The Digital Workplace, SharePoint and Office 365

digital workplace is happening now
The digital workplace is happening now. Learn more about how you can integrate it at your office.

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The need for collaboration strategy and planning

Forbes describes the digital workplace as a collaboration space, a community and place to find and leverage corporate knowledge, which includes a collection of electronic tools that enable productive, efficient and effective work from anywhere. Organizations today are embracing the digital workplace as they search for ways to be efficient and more collaborative and to reduce their physical footprint while realizing higher levels of productivity within their workforce. For the purposes of this blog, we will be using the terms “digital workplace” and “collaboration” nearly synonymously.

As technology enables the world around us to become more nimble and flexible, forward-thinking companies are adapting and pushing themselves towards digital operating models. For many years we have all focused on the physical workplace, but today the digital workplace is coming into its own.

Before you begin the process of implementing a digital workplace strategy for your organization, it is important to better understand how collaboration tools have evolved and what current trends you should consider as you plan for a right sized digital workplace investment to best engage your employees.


The evolution of the digital workplace and collaboration technology


“If we could actually see the current digital work world encircling us, it would leave us breathless, given its reach, depth and moving parts; it would be not just a new continent but a new planet (only digital).”

            – Paul Miller, The Digial Workplace: How Technology is Liberating Work


Throughout my career I have watched collaboration tools rise from a buzzword to business differentiator to a business imperative. In 2001, I started at Microsoft Corporation and was introduced to SharePoint Team Services and SharePoint Portal Services (before the release of SharePoint 2003). I was asked to design Picture Libraries and later Slide Libraries as part of my role as a program manager. At that early point in my career, I quickly developed a love for improving collaboration tools and could immediately see the possibilities to create a more efficient, productive business community.

leaders meetingFast forward to 2014, many projects and a few career changes later, I still work to make collaboration tools better. Microsoft was not first to offer collaboration tools, but the early work in SharePoint was critical to the widespread adoption of collaboration tools.  As the SharePoint community moves forward, you hear less and less from Microsoft on the topic of intranets and portals.  Microsoft is moving towards Office 365, a cloud hosted, well-integrated digital workplace (a topic of a future post) that integrates SharePoint technologies, which are now simply called Sites, and many other services.

Why should you care?

In today’s ever moving business environment, business users in a company need to respond to competitive threats and opportunities much more quickly than in the past. Regardless of industry, time from business strategy to market entry and the ongoing ability to respond to changing customer demands are critical to remaining competitive and profitable.

Organizations can no longer afford to be operating with information and systems that are disconnected and must find ways to streamline communication channels, develop customer/employee feedback mechanisms and improve collaboration capabilities. In short, collaboration is needed at every level of the organization to effectively compete with peers. Industry leading organizations are well aware that the road to a digital and collaborative workplace requires a multi-faceted strategy to take into account these growing business complexities.

The challenge

Without a comprehensive approach toward digital workplace planning, including both process and technology, many companies struggle with misaligned projects to create a more collaborative and productive workplace though digital tools. Before companies begin implementing Office 365 or SharePoint collaboration technology to support the transition to a digital workplace, they must first understand the goals, objectives and purpose for such a transition.

New digital strategy roles within companies, growing adoption of integrated solutions like Office 365 and the shift to cloud-based services are examples digital proficiencies that are freeing companies from the burden to “run and maintain” IT and changing the focus to business centric IT which requires collaboration anywhere and everywhere. The importance of embracing such digital proficiencies as a cornerstone of corporate strategy

The opportunity – unifying your efforts

Collaboration is everywhere – every department, every person. Technology is the force that enables or hinders depending on an organization’s commitment to the advancement of their digital workplace.

The evolving technology landscape is changing the ways organizations, both large and small, collaborate across functions, geographies, disciplines and beyond. The current pace of technology evolution is historically unmatched and is creating unique challenges in how organizations plan their digital workplace strategy.

Many of the IT teams I talk to are swimming in projects, but unable to articulate the overarching strategy driving the work. Upgrades, system replacements, new types of tools are being done in a reactive manner. IT is struggling to maintain control of the business and decision making power is ambiguous.

meeting in a casual officeAs a consulting organization, we consider ourselves to be mostly platform agnostic. What we do recommend to our clients is that they move beyond siloed information systems by first focusing on the overall structure of their digital workplace. By first understanding how technology can better help you achieve your business goals and objectives, you can move one step closer to developing a strategy that supports and empowers people at all level of your organization.

For our clients, we do recommend a linear approach towards the initial planning and implementation of your digital workplace:

  1. Assess your current state of your business (technology and strategic goals)
  2. Analyze technology options with your business objectives in mind
  3. Create a multi-year technology roadmap with a phased approach for quick wins
  4. Integrate a social experience around work tasks
  5. Integrate your business enablement systems as closely as possible
  6. Enable your remote workers with flexible technology solutions
  7. Always measure and work to improve your digital workplace strategy to keep pace with evolving technology

While many executives and organizational leaders are intimidated by the sheer amount of planning and choices out there as they begin to embark on the creation of their digital workplace, the opportunity has never been riper to create an organizational community that fosters collaboration over isolation, productivity over disengagement, knowledge sharing over knowledge guarding.

A new world of collaboration is rising, which can empower us to be more proactive, engaging organizations; creating a highly functioning business community never before seen. Organizations can embrace this change and address it head on, or delay the inevitable and face the consequences of getting left behind by their peers!


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