Digital Workplaces article by Rachel Oates

Should You Implement A Digital Workplace?

I’ve been talking a lot recently about the whole concept of a digital workplace, but does your business need one?

Here are the benefits and weaknesses of working in a digital workplace, and the opportunities it can bring for your business:

The Benefits of a Digital Workplace

One of the key benefits of a digital workplace is that, through tools such as cloud storage and file sharing, employees have more flexibility in where and when they work. This has led to increasing numbers of people choosing to work from home a number of days a week.

Allowing employees to work from home can be can be great for businesses; studies have shown that by giving employees more freedom to choose their schedule, work pace and environment while working,they are more likely to report higher levels of job satisfaction and be more engaged with their work (Oldham & Da Silva, 2015).

Similarly, digital workplaces can lead to more collaborative work as teams no longer need to be in the same place to have meetings. Video conferencing, for example, means that employees all over the world can share ideas at the same time regardless of whether they’re working from home, the office or in another country.

For this reason, a digital workplace can increase efficiency and be cost effective, because of reduced travel time, and increase creative collaborations.

Digital Workplace by Rachel Oates

Further research also suggests that even being offered the possibility of telecommuting is desirable to potential employees, Herrera et al (2012) report that 64% of employees would opt for a lower paying job if they could work away from the office. Therefore, by offering these kinds of benefits it is possible that an organisation could open itself up to more and better candidates for jobs.

Moreover, a physical space is always needed to foster creativity. Some evidence suggests that because digital workplaces make knowledge sharing easier and resources, such as graphics, documents and data, more available, employees have more opportunities to think and work creatively using ‘unique and potentially diverse information from a variety of sources’ (Oldham & Da Silva, 2015, p.7).

Butler (2003), similarly, talks about how digital tools such as wikis and blogs can be useful because they can be updated in real-time to contain all the latest information.

So to summarise:

  • Employees have more flexibility over where they work
  • Employees have increased levels of job satisfaction
  • More collaborations without the constraints of distance or cost
  • Work is more efficient and cost-effective
  • More desirable to employees so you’ll have better job candidates
  • Knowledge and resource sharing is easier

The Weaknesses of a Digital Workplace

There are disadvantages to telecommuting; by working away from the office the employee risks being more easily distracted, particularly without supervisors constantly around to motivate them and keep them focused.

Oldham & Da Silva (2015) also suggest that as telecommuting and the digital workplace start to break down the boundaries between work and home life, this can lead to increased psychological stress for employees. This has been known to decrease the quality of their work and reduce creativity.

There are also a number of issues associated with the large amounts of information which can be shared via digital workplaces. For example, the sheer quantity of information available can be overwhelming; this can lead to difficulties knowing what information to use and what to ignore or too much time being wasted sorting through old knowledge, instead of coming up with new ideas.

digital workplaces can include too much information to sort through

Furthermore, while up-to-date information is extremely useful, it relies heavily on the assumption that workers will continue to keep it up to date and that the information they include will be correct, neither of which can be guaranteed. Therefore, when looking to expand in the future it might be worth considering ways in which organisations can invest in methods of filtering and sorting through large qualities of information; for example, by ensuring wikis and blogs have good search functions and that all posts contain relevant tags or are categorised in the correct place.

To summarise:

        • Employees could be easily distracted when working away from the office
        • Breaking down boundaries between work and home can lead to increased psychological stress and reduced creativity
        • What is too much information is shared? How do we figure out what is relevant and what is just a distraction?
        • What is the information isn’t kept up to date? Plus, if anyone can add information, how do you ensure a high standard is upheld and that all info is correct?

How Will Things Develop in the Future?

Evidence suggests that some organisations may be starting to pay attention to the issues associated with working from home, as demonstrated by Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer who banned working from home in order to try and increase idea generation in the office.

A 2015 article posits arguments which may support her actions by claiming that a well-designed physical workplace is the key to creative working as it provides space for ‘spontaneous creativity… where businesses gather; share resources, ideas, and concepts; and socialize as well as work’ (pp.756-7). However, I’m not personally convinced that her idea was a good one… I feel an outright ban of working from home was only ever going to annoy and inconvenience employees – a reduction could have worked but perhaps the all or nothing approach isn’t the best?

When looking to the future, maybe digital workplaces aren’t the way forward, but rather workspaces which combine both physical and digital elements with fewer personal desks and more collaborative areas.

Digital Workplaces article by Rachel Oates

London-based start-up Hubble are currently working towards a similar concept. At present, they rent co-working office space; a number of the offices they rent out are shared by multiple businesses. They claim this aims to ‘proactively encourage networking and collaboration between businesses working within the space’ and ‘provide instant connections with other people working in similar or completely different industries and can lead to some exciting business opportunities’ (Jesso, 2015).

This takes Andert & Alexaki’s idea of creative collaborations between departments to a whole new level by introducing the possibility of collaborations between people working for entirely different companies, potentially in entirely different fields.

So what do you think about digital workplaces – a good idea or a passing fad? Let me know in the comments!

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