Reimagining the Digital Workplace

Just as technologies invite us to be more innovative in our approach to customers and business processes, there are new frontiers for how we might reimagine the workplace. No longer are we restrained by physical locations or time. This provides organizations with opportunities to rethink things like talent identification and engagement, formation of organizational structures, work processes, and communication practices. The challenge for management is to work out how to engage with digital technologies in the workplace to best position employees to create value in the digital era.

A recent MIT CISR poll suggests that most organizations are engaged in discussions at some level on how to reframe the workplace around digital. While a few workplaces are at a very advanced stage of organization-wide transformation focused on greater collaboration, networked approaches, and flexible work practices, a third of respondents are still at an early point in the transformation where adoption of digital has been patchy. For example, some project teams and departments have adopted the enterprise social network yet others remain resistant and dependent on email. By far, the largest group of respondents report that they are at the pilot stage, with new ways of working and digital technologies being deployed in pilots.

Understandably, there is much that management is still unsure about and wants to test before making a larger firm-wide commitment. It seems that at this stage there are more questions than answers around the digital workplace, as organizations are still trying to understand how digital might add value and whether the potential benefits are worth the costs of change.

This is further reflected in the data on who is influencing these discussions. In around 20% of cases, CEOs are playing a pivotal role. In another 20% of cases, CIOs are leading discussions. However, a surprising 25% of these discussions are growing from the bottom up as teams, departments, and individuals engage capabilities such as social networks, knowledge sharing apps, and communication tools to start working in new ways. Unlike traditional technologies in the workplace, digital capabilities are easily accessed and implemented by individuals either using workplace-supplied technologies and capabilities or by bringing their own on board.

Organizations must step up and take notice, but it is important to ask some challenging questions:

  • What do we imagine the digital workplace to look like? E.g., more virtual; more collaborative; having flexible work practices, mobile-only technologies, and work spaces; having combinations of contemporary and traditional work practices
  • Why is this important for the business? E.g., attracts and engages talent; creates more cross-silo/cross-hierarchy interactions; generates a more agile working environment for product innovation; reduces costs
  • What are the implications for practice and how do we make the changes? E.g., recognizing and supporting bottom-up new work practices; creating new challenges for IT in supporting a range of new workplace technologies; managing and supporting remote workers; requiring new skill development; aligning reward structures
  • How can we extract value from new ways of working? E.g., using digital to design new ways of working that engage talent more effectively; redesigning processes to reduce costs; realizing faster time to market for product innovation

We’ve just begun a study on this subject, “Inventing the Digital Workplace,” and would like to hear your thoughts. What does it mean to you when you think about the digital workplace? What are the most critical issues you face in this transformation?

Kristine Dery is a research scientist at MIT CISR, and discusses this subject in a related video, “Reimagining the Digital Workplace.”