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Journey from Virtual Office to Digital Workplace

Concept of virtual office has been there for many years and most of us have been using this one way or the other. Immediately after Y2K problem, technology to access your office application remotely introduced virtual office concept. From an remote location we could access our office ERP and few more Apps using these tools and we all felt proud in calling our workplace as virtual office. Complementary video and audio conferencing tools such as Skype or GoToMeeting tried to fill virtual office communication gaps and it worked well. Not only did it save time and money but also it increased our appetite for trying to do everything remotely.

New possibilities came in front of everyone when we all saw the power of cloud and mobile. To me these two things have forced us to think of something called Digital Workplace. We became more aware and conscious about collaboration, productivity and instant information flow. Concept of Intranet was there for ages but its utility and approach was not helping employees. Intranets are supposed to be central knowledge base and this knowledge must be contributed through all communication channels and not just limited to the uploading of few policy documents. Employees rejected these Intranets because 90% of their daily work was not possible through these company portals. Adoption became a challenge and it was clear that we have to reinvent these intranets. By then we had experienced so many mobile apps for employee productivity and all of them failed because they worked in isolation and had no integration. This whole experience of Intranet plus mobile apps gave us strong hints that employee needs more than an Intranet and they want everything on mobile. We decided to shift our thinking from Virtual office to Digital Workplace.

Internet is flooded with various definitions of Digital Workplace right from simple explanation to very complex infographics. One such infographics showing concept of digital workplace prepared by a leading international consulting firm was shown to our employees and they could not understand most of that. To me it was another indication of failure to address simple real problem by making is look complex. Word Digital Workplace does not necessarily call for sci-fi approach to explain this concept just because it is digital. My objective to redefine workplaces as digital comes from the fact that employees are dependent on mobile devices and they love instant information access and sharing. My street vegetable vendor has been using WhatsApp for taking orders and placing orders and for him his mobile and WhatsApp is his digital workplace. On the other hand, our corporate needs for collaboration and information sharing are vast but they are not complex. Our approach towards transformation from virtual office to Digital Workplace should focus on making everything easy. I can fairly say that needs of office workers are not complex and have been consistent over these years. They are not asking for anything new except that with Mobile, Cloud and AI, they need Collaboration in a persistent chat mode. They have accepted the idea of Bot, Siri, Cortana or Alexa talking to them and getting them information, they needed the most. While working on documents or presentation in real time, they want to chat back and forth with Co-workers.

If we talk about people's productivity, engagement and working health, the concept of traditional Intranets does not work any longer. A truly digital workplace is mix of Intranet, AI, Mobility and Social. It is mix of various tools to help an employee to be more productive and interactive. The business is now global and running at much faster pace, therefore concept of Digital Workplace needs to accommodate higher degree of collaboration with the help of new technology that works real time in all languages and across all geographies. Intranets are just one of the important tools and is definitely the foundation for building a robust Digital Workplace. A well-designed Intranet will help you to build more pieces quickly such as business process automation and knowledge base. Employees should feel autonomous while working and technology must provide a platform for innovation. Concept of Digital Workplace is catching up fast and most of C Level executives are paying attention to this change. Cloud has helped them to stop thinking about technology and focus on usability and innovation. We are likely to see many exciting things in this space over the next two years.

If you are implementing Digital Workplace strategy, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Ashish Kamotra
  • April 4, 2022
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