The Digital Workplace : it’s an human experience above all

the-digital-workplaceIt’s taken for granted that the digital workplace is the future of the work environment and, in this perspective, it’s often presented with a technological perspective : platforms, tools, integration, interoperability, mobility etc. But who says workplace also says people.

In The Digital Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work, Paul Miller introduces the Digital Workplace is being also – and above all – a new kind of experience in our relationships with our job, with others, impacting the rules of life and the social environment at work. For the record Paul Miller is the founder of the IBF (intranet benchmarking forum) and of the Digital Workplace Group.He’s been a forerunner in this field and his experience and hindsight are quite unique.

Work is not a place but a state of mind

Such books are often nothing more than a list of best practices for an intranet rollout. Nothing such here. What Paul Millers writes about is an experience, a way of life, a new way to see work and productivity.

Don’t mix things up. The Digital Workplace is the digitalized work environment, that’s not only a remote work approach which is too simplistic. That’s about working where we are, where we want, when we have to. From home, in transport facilities, coworking spaces, third places.

His book focuses on the impact of a Digital Workplace on work models (and their efficiency) and human relationships. All the questions that come at the periphery or before rolling out tools that make such things possible are discussed here (in seeing these questions raising after the rollout is often a bad sign). He’s not selling a work model and a way of life that would be a panacea but discusses things, brings ideas and cases, and let the reader makes his own opinion regarding to his context.

The Digital Workplace is about rebuilding human relationships above all

It starts with an assumption no-one can discuss : the end of the physical workplace. For many reasons we spend less and less time at the office and that’s a trend that’s getting stronger over time. Some spend time at customers’, others are looking for a new work/life balance, the costs of office buildings are more and more expensive, transportation time is increasing and with a real impact on work duration and on the environment…

Besides that, our environment is becoming more and more digital to such an extent that it’s possible to “live” one’s work life online while still being productive and without harming human relationships.

But it raises many questions that Paul Miller discusses transparently, admitting the risks and misuses that should be avoided :

• Team relationship : physical presence does not strengthen relationships but it’s the cause of more problems, friction, frustration. People can be remote while having regular synchronous and asynchronous exchanges with others (discussion spaces, video conferences…). The fact people do not spend all their time together increases the quality of face-to-face meetings and makes them more impactful.

• Attractiveness : today it’s important to provide employees with work tools that meet their needs and the experience they have in their personal life. It’s a matter of employer brand but also of productivity : how to imagine, in  any field, that the tools people have at work are worse that the ones they have at home. It’s unthinkable…except for IT.

The digital workplace re-founds the social contract at work

•Prive life and work duration : this point leads to many questions. Maybe claiming the opposite makes one looks modern and trendy but even if some flexibility is needed, a separation between work and life is needed. As Paul Miller states : no one should have to connect to work tools outside of work hours. That’s both an individual issue (“I switch off”) and a collective one (my manager sends me an email on friday night, expecting me to process it before saturday afternoon). It should make us wonder about what’s important and/or urgent or neither one nor the other.


The digital workplace is a culture and a way of working

• Private life (bis) : geolocation and presence signals may make sense at work, during work hours, to improve work, not to watch people. But in no way outside of work.

• Leadership : can a manager have no digital leadership, be incapable of behaving as a leader in front of a screen ? Such lacks are crippling.

• Trust : not surprisingly, trust is at the center of the digital workplace.

As you can see, Paul Miller tackles the digital workplace from an HR and management standpoint at the very time these people struggle to embrace this unavoidable evolution of social relationships at work, of work and leadership models. It’s a must read to make the right decisions and understand where we’re heading…before technology takes the lead and causes problems.

The digital Workplace is more than a tool : that’s a culture and a way of working.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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