5 steps HR must take to build a digital workplace 

Creating a collaborative environment demands partnership with IT and facilities management and a key role from human resources.
By: | November 11, 2021

As the pandemic-driven demand for digital transformation continues to spread, digital workplace strategies are growing in importance inside U.S. organizations. In fact, according to Gartner research, 52% of organizations had a digital strategy in place in 2020 compared to 33% in 2018; meanwhile, 27% had an informal plan in place last year compared to 30% in 2018.

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Just what is a digital workplace strategy? Adam Preset, vice president and analyst for employee experience technologies at Gartner, defined it as “a business strategy that leverages an engaging and intuitive work environment to boost workforce digital dexterity—the ambition and ability to apply technology to improve business capabilities.”

Adam Preset, analyst for employee experience technologies at Gartner

Preset said such a strategy offers a framework that aims to create a “work hub” consisting of content creation, collaborative work management, content services, email and calendaring, meeting solutions and workstream collaboration. 

“The digital workplace, and those who lead it, will shape the future of work,” Preset said in his Gartner ReImagine HR Conference session this week entitled “Digital Workplace 101 for HR Leaders.”

Preset offered five actions HR can take to establish a reliable and productive digital workplace.

Partner on a one-page digital workplace strategy. When it comes to building a digital workplace, HR leaders must have a seat at the table with IT and facility managers to create a collaborative, high-tech and high-functioning work environment. Organizations need a simplified strategy written out on a single page, which everyone involved must have a copy of as a first step. 

Own the applications that are emerging as the new essentials for employee experience. There are vital areas inside an organization that the HR department should be responsible for when it comes to technology, namely listening to the voice of the employee and understanding sentiment via employee experience technologies. 

“These are the nudge engines that help people figure out what they should do in their work in a given moment. They might even be learning tools [for] using an application and there’s a little bit of guidance built into the application because we want to develop the right attitudes and digital skills for workers as they use technology,” said Preset. HR also needs to focus on using tech to communicate with staffers and create virtual events in the age of hybrid work.  

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Share your wisdom about change management. HR knows which workers are the early adopters of technology, who don’t have an allegiance to a particular way of doing things. “They just want to know the right way according to what’s current,” said Preset.

But there may be others who balk at adopting new technologies and methods of accomplishing tasks, and HR and IT need to work together “to figure out how [to reach] the people who don’t want to embrace change,” he said. “How do we get them to keep their skills fresh and remain relevant in our organization?”

Consciously deploy your power to shape the digital workplace. HR leaders should jettison the idea that they don’t have power when confronted with resistance to change. Preset cited the book The Creative Power by William Smith that discusses three different kinds of power: Control Power, which is telling people what to do; Influence Power to convince someone to do the right thing; and Appreciative Power, which respects the struggles that everyone tends to have in their daily lives and work.  

“Human resources, almost more than any other part of the organization, understands how to use influence and appreciation in order to achieve results and dissolve that resistance to change,” he says. 

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Cultivate the relationship between HR, facilities and IT. “Constantly checking in, resolving any conflicts and making sure everyone’s on the same page is where HR can take a leadership role and help coordinate and coalesce real action around cresting the digital workplace,” said Preset. 

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Creating a digital workplace requires a strategy, according to Preset. An organization cannot buy it, but it can plan it, enable it with applications and support it with infrastructure. 

“A successful digital workplace depends on a close partnership between human resources, information technology and facilities management. Employees will experience digital workplace via different but interconnected activity hubs,” says Preset. “HR should partner take responsibility, share your wisdom, use your power and build relationships.” 

Phil Albinus is HR Tech Editor for HRE. He has been covering personal and business technology for 25 years and has served as editor and executive editor for a number of financial services, trading technology and employee benefits titles. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and lives in the Hudson Valley with his audiologist wife and three adult children. He can be reached at palbinus@lrp.com and followed on Twitter @philalbinus.