What is a digital workplace?

Last week at the IntraTeam event in Copenhagen (Twitter #IEC12) there were many discussions about the digital workplace and what exactly is a digital workplace.

I thought it would be good to start a debate on what we mean when we say the digital workplace. Many intranet professionals want to find out more about the digital workplace.  Here is my view for you to consider and comment upon.

What exactly is a digital workplace?

I define the digital workplace as “Work is what you do, not where you go to.”

In a digital workplace you are able to:

  • Work in any location.  This may be at home, in your own or anyone else’s office, on the train, or ideally anywhere that suits you at the time you need to.
  • Do your work.  This may making a room booking, checking a person’s contacts details, searching for information you need, or reading the latest news.
  • Use any device.  This maybe your laptop, a shared PC, a smartphone (iPhone), or tablet (iPad).
  • Share information.  This means being able to use collaboration tools to help other people.
  • Search across all places where information is and you have permission to use.

What is the difference between a digital workplace and an intranet?

An intranet has a more limited role.  An intranet typically has corporate news and documents e.g. policies. Publishing will probably use content and document management systems.  A digital workplace will also have:

  • Collaboration tools e.g. blogs, wikis, podcasts
  • Micro blogging tools e.g. Yammer, Twitter
  • Knowledge sharing/building e.g. team wikis and share workspaces
  • Applications/tools e.g. HR tools, online training, sales performance
  • Processes e.g. approving decisions, compliance checks

It will help me and other intranet professionals if you can comment to agree, disagree, amend, etc, to create a shared understanding on the digital workplace.  Thanks in advance.

32 responses to “What is a digital workplace?

  1. Great explanation Mark, thank you. This is a great place to start if, like me, you’re starting to slowly put the words ‘digital workplace’ out there in your organisation.

    I do think it means different things to different organisations though, and you need to make it work for you depending on what stage you’re at.

    • Thanks Jo. I agree. It is a set of principles or approaches which organisations can adapt and put in their own context that could work best.

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  3. Mark, I agree completely with your statement that work is what you do, not where you go.

    Where I both agree and disagree with you is when you say that intranets have a much more limited role. Agree when limited means that many of the features are part of other tools/platforms, Disagree if limited means a less central role since I believe that we are beginning to see the end of the big intranets that contain all features in one tool. The intranet is becoming the focal point of a much more fragmented digital workplace with lots of useful tools all tied together by what we used to call the intranet – I recently blogged about my take on the intranet vs. the digital workplace, so I will stick to the short version here.

  4. Hi Mark,

    I also agree with what you’re able to do in a digital workplace, but disagree with your differentiation between intranets and the digital workplace.

    Collab tools, microblogging, apps… these are all existing and often-well established intranet capabilities. Good intranets mainly for sure, but there are plenty of intranets that do all of this and they are very clearly ‘intranets’.

    For me ‘the digital workplace’ is a vision, and more aligned with what you describe in the first set of bullets, not the academic differences you highlight in the second.

    This post highlights both how broad the digital workplace vision can be, but also how in many ways it’s not all that different to what the best of breed intranets are doing at the moment.

    As said, for me it’s a vision to work towards, not a question of the smaller parts within.


    • Hi Alex,

      I’m more confident with my definition and description of what a digital workplace can be than what an intranet is.

      In BT the digital workplace was called the intranet – everything including email that you did online.

      I want to help organisations to become digital workplaces and feel the benefits it brings.

      Working towards a vision, goal, etc, is the exciting bit! There are many ways to do this coming from different directions.


  5. The digital workplace is all what you mention Mark, or depending on your work organisation, a selection of these tools/features.
    For me the ideal digital workplace should also incorporate a layer above all these tools/features. A layer providing you an aggregation of what you need, at the moment, to do your job. Be it people, conversations, documents, wiki articles, news, etc, but also related workflows (processes). That’s the unique way to avoid 1) being lost in the amount of data available there; and 2) being forced to seek pertinent information in all information sub-systems like people directories, discussion forums, document libraries, wikis, etc etc.
    Some firms propose solutions which are close to my idea/dream but none has a complete solution. At least today.
    Conclusion: the digital workplace is still under construction and it needs architects and visionaries (like you) to become a reality 🙂

    • Hi Claudio,

      Yes, you’re right. The digital workplace is still being constructed.

