11 January 2016 | By Ian Roberts Community

Digital workplace, digital battlefield

Although there is an appetite for remote working, many companies struggle to implement it effectively

Two years ago when Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, decided that all employees were going to work from the office rather than from home, she received a barrage of criticism and was accused of taking the world of work back to the Stone Age.

The accepted wisdom is that companies that offer employees flexible working have lower staff turnover and greater productivity as a result of more motivated and engaged employees. It’s taken as a sign of a progressive company.  However, out in the real world, the majority of companies are not offering remote working at all.

Last year we commissioned a survey of chief information officers and IT decision makers in enterprises with over 2,000 employees and more than three quarters of these companies had remote working policies in place – yet they did not appear to encourage uptake among their staff.

Although the desire may be there, the legacy infrastructure and IT support base are not as developed as they need to be to implement it effectively.

So what’s going to change the way we work in the UK and deliver the improvements in productivity that our economy needs so desperately?  Is the “digital workplace” the answer or is this just the latest in a series of management buzzwords? More to the point what actually is the “digital workplace”?  

The Digital Workplace Group defines it as “the collection of all the digital tools provided by an organisation to allow its employees to do their jobs”. But it is often the employees who are acting as the driving force behind this concept: when it comes to technology they expect to be able to use what they have at home. 

In fact, the devices that companies give their staff and the functionality of their IT systems are often a major factor in worker satisfaction, or lack thereof. And our research shows that more than half of employees now bring their devices to work.  

But companies can’t leave them to it. Their employees expect to get the tech support they need, when they need it. And with more and more corporate information carried on these devices, companies must be more wary about security should they fall into the wrong hands.

Companies can get help to manage these issues, but they also need to respond to how we are all changing the way in which we work. Increasingly we go from project to project, working with different individuals in different teams, in different locations – with partners, suppliers and customers, as well as colleagues. If collaboration and communication are the watchwords of 21st Century working, then connectivity is the engine. 

Video and web conferencing are now within the reach of companies’ budgets. Virtual teams want instant access to information and documents. Corporate networks have to handle simultaneous voice, video and data communication, both in and outside the network.

Of course what has made the digital workplace achievable is the emergence of cloud computing which has made information both secure and accessible. 

Giving employees the ability to manage how they work, where and when – the ultimate purpose of the digital workplace – will deliver better productivity, innovation and improved working practices. But it demands that CIOs and their IT partners have a vision of what work could be and how it will be a major attraction in the war for talent, if they are to develop a competitive advantage as an employer in this digital landscape.