Preconceived notions of what a digital workplace is and what it requires have hindered business processes and employees’ abilities to connect, communicate and collaborate.

Digital workspace and virtual collaboration.
Image: Adobe Stock

The pandemic rapidly accelerated the need for employees to improve their digital skills to be able to work effectively from a remote location. Now, this newfound digital dexterity is enabling IT leaders to develop ambitious visions about the future of work and digital transformation within their enterprises.

Yet in many organizations, the CIO and IT team’s vision for the digital workplace is neither shared nor understood by stakeholders across the enterprise. Preconceived notions of what a digital workplace is, how it can be deployed and how it uses technology inhibit progress.

Here are five of the most significant myths that CIOs and IT leaders face about the digital workplace, and the steps that they can take to overcome these misperceptions.

Myth #1: Digital workplace and digital transformation are the same thing

Many IT leaders struggle to fully operationalize their digital workplace strategy, due to the misconception that it has the same objective as digital business transformation. Digital business transformation is the process of exploiting the latest digital technologies and practices to create a robust new digital business model. The digital workplace is a strategy that uses an engaging and intuitive work environment to boost workforce digital dexterity.

However, both digital transformation and the digital workplace require employees to have the ability and ambition to engage fully in the organization’s digital journey. Thus, digital dexterity initiatives can support overall digital transformation goals by encouraging the organization to rethink processes to propagate change quickly and effectively.

Move beyond this myth by adopting new change leadership principles that inspire stakeholders to embrace the cultural change required for digital workplace success. When communicating with business leadership, demonstrate how digital workplace initiatives are helping build the digital businesses.

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Myth #2: Digital workplace technology adoption can be accomplished without cultural change

Although the pandemic made remote work and new digital tools a necessity, many organizations continue to organize work and make decisions the way they did when everyone worked together in an office. For example, video meeting solutions and visual collaboration applications are now widely adopted, but most organizations use these tools to emulate previously existing communication and collaboration experiences. They are missing the opportunity to reap the full benefit of their new technology investments.

Organizations must embrace the notion that ideas can be generated and shared, decisions reached and issues resolved without meeting daily—either in-person or virtually. Reduce meeting frequency by discussing topics using workstream collaboration applications or reduce meeting size by sharing recordings and transcriptions. Visual collaboration applications can do much more than simply emulate a physical analog conference room whiteboard, but only if organizations recognize and accept that ideation, creativity, analysis and planning can occur in new ways. Embracing cultural change alongside technology change is essential for success.

Myth #3: Collaboration happens when people work together at the same time

Many leaders are clinging to in-person collaboration as the last vestige of the pre-pandemic workplace and eagerly anticipating (even forcing) a return to the office. A common assumption is that the best collaboration occurs when employees are in the same place, even digitally, working on a common task.

Yet research shows that synchronous and asynchronous modes of collaboration have a near equal impact on achieving team innovation. The most effective measurement of collaboration success is the ease with which employees can produce something with others and the trust they feel while achieving shared goals.

Collaboration in the hybrid world cannot succeed without bringing intentional design to the practice of working together. Ensure effective and equitable access to collaboration by designing a purpose-built new work hub at the center of your digital workplace framework. Accelerate the adoption of new collaboration practices and increase trust by using collaborative work management applications to visualize work and optimize interactions between employees. Enable teams to experiment with new collaboration styles, grow communities and strengthen ties by introducing knowledge-sharing and social networking collaboration tools.

Four modes of collaboration for hybrid work design.
Image: Gartner

Myth #4: Citizen developers cannot create meaningful technology work safely

IT organizations have long viewed anything built outside of IT as risky “shadow IT.” Particularly when citizen developers build an app or automate a workflow, it tends to be met with skepticism. The myth is that meaningful technology work should be done only by IT, but the reality is that citizen developers contribute to key business objectives, such as improving business processes, decision making and even customer-facing capabilities.

Technical expertise is spreading more widely among business users outside the IT organization. In fact, a Gartner survey found that 62% of business technologists have high levels of technical dexterity and are advanced users of specialized technology creation tools, such as low-code and no-code development technologies. Tasks performed by citizen developers include integrating data flows, designing analytical models, creating and training algorithms and even creating new software functionalities.

IT leaders must take the work of citizen developers seriously. Help them create applications safely with access to training, data and other resources they may need. Work with business unit leaders to redesign and redefine technology delivery models and responsibilities through the formation of fusion teams. Facilitate a community of practice for citizen developers across departments to share knowledge and solutions they have built for effective scaling.

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Myth #5: A single technology solution can serve as the new work hub 

The new work hub enables organizational connections, communication and collaboration by assembling differentiating team productivity applications. No single solution from any one technology provider is the complete answer; the new work hub will require different capabilities to meet diverse employee needs.

Take a capabilities-first approach to understanding each functional department, business unit and employee group’s workplace capability needs. This includes the process, data and technology needs required to achieve desired business outcomes. A capabilities-first approach versus the typical technology-first approach ensures that all “buy, build, sunset” decisions are made with an employee-centric, outcomes-focused lens.

Tori Paulman is a Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, Inc. covering topics including digital workplace applications, employee experience and the future of work. Tori will present further insights on the future of the digital workplace as a keynote speaker for the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit, taking place virtually June 21-22 in the Americas.