      I guess this post was aimed at checking we’re aiming in the right direction towards the same goal.

      Your ideal digital workplace should have that. Anything which makes the user experience simpler and richer will engage employees more with all the other benefits that comes with that approach.

      I’ll try to keep pointing the way and checking with you if I’m on the right course.


  6. Wolfgang Jastrowski

    Hi Alex, Mark

    How would you put the term “Social Intranet” between Intranet and Digital Workplace?


    • Hi Wolfgang,

      I see the social intranet more as an approach to how the organisation uses a digital workplace. Is it a dynamic, engaging, organisation with a culture that encourages everyone to collaborate and feel the benefits this can bring?

      For me, I see the digital workplace as being where all these approaches can be blened to suit the needs of an organisation. Digital workplace and social intranet will mean different things to different organisations and to people like us. Like intranets have a lot of common principles but also many variations that meet organisations’ culture, workforce, structure and type.

      As Alex says social intranet can be described also as a layer which gives it flexibility to blend with what an organisation is and needs.

      What’s your view?


  7. I’m surprised you feel the need to distinguish between a digital workplace and an intranet. An intranet is one of the tools of a digital workplace. And many, if not all, of the features you listed a digital workplace should have (blogs, wikis, micro blogging, etc) are already available in existing social intranet software, such as Vialect’s Noodle software.

    As I understand it, software, such as an social intranet solution, is a tool in the digital workplace. However, it does not define the workplace itself.

    • Hi Lexi,

      I agree that software provides many of the features of some intranets and essential to a digital workplace but it is how it is managed which is the critical piece to success.

      As you can see from the comments and my responses there isn’t one size fits all on intranets or digital workplaces. But I do feel these is a distinct difference to most organisations between the two.

      Digital workplaces involve people and at a more senior level in an organisation that intranets never touch or only with great effort and difficulty.


  8. Nice post, Mark. To me the digital workplace is all the internal digital tools a knowledge worker needs to get things done. Of course you want these tools to be accessible from hardware devices, but these are enablers, not the workplace itself in my opinion. So, yes the older/traditional intranet is part of the digital workplace as is the list that you mention (collaboration tools, etc.)

    • Hey Samuel! Good to hear from. Long time no see. 🙂

      I’m glad you like my view. I agree with what you say about tools being enablers.

      It’s giving employees what they need when they need how they need it which is the goal and will lead to a successful digital workplace.

      Hope to see you sometime in 2012.


  9. Hi Mark,

    Great thought provoker… For me it’s not so much defined by “Work is what you do, not where you go to”, but the definition lies somewhere nearer being the integration of an entire business eco-system, both on and offline, that allows you to carry out relevant tasks wherever you want/need to and still meets all the needs and requirements of your business.

    I guess the question is, am I in a digital workplace already?

    Let’s test the case:

    I’m a consultant with a gsm connected slate, I sometimes use my laptop or my phone too. I’m using a collaborative environment to work on a presentation with a few collegues and I’m getting information fed to me via both the collaboration tool and email. I’m making decisions with others using chat, video and telephony. I could be doing this in my office, at home or on my boat.

    If the answer is yes, then I think we have a problem – because we are defining something that many people do already and it has a name – work.

    If the answer is no, then what would be be the defining differences?

    I wonder if the answer lies in the governance, structure and life cycle management of the material I am working on and the organisations ability to support me working in this manner?

    I’m also expecting my true digital workpalce to take some of the burden from me, at least by increasing the relevance of the material I’m presented with and ideally taking a few of my decisions too, so I’d have to find space for ‘intellegent’ agents somewhere in my block.

    BTW, thanks for you help the other day, much appreciated!


    • Hi Richard,

      Thanks. I like your scenario to test the digital workplace.

      Work needs to fit with an employee’s personal life better so they are engaged and committed to the organisation. The ideal ‘work/life’ balance.

