Digital Workplace Adoption: We’re in This for the Long Haul

Originally published on CMSwire. Achieving consistently high levels of staff adoption of digital workplace tools is not an easy process. Part of the problem is that expectations tend to focus on short-term quantifiable metrics — such as how many times staff have logged in, read, shared or created content — as an indicator of ongoing success. This is all well and good, but a hidden tension remains between wanting tangible evidence that your investment is being used as you originally planned for, and of the time it takes to see its full potential realized.

Troughs and Plateaus of the Digital Workplace

Goals such as encouraging staff engagement, or increasing productivity are hard to achieve in a short space of time. Gartner’s famous hype-cycle chart comes to mind here — it illustrates the peaks and troughs of overinflated expectations, not just when introducing new technologies, but also digital workplaces. Initially, businesses set expectations unrealistically high, then soon after launch, managers and staff find themselves in the “trough of disillusionment.” Much later — if they’re lucky — they’ll gather the momentum to reach the “plateau of productivity.” The problem here is two-fold. First, businesses hold a mistaken belief that technology by itself will magically bring about change. Secondly, digital workplace technologies can potentially bring about benefits such as encouraging better communication, knowledge sharing and collaboration between staff. The rub is that this only happens with a lot of effort, and takes time to accomplish. For example, achieving higher levels of collaboration amongst staff involves a lot of planning, training, communication and encouragement along the way — not to mention strong leadership and a company culture that embraces change. To complicate things further, trying to precisely quantify (and measure) how staff collaborate, communicate and share knowledge with one another is very tricky.

What Possibilities Do These Tools Open Up?

People work in a number of ways. Ask a group of colleagues to create a piece of content, and you’re guaranteed to witness various approaches. Some prefer using new tools, while others may tend to stick to what they know. Sometimes an entirely new creative approach can become clear, that might influence an entirely different way of working. It’s not that you shouldn’t try to measure and quantify all of this. But you need to make an even stronger case about the new possibilities these technologies and tools can bring about. What new processes will they help create? What will happen once having more staff closely collaborating with one another? What will happen if more expertise is connected throughout the business? These are hard arguments to make, especially without past precedents to rely upon. Or because managers want a timeline of when they can expect changes. Instead, staff and managers alike need to try things out for themselves prior to deciding whether they are successful or not.

A Flexible Definition of Benefits

More debates need to take place about what wider possibilities digital workplace tools can open. For example, companies that invest in infrastructure like Microsoft’s Office 365 quite rightly want to see tangible, up front financial savings such as those gained by moving away from expensive hardware and its associated maintenance and support costs — otherwise why make such huge investments in the first place? However, setting too precise expectations early on of how such investments will improve things like staff productivity can be counterproductive. Being able to work more flexibly and away from the office is one potential benefit, but it would be dangerous to base an exact financial case against such an improvements prior to giving the staff time to test it out. The same is true for digital workplace technology. Much of what these technologies help bring about takes time. The trick then is establishing expectations of potential benefits early on, while at the same time, giving each individual business function the ability to decide what those benefits are in reality, and to define success accordingly. This means having the flexibility to recognize that different aspects of what a business does — be it marketing, finance or customer support — will want different things from the same networking technology platforms. Some will focus on producing knowledge, others will focus on standardizing processes, still others will rely on consistent and timely customer data on the shop floor. Therefore adoption curves — ones that increases in value over time unlike the variable peaks and troughs of Gartner’s hype-cycle — will differ from one business function to another. Not everyone will be at the same level or have an equal expectation of what they can achieve through it at the same time.

Developing the Long-Term View

A realistic approach to adoption therefore requires a nuanced understanding of the goals of each part of a business and related staff. It also means keeping a flexible approach rather than quantifying everything from a single overall business perspective. How will these tools enhance how each group of staff work? And in their own way be more effective, efficient and produce better quality output? Likewise, business managers need a long term vision of the new possibilities these investments should help bring about, instead of expecting an immediate effect. In practice, this means moving away from a set of generic success measures for the entire platform, and towards focusing on what these tools and technologies can do to help staff work more productively. After all these tools and technologies are designed specifically for staff to use. One way of achieving this is to create a number of unique personas that encapsulate common motivations staff have when interacting with each other via a digital workplace. An example would be using a powerful people directory so staff can find an expert to help them solve a problem, or pinpoint an expert to advise on the best way to review a piece of content. Personas used in this way will focus your adoption strategy around how these technologies will make your staff more effective in how they work. It’s about raising the bar of what’s possible to achieve across your entire organization, from the perspective of what your staff need to make them more effective. For some businesses, this will mean being braver about technology investment — one where the potential benefits must be worked at — where you measure success by more than just counting clicks. To do that will put you in a much better position to secure your digital workplace’s long-term future.