9 Ways to Build a Digital Workplace That Works

woman working on laptop

Brooke Cagle/Unsplash

Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Our work world is changing. This is in part due to the pandemic, which caused many businesses to shutter the doors of their physical locations, at least temporarily. But even before, some organizations and individual workers no longer went into a brick-and-mortar location every weekday. 

The digital workplace has become the new norm. But creating an effective one requires effort beyond simply conducting your business remotely. Wondering how to implement a digital workplace that works? Here are nine key strategies.

What is a digital workplace?

Simply put, a digital workplace is a setting in which people do their jobs entirely remotely, rather than going into an office or other physical location. Employees are able to access their work and collaborate with one another through digital, often cloud-based platforms.

The idea is that employers provide employees with the tools they need to effectively complete their work without having to go into a brick-and-mortar workplace. They can access their work from practically anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection and a device. Employers, meanwhile, give them access to necessary programs and platforms, as well as cybersecurity tools and measures to keep the entire company safe and secure.

In many cases, a company might provide a cloud-based suite with all the necessary tools — known as the digital workplace. This is a streamlined structure that makes it more convenient for employees to have everything they need in one place. Others might have collections of tools across multiple platforms. Either form can be described as a digital workplace platform.

How does a digital workplace work?

A working, reliable device (usually a laptop) and internet connection are critical to a successful digital workplace. Many employers also provide security measures to protect their companies, including sensitive data and information to which employees might have access. VPNs and firewalls are some examples of protections employees might take, given that employees are accessing information from many different locations.

Effective collaboration is also instrumental in keeping the digital workplace running smoothly. As part of their digital toolkits, many employers provide platforms that facilitate stronger collaboration, such as Slack for chatting, cloud-based drives for sharing documents, video-conferencing tools like Zoom, project management software such as Trello, a content management system (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) software and more. 

In practice, digital workplaces usually end up being less costly to maintain than brick-and-mortar ones, saving both employers and employees money. Employers don’t need to pay for physical office space or the utilities and upkeep necessary, and employees save costs and time on their commutes.

In order to make the digital workplace run effectively and productively, employers must account for different scenarios and plan extensively. They need to consider both day-to-day operations and the bigger-picture, long-term goals. Along with collaboration and security, they must address areas including:

• Accessibility

• Communication

• Digital and IT support

• Employee engagement

• Flexibility 

• Operations

• Productivity

• Sharing of information

• Strategy

• User experience (UX)

What is digital productivity?

While the digital realm gives us plenty of opportunities. But it’s also rife with distractions. From social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to blogs to personal email, there are so many ways to avoid doing work.

Digital productivity is a skill and means of curbing those distractions and staying on tasks, even when we’re working entirely on our laptops. While it may sound exceedingly difficult to do this from home (and oversee it if you’re a manager), in fact, there is evidence to show that productivity increases when employees work from home. A Stanford University study found that working from home increased performance by 13%. Moreover, employees who worked from home reported higher work satisfaction.

But digital productivity still might not come as naturally to some as it does to others. If you’re looking for ways to increase productivity in the digital workplace, consider productivity apps to help you stay on task. For example, Offtime prevents you from accessing your most common distractions during periods you specify, meaning you won’t be able to view social media, games or whatever you use all too often when you’re supposed to be working. And that's just one of the many productivity tools available to help you work better.

Why do we need a digital workplace? 

Given today’s increasingly remote landscape, it’s probably clear just how necessary — and how beneficial — a digital workplace is. You know employees need at least the option of being able to work from home (in fact, many companies, including Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft, Salesforce and Slack have become at least partially remote long-term), and with that means of working comes the need for tools and structure.

The digital workplace encompasses these tools and the structure. It incorporates strategy, platforms for addressing workflow hiccups and facilitating stronger collaboration and a means of leveraging the greatest assets the internet gives us. It can strengthen working relationships by giving employees the tools for connecting with one another and completing their responsibilities efficiently.

Moreover, having this option can lead to additional benefits, such as improved retention and attracting new talent. Ultimately, employees end up more engaged, motivated and satisfied with their experience.

