Progress in the digital workplace is still slow

 
Steve Bynghall's picture

Photo of long outdoor stairwayJane McConnell’s annual report into the state of digital within organisations (originally titled Digital Workplace Trends and now The Organization in the Digital Age) provides a unique snapshot of where we are collectively with the digital workplace. This year’s report collates information from over 300 participating organisations and overall, there is an enviable data set going back over a decade.

The report is essential reading for anyone planning a digital workplace or digital transformation strategy. The detailed report is well worth the investment, but it also free for participants, so its definitely worth considering taking part in next year’s survey.

In recent years, the report reminds us that while some organisations are pushing forward with a convincing digital workplace agenda (reflected in some interviews and case studies), overall progress is frustratingly slow. For me one overarching takeaway from reading McConnell’s executive summary of the 2016 report is that most organisations’ view of digital workplace technology is still primarily tactical rather than strategic. We’re just not exploiting the full potential of what digital can do.

When you’re a practitioner trying to push that digital workplace agenda and finding you’re coming up against resistance or operational barriers, the slow rate of progress is probably going to feel pretty glacial. However there are also some encouraging signs that some organisations and stakeholders are starting to realise its importance.

Here are six takeaways about the digital workplace from reading the executive report of McConnell’s latest “Organization in the Digital Age”. (You can request a free copy of the executive report):

1. Traditional focus of many transformations

The goals for many digital transformation programmes seem to be tactical or short-term in focus. McConnell asked organisations about the drivers for digital transformation and she found the top three are more “traditional” in focus – increasing efficiency, improving existing business models and improving customer experience.

Implementing new business models is the second lowest factor reported. Better news for the digital workplace is that  “Improve employee experience and engagement” was the fourth most popular driver for transformation. However I wonder if this figure may be inflated, potentially due to the high awareness of the survey among digital workplace and intranet teams.

2. Organisations reluctant to crowdsource

McConnell also concludes that ideation and consultative processes with employees – internal crowdsourcing where the outcome is more open-ended – are less common than more structured approaches to collaboration.  To me this suggests a certain lack of maturity or confidence in knowing how to exploit social tools, apart from in improving what has gone before.

It is also possible that some ideation activity is not recorded in the survey as in many organisations this happens at a divisional or departmental level.

3. Frontline workers still poorly served

Although some organisations like IKEA are clearly bucking the trend, it comes as little surprise that the survey reports that frontline employees usually in factories or retail units still have poor access to the digital workplace. In my recent post for CMSWire I concluded that this was still a neglected area of the digital workplace.

According to McConnell only 83 out of 311 organisations said it was easy or very easy for customer-facing staff to do their jobs. This situation remains pretty much the same as the previous survey, meaning there has been very little progress over eighteen months.

4. The road is slow and bumpy

McConnell asked respondents to rate how far they were pegged against an ambitious vision of the digital workplace and its impact on the organisation. Only 21% felt they were close or very close, although an encouraging 39% felt they were “on the way”.

Meanwhile an interesting conclusion was also that many problems which teams and organisations face in digital workplace implementation and then overcome, subsequently reappear later down the line. It seems the digital workplace journey is indeed slow and bumpy.

5. But digital workplace maturity drives trust

But its not all gloom and doom. When organisations have a more mature digital workplace McConnell’s data suggests that there is greater trust not only between employees who have not met each other but also in employees trusting management. The research hints not only at the influence of culture on the digital workplace, but also the other way round.

6. More people understand the need to change

There are also some encouraging signs that more people understand digital transformation. For example, 33% of respondents said that senior management understand and support digital initiatives, up from 18% in the previous survey. However sustained support from management is still lacking. McConnell’s research also shows that internal change agents have growing influence in digitally mature organisations.

McConnell’s research confirms what many of us suspect – collectively we all have a long way to go in the digital workplace. While some organisations are making headway, inertia seems to be the most current default of play. With the current emphasis on digital workplace and employee experience, we can only hope progress accelerates. The Organization in the Digital Age is helping us to track that journey.

Photo credit: Steve Bynghall

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