Don’t Call It An ‘Intranet’. It’s a ‘Digital Workplace’

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Nov 20, 2018

I attended the recent ICE Digital Workplace event in San Antonio, organized by Igloo Software, and it highlighted the slightly embarrassing fact that I wasn’t sure what the term “digital workplace” meant. In this context it refers to a software platform that enables:

  • Downward communication
  • Upward communication
  • Peer-to-peer communication and collaboration

The idea in its most ambitious form is that employees come in, fire up their screen, and land in a digital workplace where all their communication and collaboration activities can take place.

If we focus on communication, there are already a lot of tools for doing that from brochures to email to Slack. The idea of a digital workplace is that we’ll be better off with this more comprehensive approach, and we can integrate tools like Slack or Salesforce into the workplace.

How to start

I asked Dan Latendre, CEO of Igloo Software, how one starts with this sort of software whose uses are potentially so broad. He recommends a “land and expand” strategy or if you prefer “start small, think big.” The excitement of a digital workplace may be that you envision a future where it’s the universal workspace. However, the place to start is something small and specific; get that right and expand from there.

A good example is Ob Hospitalist Group where, to enhance patient care, they set up a community for obstetricians who were scattered across many hospitals. The community enabled them to connect for conversations or access common documents.

Sticking in the medical world another example is Partners HealthCare, which, after a merger, needed to build a common culture, and really good communication from leadership was essential for that — a digital workplace provided the mechanism for that communication.

These two applications of the digital workplace are quite different. What they have in common is that they addressed an immediate need, while putting in place a platform that could expand to serve many other uses.

What is interesting

  • We find it hard to talk about technology infrastructure like a digital workplace because it enables many different things. If we discuss one thing (e.g. pushing out information from HQ) then we miss the much broader potential. If we talk about the broader potential (e.g. improving engagement, communication and coordination) then it’s too vague to grasp.
  • It’s tempting but potentially disastrous to say, “It’s much like an intranet.” This statement is true in a general sense; however, intranets typically didn’t work very well, and you don’t want people to feel that this won’t work very well either, so you avoid the term that may be most descriptive.

What is really important

  • HR needs to be good at collaborating with other functions such as communication, IT and marketing because more and more software is crossing the boundaries. Multiple stakeholders need to be involved—any one of which could take the lead.
  • HR needs to be good at quickly learning how to take advantage of new capabilities; communities are a great thing, but you need to understand the community manager role and what kind of person you should hire to do it.
  • Digital workplaces are a cool tool; in some form they will likely be adopted by most organizations. HR needs a strategy for moving in that direction and finding the best way to integrate with or replace other point solutions that do some of what a digital workplace does.
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