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Peter Haigh, Customer Success at Huddle, discusses the potential and challenges of the digital workplace, and why internal communicators must fight for a place on the deployment team introducing collaboration technology.

Talk to any internal enterprise IT team and they will tell you that one of the many debates going on in their industry at the moment is how to define and implement the ‘digital workplace’. It might seem like an entirely IT-orientated initiative, but its realisation depends on internal communication.

What is the digital workplace?

The digital workplace is the encapsulation of the ideal model for the way a modern business should operate. At the most basic level, it entails data-driven operations, where teams can work together even when not physically co-located and where employees are afforded access to the files, documents and data that they need, no matter where they are and through a range of suitable connected devices. Fundamentally, it is a business strategy for promoting employee effectiveness through a more consumer-like environment.

Outside of work, our ability and willingness to use digital forms of communication is second nature. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — we use these tools to share content and have conversations with our families and friends quickly, easily and in real-time. But in the workplace, we are typically forced to resort to working with our teams through email. Sharing information and files from person to person, and inefficiently gathering feedback over the course of days or weeks — processes that undermine productivity and effectively cost the business money.

The digital workplace is the antidote to this all-too-common inefficiency, and at its centre is a single concept: collaboration.

In truth, the scope of the digital workplace is enormous. It encompasses the tools we use to talk to each other and share information, to notify our teams where we are, and even where the company’s information is stored — plus multiple other technologies and initiatives. It is therefore easy to lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of the digital workplace is simple: to make processes more efficient in both time or cost — which means that inclusive and real-time collaboration has to sit at its very heart.

Enabling collaboration

The problem is, many enterprises believe that the existence of dedicated ‘collaboration technology’ or ‘collaboration platforms’ means that collaboration can be enabled simply be parachuting in a highly functional piece of technology and then simply training the workforce on which buttons to press. But this is to hugely underestimate both the importance of collaboration and the difficulty of successfully achieving it.

And this is where the internal communications teams can help.

A successful collaboration project — and therefore success in deploying the foundations of the digital workplace — relies on employees understanding and agreeing with the original objectives and intentions behind it. Are you trying to make internal co-operation easier, whether within or across teams? Or is this focused on external collaboration? What’s the ultimate measure of success? Reduction in costs? Streamlined processes? Essentially, if the reasons for the new technology are not appreciated or communicated with the wider organisation, then it is destined to be just another under-used tool.

There are two central factors that run through every one of the multiple success stories in collaboration technology deployments. Regardless of sector, company size or structure, success has hinged upon the goals being transparently clear from the outset, and the workforce understanding that the use of the platform complemented the current or future company culture.

Role of the internal communication team

Clearly, this means that the internal communications team has a critical role. They need to demonstrate why the platform is being deployed; how success will be identified; and how the introduction of the technology is less a dramatic change to working practices and more the logical next step in the evolution of the company’s culture and achievement of its goals.

The alternative is employees believing that the technology is superfluous. The mistaken belief that “I have email on my mobile — why do I need this?” can easily take root, and such a negative reaction can become pervasive very quickly and easily. And once such opposition begins, it is very hard to reverse. The internal communication team’s work is therefore most crucial both before the deployment starts — sharing the reasons for the platform’s introduction and how it matches the company’s culture and goals — and during the very beginning of the project.

The first days of the deployment are the most sensitive and precarious. Even a single problem or minor fault with the deployment can easily cause a user to completely dismiss the entire system. Internal communications therefore has to work closely with the deployment team to keep ahead of any unrest caused by teething problems.

Getting on the deployment team

This might mean that the internal communications team has to fight for a role in the deployment in the first place. The deployment team for such a ubiquitous technology will naturally include IT and usually HR as it will often affect remote working policies. Depending on the nature of the business, compliance or security teams might be drawn in and often marketing and PR are brought on board in order to ensure the platform’s branding and messaging are accurate. There is therefore a danger that the need for the internal communications team is overlooked. Given its importance in the success of the deployment, this cannot be permitted.

New collaboration platforms that underpin and simplify everyday operations and ways of working are undoubtedly beneficial, but they require behavioural change. And behavioural change cannot be achieved through the introduction of new technology alone. It needs to be guided and even coaxed, requiring careful and well-planned messages that explain the reasons behind the technology, how problems will be overcome and how the company culture will be improved or the status quo maintained.

Finally, once users realise the benefits, these need to be communicated to the wider organisation. Individual teams and departments can become case studies that can encourage wider adoption.

So while the selection of the right technology might enable enterprise collaboration, it is the internal communications team that makes it achievable. Technology alone is not a cure-all, and is in fact the fastest route to adoption failure. But collaboration technology allied with a measured and proactive internal communications strategy can lead to the digital workplace — and all the benefits it brings — becoming a very real possibility.

Huddle is a cloud-based collaboration software company that enables organisations to securely store, access, share, sync and work on files whenever and wherever they need, working both with employees and external partners as required.
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