      It also HAS to meet the needs of the business. The benefits must be worthwhile shared by all involved.

      An employee has a work problem. He/she needs to:

      a) have access to the digital workplace when they need it
      b) have the tools available when they need it to solve the problem
      c) use whatever tools they have to do this

      How organisations achieve this successful outcome for a thriving digital workplace is not easy as we know. That’s where expert guidance helps.

      I’m glad I could help the other day. I hope I can again in the future.


  10. @Wolfgang:

    I’m not actually the biggest fan of the term ‘social intranet’. It feels more useful as a product category than an accurate working description of what organisations are building. Given the work we’ve done, the ‘social layer’ is a much more accurate and useful term to describe what many organisations are aiming for and what will be the case long term. In most organisations there is still, and will continue to be, a significant amount of content that isn’t ‘social’ or ‘collaborative’.


  11. I think I get it – in some circles, “intranet” = the place where a small number of people publish stuff for everyone else inside the company or organisation. The digital workplace is an attempt to redefine the scope of the intranet concept for people who have been working under the assumption or think that this what an intranet is. Is that right?

    However, bringing the concept of ‘telework’ into equation I find myself confused again: What if where I work is important to my job and can’t be done elsewhere – is the digital workplace only for knowledge workers who don’t interact physically with particular people, places or things? Or do you really mean, the intranet isn’t the just the place *you look at on your PC* where a small number of people publish stuff for everyone else inside the company or organisation?

    BTW I think @alex is essentially right about social intranets – its a lazy but useful description to highlight the difference from traditional publishing intranets and those that are, well, architected as social software. It can be treated as a product category (think of something like ThoughtFarmer), but a more sophisticated view is to look at it as a “social layer” that can potentially augment or integrate with all those other systems of record and communication tools that are also part of the (true) intranet.

    • Hi James,

      I don’t believe the digital workplace is exclusive to knowledge workers. They are obvious beneficiaries of it but it isn’t only these types of workers who gain. For example, field workers can login from their smartphone, laptop, etc at home to access the app on the digital workplace that allocates their work and find out where their first job is.

      Call centre people don’t have to be in a call centre to do that type of work. A digital workplace can mean they can work elsewhere with performance management and IT infrastructure enabling this to happen productively.

      The use of collaborative tools in a digital workplace mean that many people can publish and share information with many others and move away from the few publishing to the many model that was traditionally part of the intranet.


      • Mark – I’m thinking of scenarios the other way around, where people want the information and tools to come to where they are already working rather then be able to work from anywhere. For example, a nurse in a hospital, an OH&S manager in a steel factory, the crew of a cargo ship or an electrical engineer working down a coal mine.

  12. Hi James,

    I think we’re thinking the same outcomes if coming from different directions.

    The digital workplace should be there for the employee when they need it for their work. They don’t have to stop what they are doing and travel to a desktop computer to find out or do something online and then go back to their work.

    I agree it should blend in with their needs, whatever they are. Is that what you mean?


    • Yes, that’s essentially what I’m getting at. This then opens the door to different scenarios beyond working remotely. However, there is still some tension in the definition (from my perspective) – is the ‘digital workplace’ a fully integrated experience for all employees or focused on meeting the needs of particular use cases for particular roles or activities? I mean mobility solutions aren’t new, so what makes the DW different? I’m tempted to fall back on my earlier point – the definition doesn’t really matter, really its just about getting people to apply a broader perspective to what they assume an intranet does.

      • Mark Morrell

        Hi James,

        I’m not hung up on the term having to be ‘digital workplace’ although that’s the most common term used. I believe DW is the framework which allows the other trends like remote working to be managed in a way that benefits the individuals, other employees and the organisation they work in.

        I like your phrase ‘a fully integrated experience for all employees’ which sums it up nicely.


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  15. Hi Mark,

    Just want to ask the different between digital workplace and telecommuting?


    • Hi Kamal,

      Thanks for your comment. Telecommuting is something people who work remotely or while mobile need to do so they can access the digital workplace where they need to carry out their work. Please let me know if I can clarify anthing else to help you.


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