At Blueprint Technologies, one of our key practice areas is helping clients establish their modern workplace. However, many are not familiar with that term nor do they understand the benefits of having a modernized workplace structure. We interviewed our Director of Client Development and Modern Workplace expert, Thomas Hallstrom, to help answer some of the most asked questions.
At Blueprint when we talk about the ‘modern workplace’, what exactly do we mean by that?
The modern workplace is one layer in Blueprint’s digital transformation stack. It’s entwined with, and dependent on, team culture, human behavior, personalities, and deeply-held work preferences. It’s not necessarily a destination and it’s not going to look the same for all organizations.
When we think about digital transformation, we see it as a journey that doesn’t start with technology. Just because you have moved your infrastructure to the cloud does not mean that you have modernised your workplace or that you have digitally transformed. What’s your product? What’s your service? Who are you serving? Why do you exist? All efforts at evolving, maturing, and adapting to a changing marketplace should come from those answers, not from working backwards from a specific piece of tech.
The modern workplace can be thought of as anything that impacts the employee experience. It lays on top of the cloud platform, the data platform, the engineering, and the analytics systems. The modern workplace allows people to work where they need to, when they need to, on the devices that they need to, so that they can effectively collaborate or work independently. The technology serves them, and it can be done in a way that won’t keep your IT team up at night.
What are the major components of a modern workplace from your perspective?
The biggest asset for most organizations is their people. The ability to think, create, be empathetic, and exercise sound judgement are distinctly human capabilities. Technology is really good at automation, pattern recognition and analysis, measurement, and data collection. These tasks are all important but fairly boring for humans.
To begin, I consider a modern workplace one that has the ability to go fully digital at a moment’s notice. So, in the event of something like a pandemic it’s very low friction to transition to 100% virtual collaboration. This should be a workplace that meets you wherever you’re at so when you are searching for task or project-related content you don’t have to know the repository that it lives in, it’s all available in a central spot. So, data is readily available to inform decisions and you have a collaboration hub that entices and exposes collaboration. Your search experience doesn’t need a lot of training and it all exists again without creating security vulnerabilities for your IT team.
Number two, a modern workplace must feature easy, low-friction, high-value collaboration within and across departments. It should also be just as easy to interact with suppliers or vendors or external collaborators as your colleagues and your internal collaborators. That collaboration means that your executives aren’t the only ones who understand how all the pieces fit. You could be in accounting, or legal, or R&D. In a modern workplace, you’d understand how everyone fits together, so when you collaborate with other teams you understand the value. You’re not putting the onus on the executives to lay out all of that correlation for you, you’ve got some contextual awareness. So easy collaboration is part two.
The third characteristic of a modern workplace is that the data does work. Your data should inform decision making. Leveraging the tech, as I mentioned, to perform the pattern analysis and the other mundane stuff, so that the humans can focus on their creative, empathetic and judicious activities. The last visible demonstration of the modern workplace is that your whole organization, your technology, your platforms, your team, they’re all constantly adapting and evolving. You expect your people to do just that in an evolving market and your apps and tools should be able to do the same.
What are some of the benefits of having a modern workplace?
At Blueprint HQ, instead of artwork on the walls we have inspirational messages and quotes from everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Steven Covey to our founder’s mom. One of those quotes is, “You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.”
When met with the immediate need for a shift to virtual and remote work, many companies have found themselves disrupted and unsteady. But for Blueprint and for many of our clients who are advanced on their journey to a modern workplace, the sudden transition has been much less of a traumatic interruption and more of a simple shift in how they operate. So that’s the main benefit, that your organization is able to adapt quickly and smoothly, whether it be to market, economic, or societal changes.
The second main benefit to those organizations that adopt the modern workplace mindset is that they are well suited to meet the changing employee experience expectations of the modern workforce. As I said in my first answer, your people are your most valuable asset. How do you hold onto them? Many of our clients are looking for people solutions around employee churn, because they find that many employees believe in and enjoy the work but find the workplace so outdated and frustrating that they begin to look elsewhere. There are many other benefits to the modern workplace journey, but the inherent improvements to employee experience and the retention that comes with that improvement should not be overlooked.
What are some of the risks that companies are running by not implementing a modern workplace?
I think organizations get themselves into a position where they are always looking in the rear-view mirror to see what’s been working and what hasn’t. The market, your customers’ demands, whether you are in retail or manufacturing or healthcare, things are changing so fast. We talk about the modern workplace, modernising your workplace, but it’s like trying to get cool. If that’s your goal, you’re never going to get there.
If you’re always trying to predict what’s next, what’s next, arriving is less important than being comfortable adapting and changing and not considering that change a massively disruptive event. If you can do things like create data warehouses with data accessible for on-demand reports and on demand you can come up with different ways to ask questions of your data, create a document management system, a workflow automation system, or a contract review and approval system. If you can create systems that are mobile first, user friendly, easily understood and easy to report on you don’t have to do a bunch of work to find out what is going on in your org. You have close to real-time, in many cases, insights into what’s happening. Once you have that you can have more informed forecasting on what the market is doing, what customers are demanding or expecting, how their sentiment is shifting because of your product or service. You’ve got the ability to position yourself for change on a go-forward, proactive basis.
What are some of the challenges organizations face when establishing a more modern workplace?
First off, I will say that the shift towards a modern workplace doesn’t have to be a massive sea change. There are ways to swap out segments of your employee experience, data pipelines, and other areas where improvements can be made by pursuing short proofs of concept to figure out what works. This process doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking that drags on for months and years, though. For example, we were able to move a few hundred Blueprint employees onto a remote-work model in just 72 hours. Within a week or so, the performance metrics were on par with, and in many instances exceeded, our original performance targets. There are ways to modernize that aren’t a massive unyielding headache.
That said, once you make the decision, it’s easy to think, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s build it,” and just go. I have seen many well-engineered solutions die on the table because the folks who would use the solution weren’t involved in the development. Widespread adoption is key, and you’ve got to have executive sponsorship. It’s really hard to have a successful initiative that’s solely sponsored by your IT department. If your employees don’t feel like this is where your company is going, it’s easy to put it on the back burner and not care and not use it.
But getting to that widespread adoption can take time. “Death by committee” is a painful, frustrating trope but you need to have stakeholders who care about the process, and it can be challenging to get them to see the big picture. But you must take the time to explain to your stakeholders and the people who are using any new solutions why the change is being made and gain their buy-in on the value. Be careful not to overlook your quiet contributors. In our experience, many times it’s the curious, quiet experimenters who become champions of a new solution.
So rather than having a partner like Blueprint come in and say, “Here’s something shiny and new, trust us, you NEED this!” or having your IT department say, “We’re moving from Platform A to Platform B, I need you to change your password and then do X, Y, and Z,” you should work backwards from the mission and goals the team are trying to accomplish. Once you understand those, you can begin to create solutions that empower, support, and enable those teams. By doing that and pulling in some of those quieter contributors you will have advocators and champions who can do far more to inspire adoption than any outside team could.