The digital workplace can also lead to stronger product and service outcomes. Because employees are more satisfied and engaged, their work will more than likely benefit, meaning better outcomes. Happier employees, after all, equal better work.

And don’t forget about the cost savings — another important benefit.

9 ways to build a digital workplace that works

1. Establish a policy.

Every productive and efficient workplace starts with a solid well-thought-out policy. Even if you already have a policy for your general work environment, a digital workplace requires a separate, distinct policy governing the procedures and expectations. In the digital workplace policy, define your business goals and describe the measures employees and managers are expected to take in order to support them while working remotely.

Make sure the policy is accessible to all employees. It’s a good idea to have them sign off that they have read and understood the rules and procedures governing the digital workplace. 

2. Work with leaders in all departments.

Ideally, you would get input from all employees on their needs and wants, including the specific tools they need for doing their jobs well, even off-site. In a larger organization, though, you might work with the leaders of each department, so they can serve as representatives for their teams and inform you about what they need to support initiative, creativity and the general workflow.

In order to ensure you’re addressing major needs that might not be vocalized by leaders, consider distributing a survey to all employees. While it might not be possible to meet every single concern or matter raised, you will probably be able to identify overarching trends.

3. Identify hiccups in your existing workflow.

Have you been mainly utilizing an in-person workplace? The digital workplace may seem like an entirely different beast, but in actuality, there is a lot of overlap. That doesn’t mean you can simply move everything that was occurring in-person to an online environment, but it does mean that the issues that were already in place will more than likely transfer to the digital workplace, too.

In order to prevent hiccups in your existing workflow from entering your digital workplace, make sure to spot them so you can address them before they interfere with your new structures and systems.

4. Prioritize collaboration.

A collaborative environment is critical to any workplace, but it’s absolutely paramount to a digital workplace. When you’re not seeing colleagues in person on a day-to-day basis, you need to provide a forum and tools for them to work together to get the job done.
A digital workplace should include a variety of tools to support strong collaboration, such as:

• Project management platforms

• Chat tools

• Video-conferencing

• Document and file sharing

There are many brands and options for each of these important platforms, so take some time to evaluate your options and determine which tools will best encourage and facilitate collaboration at your workplace.

5. Incentivize.

Chances are, many employees will be eager to embrace the digital workplace. But not everyone will jump on board immediately. In order to encourage buy-in, come up with ways to incentivize employees. Try, for example, a gamified approach to onboarding, such as awarding points when employees grasp a new tool or method or are able to effectively use a platform in practice.

Or, you might offer token prizes when, say, an employee contributes a valuable idea or is instrumental in advancing the team and their approach to solving problems.

6. Get the right tools for the job.

Finding the specific tools you need to keep your digital workplace running smoothly requires a considerable amount of research. Use that input from employees and department managers to find out what types of tools they need to do their jobs. If you have an IT team, work with them, too, to determine what is necessary for your workplace. You'll also need to conduct plenty of independent research, perusing the options available, reading reviews and testimonials and learning about the various features of your choices.

7. Conduct training sessions.

You can't expect your team members to adapt to a digital workplace immediately, especially if they're not used to working remotely at all. Since they will be using technologies, many of which are new to them, help them become accustomed to this style of and forum for work by offering thorough training sessions. This will facilitate a smoother transition and ensure that they feel comfortable and confident in their abilities to leverage the necessary tools for getting the job done.
You should also establish a methodology for dealing with issues that arise to prevent employees from getting frustrated. Give them point people to go to when something goes wrong, so they know how to receive help in a timely manner.

8. Ask for feedback.

We touched on surveying employees about their needs and wants when implementing a digital workplace. It’s also important to assess how you’re doing by asking them for feedback along the way. Not only will this help you identify issues that need improvement, but it will also ensure that your employees feel seen and heard. This, in turn, will make them feel more valued — and valuable. They are, after all, an integral part (the very foundation) of your digital workplace, and their input will prove critical to improving your workflow.

9. Keep improving.

A digital workplace, like any workplace, is constantly evolving. Recognize that there is always room for improvement, no matter how efficiently your current workplace seems to be running. Search for ways to make things even better — that's the cornerstone of a positive work environment.

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.