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Enabling Communication in the Digital Workplace – I.T’s Role in a Brave New World

In the age of the digital workplace, I.T has a key role to play in enabling communication among an increasingly geographically diverse and flexible workforce.


What is the digital workplace?

It is a reality, not a dream destination. A place where people have the freedom to work as teams or as individuals, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, not just a buzzword.

What’s more the digital workplace represents a brave new world. A world where technology has provided us with the us with the ability for people to work in a way that makes sense to them and to their lifestyles.

The idea of work/life balance goes away and work/life integration takes its place. There is now no reason why knowledge workers should be tied to their desks all day.

But, enabling the digital workplace involves both managerial change and technological innovation. It’s important at the outset to understand that these two aspects have to work in tandem; an IT policy that doesn’t have HR backing up cultural change can only achieve so much, and the same is true vice versa.


So, what is I.T’s role in enabling the digital workplace?



First, it’s important to look at the managerial and human resources side.

This has to underpin the technology, there is no point in putting in collaborative structures for communication if the company ethos still favours information silos and narrow fields of communication.

In the brave new world of the digital workplace employee engagement is key – what’s more, it is expected to become a shared metric between I.T and HR in 80% of companies by 2020.

With this in mind, the role of I.T in the digital workplace is to partner with HR, so that the department can understand the needs of employees before implementing any new technology.


“I.T, more and more are having to listen to the millennial generation of workers’.
Richard Bywaters – Computacenter at UC Expo 2016


The CIO as a digital hero

CapGemini’s report, ‘The New Digital Workplace: Employee Productivity, Brand Image, Business Value’, sees a realignment of responsibilities as CIOs start to champion the digital world move further into a strategic role.

Furthermore, the CIO must shoulder the responsibility of ensuring that the company can meet the need for speed and roll-out new technologies, or scale existing technologies up or down as the business needs.


I.T working with HR to put people first

A number of established companies have taken the people-first attitude with notable success. The book The Smarter Working Manifesto shows how  Plantronics  embarked upon its digital journey with a survey of the staff rather than anything else.

As a result, it was able to consolidate three buildings into one and save a lot of money as a result, productivity increased and so did the staff’s intention to stay for longer than five years (from around 60% before they were able to work digitally to over 90% afterwards).

This was only achievable once it had ascertained exactly what its staff wanted and performed surveys on their homes and other workplaces to ensure that the business was feasible when performed in this way.


The importance of outcomes

It is also essential to train managers to manage by outcomes rather than presented time.

Digital workers are able to work from anywhere in the world.

This means first, that management by presenteeism is no longer feasible and secondly that digital workers need a system of feedback.

The CIO must play a key role in working with HR, becoming the power couple of the digital workplace, to understand the needs of employees, put the technology in place and then work with management to outline a new set of outcomes through which workers can be measured against.


Appealing to everyone

It’s  worth stressing that this isn’t just related to millennials. Philip Vanhoutte, former Vice President of EMEA Plantronics, was well into his fifties when he turned his entire organisation around to the smarter working ethos.

It benefited middle-aged people just as much as their younger counterparts.

The CIO’s role is in finding a solution that suits everyone. Some may prefer to work remotely at all times, others may prefer to physically ‘check-in’  to the office once or twice a week or a month, while others may be reluctant to ever leave the office.

The role of I.T in this situation is to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs. The digital workplace is about giving people freedom, not about dictating a new set of rules.



Before rushing to spend money on the smarter workplace, it’s worth checking on the equipment already available.

If the digital workplace is the hub of an organisation, offering all of the cloud services the company might require. Some, perhaps not all, of this capacity will already be in an organisation.

As long ago as 2011, a survey from Technikon, quoted in a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report identified a large number of elements businesses already had.

80% of companies offered their employees tablets or mobile phones – some sort of mobile technology, anyway. 90% planned to increase their investment in these technologies, 62% already conducted meetings through video conferencing and 54% engaged with their customers through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks.

The role of I.T moves towards a firm focus on communications in this model, and as technologies become more sophisticated and the choice widens, the focus must be on appearing increasingly seamless to all stakeholders.

Communications platforms should allow for an IM (individual or group) or social media based group discussion to elevate into a call and then to a video conference seamlessly, regardless of the operative’ physical location.

Pressures on the CIO will include the need to accommodate staff increasingly wanting to use their own devices and expecting corporate apps to support them. Given this and the need to make the right selections in terms of technology, finding the right partner is more important than ever.



The digital workplace is a major component of the smarter working mix. It combines HR and technology in a manner never possible before, to the benefit of everybody. And it involves the following starting points:

Survey the staff

Audit the equipment you have. Look at the hero technology you need

Talk to other companies that have done it.

Take regular feedback from staff and management regularly


  • The I.T. department in a digital workplace has to work with HR.
  • People need to come first, not technology.
  • Clear outcomes and measurements need to be put in place in the era of the digital workplace.


The time for digital workplace heroes is now. Are you ready to rise up and transform your organisation? Download Digital Workplace Heros – Your Time Is Now



About the author

Ryan O'Reilly is a progressive, visionary leader with 16 years operational experience of managing technical departments, deploying carrier grade IT and Telecommunication infrastructures and delivering world class hosting solutions. Ryan has proven success in defining operational and technical rollout strategies and leading high performance teams to exceed company objectives in highly pressurised, high pace working environments.

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