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Your digital transformation is doomed to fail unless you empower employees with a digital workplace. Here’s how to craft a workplace that boosts engagement and agility.

True digital transformation goes all the way through to the core. And that includes an often overlooked aspect: the workplace itself.

Yes, modernizing IT systems, overhauling business processes and stacking talent benches are crucial undertakings. But such initiatives lay bare a chicken-and-egg problem that many CIOs must scramble to address: that a good customer experience first requires a good employee experience in the form of a digital workplace, says Gartner analyst Carol Rozwell.

What is the digital workplace? It is a business strategy aimed at boosting employee engagement and agility through consumerization of the work environment, Rozwell says. Think of your one-size-fits-all-users ERP or expense management applications and imagine the opposite user experience. Your digital workplace should help individuals and teams work more productively without compromising operations. It should include computers, mobile devices and productivity and collaboration applications that are web-based and synch in real time. Such tools should, for example, mimic the ease of use of Uber and Airbnb and the social aspects of Facebook and Instagram. IBM, for one, has undertaken a massive transformation of its workplace to lure new tech talent.

"The idea of the digital workplace is to bring that same simplicity and intuitiveness to employees when they're doing their mission-critical work," Rozwell says. Maybe you've heard your CIO peers talk about "getting ahead of shadow IT"? They mean facilitating, rather than prohibiting, consumerization.

Following is an eight-point plan for transformation your work environment into a digital workplace, which Rozwell recently shared with CIO.com.

1. Vision

Your digital workplace plan should align with business and digital transformation goals — and clearly answer why you want to overhaul your work environment. Remember, your goal is to increase employee engagement and productivity. Work closely with stakeholders, including business, HR and facilities managers, to shape the plan and execute changes, bearing in mind the workplace demographics and potential impact those changes will have. How will these efforts change business processes? Don't make and execute on technology platform decisions until you achieve clarity and agreement on the digital workplace's purpose and objectives. This will consume significant budget, so remember to get buy-in from the rest of the C-suite and board of directors.

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2. Strategy

Next, establish a roadmap and blueprint for coordinating digital workplace initiatives across R&D, marketing, sales, customer support, manufacturing, HR and IT. Questions to ask: How will you exploit various technologies to raise employee engagement levels and support your company’s digital initiatives? How can you create workspaces that increase employee creativity and enable ad hoc and formal opportunities for collaboration? Be sure to do your homework, as this requires a clear understanding of how people work and what improvements are envisioned.

3. Metrics

Use analytics to calculate IT, HR and business metrics and create a digital scorecard. For example, you can gauge user engagement to tracking daily active users and time spent in collaboration software such as Slack. Try to quantify positive impacts on workforce effectiveness, employee agility and employee satisfaction and retention, information you can use later to assess change management and refine your approach. Digital business metrics are among the hardest to calculate but they are essential to gauging the value of your investments. “These metrics help process owners to articulate the potential return on investment to senior management, and prevent technology investments from being perceived as just an expense with no upside,” Rozwell says.

4. Employee experience

Improving customer service is the end goal of a digital workplace but you have to bolster the employee experience first. Rally your IT troops and work with real estate and facilities managers to create smart workspaces that enhance collaborative work activities, as well as providing spaces for individual concentration. Create an online portal where managers can recognize employee contributions and success and incorporate it into a shared IT/HR metric to monitor employee engagement. “Employees will be more willing to collaborate, take on challenging roles and provide coaching if they are excited by their work and see the opportunity for growth in the changes being requested of them,” Rozwell says, adding that an engaged workforce often outperforms the competition.

5. Organizational change

Digital workplace initiatives typically require considerable change to internal processes, departmental structures, incentives, skills, culture and behaviors. Assess the new skills and competencies required for the digital workplace and develop a plan to train or hire personnel who possess them. You’ll want to identify change management leaders who can anticipate and mitigate obstacles before they become problems. Integrate digital workplace technologies into workflows and set rules, such as technology standards, usage guidelines, information governance and best practices. Work with senior executives to get them to listen to and engage with employees.

6. Processes

More likely than not you’ll find yourself re-engineering business processes. First take a close look at how employees currently work and what activities they spend the most time on. Use a customer journey-mapping playbook to mirror employee journey maps by collecting and analyzing data linked to employee activities and experiences. Consider emerging technologies, such as internet of things and artificial intelligence. For example, a sensor-rich smart building can track workspace usage patterns and adjust lighting and HVAC settings according to employees' preset preferences. Use AI to automate toilsome, routine tasks to make employees more productive.

7. Information

Workers want software for searching, sharing and consuming information to be as "smart" and compelling as the ones they use in their personal lives. They want information and analytics to be contextualized and delivered in the moment of need. In that vein, you’ll want to implement a file-sharing system that enables easy mobile access and real-time synchronization. Consider virtual assistants that can provide contextualized content recommendations, decision support and advice. Weigh the value of roving robotic video conferencing systems and immersive, 360-degree video conferencing systems. A little sci-fi can go a long way with your digitally-empowered workforce.

8. Technology

Wait, didn’t we just delve into the tech side? Yes, but most of you aren’t doing this effectively. “Most organizations have a haphazard architecture that has largely been driven by their digital workplace vendors,” Rozwell says. You need to tie all of the digital platforms together in a seamless mesh of contextual awareness, mobility and real-time information delivery that enables employees to serve customers. Facilitate cloud-, mobile-first strategies, starting with a cloud-based office suite. Create a "bring your own work style" culture, enabled by smart workspaces.It’s also important to reward technology innovation practices.

This is just a blueprint; execution is everything. Rozwell says digital workplace programs fail for various reasons, such as a lack of attention to organizational change issues, an overemphasis on technology, and focus on the wrong questions. She is frustrated by CIOs frequently asking her what “productivity bump” they can expect from building a digital workplace. “Productivity is a vague and abstract notion,” Rozwell says. “It is also notoriously difficult to measure in any way that connects to the business outcomes that should be the impetus for the digital workplace initiative.”

Instead, CIOs should ask: How will a digital workplace help improve the way employees serve customers?

This article was written by Clint Boulton from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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