Thoughts (and Questions) from Digital Workplace Experience 2018

June 2018

I’m just back from spending the past three days attending the second Digital Workplace Experience conference put on by Simpler Media (owners of CMSWire) and the Digital Workplace Group. While the number of attendees nearly doubled from last year, it still remained an intimate and engaging gathering of professionals, vendors, and thought-leaders active in the digital workplace space. The lineup of industry leaders was headlined by Dion Hinchcliffe and Brian Solis this year, with many more great presenters and storytellers — such as Paul Miller, Brice Dunwoodie, Rita Zonius, Chris McNulty, and a host of others — sharing their experiences and ideas throughout the two days of keynotes and breakouts and the preceding day of workshops.

It was great to share and learn with companies such as Hershey, Liberty Mutual, Walmart, H&R Block, 3M, B&Y Melon, Pandora, and Ellie Mae to just name some that presented. This strong representation from actual practitioners is what I think makes DWX a great conference. There is of course a fair amount of sponsor involvement throughout the conference, which is needed to help pay the bills, but DWX once again put a refreshing spin on the typical vendor expo scene.

As I did last year, instead of sharing the main learnings I took away from the event, I’d like to instead ask a few questions that I think give an indication of where we are at as an industry and hopefully give some ideas on how we might tackle these issues.

  1. Why can’t we get funding and priority?
  2. Will we ever reach a consensus definition of what the digital workplace is?
  3. Are we doing “good”?

Let’s dive in.

Lack of Funding and Priority

These aren’t new issues, and they unsurprisingly came back from the pre-conference State of the Digital Workplace survey and report as the number one and two challenges digital workplace teams face. I don’t think we are alone in thinking that our teams aren’t big enough or that we need more funding and higher prioritization to get projects done faster (or at all in some cases). It would be hard to come across anyone in any area of your organization that didn’t want more money and higher prioritization (even the top efforts have budget and prioritization issues).

My take on this issue is three-fold: make do with what you have, frame-up your efforts around solving business problems, and show value in what you are able to deliver. Making do with what you have is maybe a bit counterintuitive but I think it comes from my days of doing business continuity and disaster recovery planning — I could spend any amount of money I was given and there would still be work to be done to make the company more resilient. The same is true for our digital workplaces — a blank check won’t solve all your problems.

I’m a big proponent of clearly defining outcomes instead of outputs. This will aid in making efforts more tangible, understandable, and relatable to decision makers and check writers in your organization. When you start out by identifying a business outcome, it also makes it a lot easier to show value and the realization of benefits from your efforts as well.

Maybe this next topic also plays into why it’s hard to get executives to buy in to digital workplace initiatives.

Defining the Digital Workplace

This was actually part of the focus of my breakout session and a topic I’ve blogged about previously. While I didn’t come out and offer a specific definition of the digital workplace, I did talk about what I believe are five key characteristics of it and more importantly I discussed how those have impacts beyond just technology to people and processes. My intent was to get us thinking and talking about the digital workplace in much broader terms than intranets, internal social, and the occasional chat bot. So, in a way it was a part of the “how do you define digital workplace” conversation that was fairly prevalent and mentioned more times than I would care to try to keep track of.

Was there a consensus? Nope. I don’t think we are going to get to one soon, and honestly, I hope we don’t. When we get to the point where we have a consensus definition, this space will be dead. Our inability to define the digital workplace speaks volumes to the ever evolving and growing landscape of ideas, methods, technologies, and services that are currently flourishing. Let’s relish in this beautiful ambiguity and use it to initiate positive change in the places where we work. Which leads me to my final topic…

Ethical Concerns

The most thought-provoking conversation I had over the course of the conference, not surprisingly, came about over sharing food and drinks with some of my fellow Digital Workplace Group members and leaders. We started talking about how children are seemingly addicted to technology and were giving opinions on whether or not that was just somewhat concerning or drastically bad. But honestly, our children are following the examples we set. And as digital workplace practitioners we are designing and deploying engaging, enjoyable experiences within the tools we provide our users for the purpose of — more likely than not — hoping that will make them more productive workers. We measure engagement to determine how effective we are at this because engagement is a key indicator of whether or not an employee will give discretionary effort, i.e., more effort than we are paying them for.

So, are we doing good or are we feeding into what is already a rather toxic work environment where knowledge workers are expected to catch up on emails at night from home, put in a good two to four hours over the weekend to prepare for the upcoming week, and be available and productive at any time through their mobile phone? Frontline customer-facing employees don’t have it much better. They are not typically afforded time in their scheduled, regimented work day to read up on company announcements, explore training and learning opportunities, reach out to distant coworkers just to catch up, or to think about ways to make processes more efficient.

I’d like to think, and hope, that we are indeed doing good. We can’t lose sight of our bigger goals, however, or it will be easy to slip down the wrong path of over-promoting the use of digital tech for the sole betterment of the corporation over the individual.

In Closing

DWX18 was a huge success and registration is already open for next year’s event which will be held again in Chicago at the same venue. I’m looking forward to attending and catching up with everyone. DWX provides more opportunities to learn from and network with other professionals in the digital workplace field than what I’ve seen in any other stateside event. I’m excited to see what another year of growth and maturity will bring to this space.

Additional conference resources and recaps:

The Twitter Feed


YouTube Channel

DWX19 Registration

And most informatively, The State of the Digital Workplace 2018 Report

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