at the office, the way that people perceive you has to be online. According to Sam, some companies are very resistant of this and they point out that workplace tools should only be used for work purposes. But the fact is that it’s actually very nice to know how people’s lives are. It can also provide very useful context for how we work together.

Learning is good for me and the company

One of the most satisfying things with work is feeling that you’re developing and that you can apply what you’ve learned. But, in reality, most of the knowledge that’s useful in our jobs isn’t provided by the company. Instead, we keep on developing by reading blogs, taking courses and getting involved in discussion forums. It’s the HR-department’s responsibility to provide you with a good set of recourses to grow.

Not everyone is an early-adopter

When launching a new system or a tool, you have to take into consideration that not everyone is an early-adopter. You have to provide people with the opportunity to experiment and learn for them to understand and use the new system or tool. Some might be early-adopters but a great deal will require some assistance on the way. And a few will probably never get on board, no matter how hard you try.

Work doesn’t stop at the firewall

In many organizations today, work isn’t only done by employees, but also by agencies, contractors etc. Sam explains that we can give our employees a wonderful digital workplace. But if we don’t have a way of extending that to the other people that the employees have to work with, we will end up with the same old great e-mail attachments. And aren’t we all tired of that?

Everything should be geared to helping me do the work that matters

Don’t you just love the feeling when you’re into that state of flow? When it happens, you should be able to continue working without anyone or anything disturbing you. Especially since flow is interrupted very easily and is pretty hard to regain. According to Sam, it is therefore important that we construct the digital workplace in a way to get rid of all the little irritations such as logins, e-mails etc. The same principle goes for the office – when you’re having a meeting or a brainstorming session, you should be able to work in a private area.

Working relationships involve understanding each other

Sam refers to the words of Guy Browning: “Internal communication is the process by which the bosses tell everyone what is happening, followed by a feedback stage where everyone can tell the bosses what is really happening.”

For more info

The 11th guiding rule is: “If I don’t like it, I can always leave.” For more info about this, a deeper look at the above mentioned, and some closing words; please watch Sam’s presentation from Intranätverk: Malmö (video on Vimeo).

Biography Sam Marshall

Sam Marshall is the owner of ClearBox Consulting and has specialized in intranets and the digital workplace for over 15 years, working with companies such as AstraZeneca, AkzoNobel, BT, The RSPB, Standard Life and BUPA. His current activities focus on intranet and digital workplace strategy, the business side of SharePoint, and the use of social tools for collaboration and internal communication. E-mail sam@clearbox.co.uk or tweet @sammarshall.