Building Effective Digital Workplaces | Gagen MacDonald

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Building Effective Digital Workplaces

Aug 23, 2022

The rapid advance of technology, global economic pressures and changes to ways of working over the last few years all call for the application of human-centric practices in three critical digital dimensions:

  • Digital workplaces
  • Emerging experiences
  • Digital transformations

Our three-part series, Pioneering People Strategies for a Digital Business World, will cover how we are forging that path to help large, complex organizations adapt and stay competitive as they build robust, digital-first cultures.

Building Effective Digital Workplaces

When you wake up in the morning and begin the workday, is your first instinct to look at your phone?

If you’re like millions across the world, chances are you start working long before you enter your home office, or show up at your organization’s sparsely populated offices. With most knowledge workers now working remotely 50 percent of the time, the digital workplace is where and how most work gets done today.

What comprises the digital workplace?

This is how Gartner describes it:

The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.

Pre-pandemic, companies often competed for talent by providing trendy physical spaces in the best locations with fun perks. In today’s remote reality, the urgent focus must include providing seamless digital experiences that reduce friction (app-switching and disorganized documentation protocols, for example), increase focus and build community.

An intuitive, streamlined digital experience is well worth the investment. According to a 2021 Qualtrics study, employees are “230% more engaged and 85% more likely to stay beyond three years if they feel they have technology that supports them.”

Yet in report after report, most employees don’t feel the technology they work with every day effectively supports them.


Gartner’s research points directly at improperly planned digital workplace solutions. Ironically, these often worsen the productivity issues they’re supposed to help solve. When they do, it’s usually due to:

  • Digital friction — when technology gets in the way instead of making things easier. For example, when you have to switch between multiple apps to complete a single task.
  • Information overload — the feeling of having too much information to consciously process. With more written communications being sent than ever before — not to mention more workstreams, devices and apps for employees to track — this has become a far more urgent issue to address during remote and hybrid work.
  • Absence of community and togetherness — physical workplaces used to provide countless opportunities for impromptu, casual connection between coworkers. In virtual collaboration, these moments need to be very deliberately cultivated to keep happening, and many businesses are still struggling to execute them well.
  • Burnout — due to all the above, and often a lack of separation between home and work life.

There are, however, emerging ways to address these issues.

Simplify the Digital Toolset

The Rise of “CommTech” & People Analytics

For years, marketers have had a “MarTech” stack of platforms and tools to optimize their work and prove ROI. In today’s distributed workforce reality, where communication, clarity and a strong employee experience are so vital, organizational leaders and corporate communicators now recognize they need similar tools to deliver on their internal communication objectives: digital tools and data analytics to publish, personalize and measure the impact of their communications.

Personalization and targeted communications delivered through strategically designed CommTech tools simplify processes, reduce information overload, democratize communications and enrich the employee experience. The ability to personalize and target is achieved through technology tools that gather key employee data and, in the most effective cases, use Machine Learning (ML) to automatically learn about employee behaviors and further personalize content and distribution. For example, communication platforms such as FirstUp can identify when, where and how an employee checks their email, and over time learn the best day, the best time and the best device on which to reach individual employees. You might think of Joe in Accounting who tends to turn off email notifications and barely open his email the last few days of each month so that he can focus on closing the books. In that case, the algorithm would notice that pattern and automatically schedule an important email from the communications team to arrive after month-end.

By blending the right technology, leaders can ethically track every action an employee takes within digital workplace tools — such as what links employees click on, when they scroll, what they type, how long they view content, where they stop a task, what days and times they are most engaged with content, what devices they use and a lot more. That data can help continuously improve communication effectiveness.

Beyond “CommTech” deployment, this new level of data analytics gives rise to even more insight and chances to optimize. Not only can we use data to improve employee communications, but data collection and analysis can also be used to inform employee engagement strategies – for example, insights can be synthesized from after-hours usage metrics like meetings, emails and instant messages to predict burnout and recommend interventions.

Further, new digital workplace experiences use surveys at multiple points in the employee journey — more frequently than onboarding and exit surveys or monthly assessments — to continuously and quickly gather employee sentiment and loop in feedback to adjust in real-time. It’s still up to leaders to use the data they collect, and to use it fairly. Employees will stop participating if they feel their opinions have no impact, or worse yet, if the survey is supposed to be anonymous but they later find out it wasn’t. The technology tools provide a foundation for staying in more active, two-way conversations with your employees. Consistent processes and governance must be followed to ensure their success.

In short, to stay competitive, organizations must assemble digital workplaces that simplify the employee experience; reduce friction and information overload; foster community; and create a sense of belonging.

At Gagen, our approach to creating engaging digital workplaces is to first determine the business and technical requirements at play through a digital workplace maturity assessment. This assessment guides clients through articulating their current state and outlining a tangible and feasible future state roadmap that links to their corporate strategy. Based on over two decades of culture and transformation expertise, we take a human-centric approach focused on how to connect workers across devices, business units, locations and generations in the workforce. Increasingly, this approach blends our understanding of emerging technologies with our ability to transform cultures and our expertise in employee communications. Our close collaborations with vendors like FirstUp, Unily, Howspace, WorkVivo, Innovisor and others simplify and accelerate our ability to move from assessment to planning to implementation of these digital workplace initiatives.

In the second post in this series, we’ll explore the rapidly evolving category of Emerging Experiences where employers are experimenting with richly immersive experiences using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools to create new employee environments for our remote and hybrid world.

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