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Digital technology is taking over our lives both at home and at work. It can release us from the drudgery of industrial age work, but we need to take control – and communicators will be at the forefront of that.

This was the message from Elizabeth Marsh of DWG (the Digital Workplace Group) who led the opening session at IoIC Live 2015.

Under the title of ‘The Digital Renaissance of Work’, she led a workshop discussing the issues around the digital workplace from how to lead the digital revolution to the price we pay for technological advances.

“How we live and work is being changed fundamentally by technology, “ said Elizabeth (pictured above) at the start of the first IoIC live session at the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

“Everyone has an opportunity to be a digital leader and that’s particularly true of communicators – to show where we can go with digital and to model it.

“When I look at my smartphone and realise it has the same computing power as the NASA super-computer that landed man on the moon in 1969, it’s quite amazing.

“We have this industrial age notion of work as drudgery but digital is transforming it to be more fulfilling and giving us control.

“We’re really just at the start and we need to understand what does that mean for us?”

Elizabeth stressed that digital is making the workplace reinvent itself and changing the way we work.

“We’re breaking away from the industrial age of working in fixed teams and man as part of the machine,” she said.

“We can now work across different teams and geographical areas, so we’re learning to build trust in the digital environment.”

Subjects covered included the future jobs (“47% of jobs will be automated in the next 20 years – but we face a digital skills gap. Our traditional notion of fixed jobs is going to be broken apart” and leaders (“Very few leaders have social media accounts – but if your customers are there and your employees are there, how can they follow you if you aren’t there?”)

She also talked about the price we may pay for digital tools, saying: “Against the benefits there are down sides like isolation, digital addiction - if we can work at any time where are the boundaries?”

Education also needs to progress – “Our education system is still very much industrial-based, although it's changing. It's not just learning digital skills – as technology moves on, problem-solving and innovation become critical.”

However, she said some things don’t change and the digital workplace simply means we’re now using digital tools to get work done.

In a similar vein, she stressed that communicators still needed great basic communication skills, they just had to adapt them to the new workplace.

“Digital will become almost invisible as it becomes embedded in every aspect of your life,” she said. “It’s part of your role to remain restless and see what’s next in digital and how you relate that back to the organisation and what users really need. It won’t auto-evolve any more – you need to say ‘I’m in control now’.”

What does it mean to be a digital communicator?

  • The core skills are the same – you need to be a good communicator.
  • You need digital channels
  • You need data and insight about what you’re doing
  • Be a digital leader
  • Be a facilitator and moderator
  • Be a curator and connector
  • Be able to navigate internal and external comms
  • Understand culture and behaviour of your organisation
  • Humanise work
  • Understand strategy and business focus
  • Coach and mentor
  • Navigate the generation gap
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Have user-centred design
  • Use storytelling and visualisation

Elizabeth Marsh has made her presentation slides available here
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