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How Digital Workplace Governance Supports Agility

January 12, 2021 Digital Workplace
By Steve Bynghall

Agility and the entrepreneurial spirit are needed in the workplace now more than ever. In 2020, sheer necessity provided the momentum to drive the changes which helped employees adapt to new ways of working almost overnight. In some cases, this experience helped organizations and employees realize they were more agile and adaptable than they thought.

However, in the medium to long-term when we are hopefully out of this crisis, it may be less straightforward to provide a digital workplace and tool set that can successfully subvert the inertia, process inefficiencies and the hierarchical cultures that act as barriers to becoming more agile and innovative. Those barriers are probably in remission right now, but they will likely creep back into play.

Governance and Agility Go Hand in Hand (No, Really)

An interesting — and perhaps slightly counterintuitive — approach to ensuring a digital workplace supports agility and intrapreneurship is to establish appropriate levels of governance. (Note that in this article I’m referring to agility in the broader sense of speed and responsiveness, not specifically the adoption of agile methodologies.)

We at Spark Trajectory spend a lot of time helping digital workplace and intranet teams design and implement governance. However, we frequently find that governance is misunderstood both by digital workplace teams and by their stakeholders.

I define governance as the processes, roles, rules, controls, standards and related guidance and training needed to ensure a digital workplace is successful and sustainable. If you want a digital workplace that effectively supports a more agile and iterative workplace in the medium- to long-term, you need governance.

But governance is often surrounded by misconceptions. Negative connotations and associations with bureaucracy, rules, approval, over-engineered processes, controls and extra tasks haunt it, leading people to view governance as something that not only gets in the way of getting things done but smothers the creativity and agility of employees. Of course this can happen, but in that case it's poorly implemented and managed governance, or a governance framework that is a poor fit for an organization’s needs and culture.

Rather than being associated with bureaucracy, governance should be associated with coherence, efficiency, good management, effectiveness, clarity, confidence and, yes, agility. Well-implemented governance can bring all these things to your digital workplace and play an important role in supporting a more flexible, adaptive and innovative organization.

Three of these terms — clarity, confidence and agility — are key.

Related Article: Digital Policies Create Opportunities

Clarity Over Options

Being aware of and clear about which digital workplace tools to use will help employees act quickly and achieve specific goals. Such clarity encourages more sophisticated use of tools which can increase response time and drive innovation and experimentation. Hesitation, wasting time with different options or using tools in a sub-optimal way helps nobody. Digital workplace governance should provide clear options and processes to use the best tools for the best job.

An example here is when a digital workplace adopts tools with significant overlapping capabilities, for example around real-time communication and collaboration. While there are benefits to having multiple tools to choose from, this can also cause confusion around which tool to use to communicate with someone in a different location or division. When you’re unsure whether a person is regularly on Slack or Teams, people resort to email by default. Governance nips that confusion in the bud.

Related Article: You Rolled Out Your Remote Workplace in Record Time. Now Let's Talk Governance

Confidence Over Risks

Confidence is critical. In order to experiment and innovate, employees need to have confidence in their digital workplace tools. They need to know everything will work, as well as know there are no associated risks with using a particular tool. Risks can come in two forms.

Firstly, there are risks that are likely well-known to the organization. For example, if using a collaboration tool like Teams in a regulated industry to collaborate with third parties, employees want to know that any data they share will not fall into the wrong hands. A stringent approval process from a manager to allow opening a Teams space to external parties might sound like an unnecessary extra step — and some organizations might not need it — but if having that process inspires the confidence that underpins adoption, then it’s a step worth having.

A second area of risk — or perceived risk — is where employees fear management disapproval should they experiment with digital workplace tools. While this is a cultural issue, clear governance processes which provide support for experimentation and innovation can dispel any fears here. For example, an ideation platform and toolset that has the appropriate governance processes to make it actually work sends a message that management supports innovation.

Related Article: Innovation Can Be Taught. And Measured

Agility in Usage

Agility is where that speed and ease of using digital workplace tools in sophisticated ways really plays its part. And often speed and ease only come with extensive work in the background around governance to make that happen.

For example, governance of collaboration platforms usually with some kind control over the site provisioning process (not necessarily approval steps) to define elements such as site configuration, metadata and naming conventions can really support findability and save time, which ultimately again helps people to be agile.

Related Article: How to Apply Governance to Your Collaboration Tools

When It all Comes Together

What happens when digital workplace governance supports confidence, clarity and agility?

One example is the team behind Duke Energy’s intranet and digital workplace, called “The Portal,” which has strong governance in place. When it came to responding quickly to the pandemic, the team was able to lean in on existing processes, webparts and approaches all established through effective governance to quickly set up a sophisticated site to provide critical updates for employees.

Of course, the success of this is mainly down to the drive and entrepreneurial spirit of the team behind the digital workplace and supported by the right organizational culture, but here digital workplace governance played a role in providing the clarity, confidence and agility to actually make a difference.

Invest in Governance

As teams consider their plans for the digital workplace and how it can support employees, they cannot ignore investing in governance. This isn’t about establishing bureaucracy and hurdles, it’s about removing them and optimizing the digital workplace for innovation, speed and creativity in the long term.

About the Author

Steve Bynghall is a freelance consultant and writer based in the UK. He focuses on intranets, collaboration, social business, KM and the digital workplace.

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