Our Digital Workplace Futures event last week (#psdw18) provided a great opportunity to hear from practitioners involved in the use of digital workplace technology to enable new ways of working and organisational improvement. It was great to see so many friends and colleagues in the room, so thank you all who turned up on an unusually warm London evening. On the panel led by our practice lead Cerys Hearsey, we were joined by:

  • Katherine Carter, who has been involved in Grant Thornton’s digital workplace development since the early days, and who has recently played a lead role in transitioning from Jive to Office 365 (client).
  • Jamie Tolentino-Deludet from Investec Asset Management, who is closely involved in the development of a digital workplace within the marketing function (client).
  • Sharon O’Dea, an independent digital workplace consultant, formerly a practitioner at Standard Chartered Bank.
  • Harald Schirmer, an experienced HR change agent who is running a major Office 365 roll-out at Continental, and a pioneer of the digital guides concept (client).

(You can find a summary of my introductory remarks here)

Key points

Recognising that the development of the digital workplace has proved slower than we originally hoped, what ideas did the panel of practitioners have for accelerating this process?…

… and where do they think the digital workplace is headed?


Skills, Confidence and Change

Are people just afraid of change and trying new ways of working?…

… or is there a deeper problem with digital skills and confidence in our organisations?

Are people really ready and willing to adopt new ways of working?

Do we have the kind of culture that promotes experimentation and provides the psychological safety needed to allow people to self-organise and self-manage more of their work?

Why are engineering-led firms so apparently reluctant to apply their own hypothesis- and data-driven philosophy to new ways of working and organisational improvement?


Digital Leaders and Digital Guides

What role should leaders play in encouraging action and acting as exemplars for the use of digital tools?

How can digital guides accelerate change and provide the kind of digital leadership that is lacking at the top of most organisations?


Digital Tools and Platforms

What has been the impact of poorly integrated tools, and how has the arrival of Slack and other tools established a higher standard for integrating various apps to create a better personal experience? Have IT departments finally got the message that a diverse toolset is what employees need, not just one tool to rule them all?

Or, as some consultants argue, are the tools themselves irrelevant? 

It is interesting that this last tweet was one of the most re-tweeted by people following the event remotely, despite the nuanced discussion about tools, technology and culture taking place in the room. Yes, “it’s about people,” (that statement is little more than a platitude) but no cultural intervention can create a digital workplace or an organisational system fit for the digital age on its own.

We need more people who understand both technology architecture, tools and the cultural and behavioural side of the equation, but we also should not let the management of our organisations off the hook by ignoring the hard work of structural change, however tough that may be to sell. All my experience of younger and digitally confident employees in large organisations suggests they are ready and able to work in new and better ways, but the system and its work structures are what hold them back. We need better tools, better technology infrastructure generally, and then we need to ask what new (human) affordances they make possible – that, for me, is a key driver of digital transformation.