By Gloria Lombardi

The digital workplace is not a bigger or better intranet. The latter is a starting point – it is just one piece of the jigsaw; the former is transformational.

A digital workplace unifies communications, mobile, human resources systems, procurement and all the other aspects that would not be considered purely as part of an intranet. The digital workplace requires a flexible mind-set – in a holistic and integrative way of thinking about it, it implies an entire new perspective around work.

Trying to understand which factors impact on digital transformation and enterprise effectiveness is therefore an important job. It is also a tricky one since there are many misconceptions and competing views.

But, the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) has found a nice way to help with this challenge. This week they have produced a virtual global conference called Digital Workplace 24 (#DW24). The live event ran for 24 hours in a row with over forty speakers sharing best practice and thinking across the world. It covered hot topics and organising principles including cultural change, collaboration, internal communications, mobile apps, user experience design, strategy, governance, gamification and the future of work.

Below are a few personal take-aways from some of the live tours that I attended.

a-LIVE, literally

The new generation of employees demands the same level of intuitive technologies to connect and communicate with their colleagues that they use in their personal lives. In 2012, to meet the expectations of their young workforce adidas Group’s communications and IT teams started to work together on a-LIVE, the company’s new SharePoint 2013-based internal platform.

Being aware that less is more they came up with a solution that is “shockingly clear and simple,” as Digital Manager Stefan Hierl put it.

Today a-LIVE creates a consistent experience for 30,000 employees. Its homepage has been designed to be social, to be highly personalised and to easily create connections while eliminating complexity. Staff customise it with their favourite Apps – for example, the Corporate Info Centre, News Centre, Ask the Management and Bulletin Board – as well as with Workspaces that are most relevant to their jobs such as private and public projects.

The social elements of a-LIVE are similar to many employee social networks – micro-blogging for discussions, following and being followed by colleagues, working on communities and finding experts across the business. Yet, the site’s appealing design and an easy and fast user experience, facilitate the collaborative way of working together. The same applies for a-LIVE dedicated mobile app.

According to Hierl, from an internal communications point of view, the platform is “tearing down hierarchy” and breaking silos. Indeed, it is a journey – adidas Group keeps listening to their staff to ensure that they feel empowered to do their job while connecting across departments and countries.

Electrolux’s journey from intranet to the digital workspace

Ralf Larsson is Electrolux’s Director of Online Employee Engagement and Development. His live tour focused on E-gate, the company’s internal platform based on IBM Connections.

What I found interesting about E-gate was the way its branded corporate news has been embedded with social and commenting functionalities. The deep integration between information and collaboration has created a strong interest among employees in interacting with content that otherwise could be easily neglected. In fact, social is leveraging Electrolux’s reach – staff actively interact with, share and comment on stories.

Electrolux has an appetite for , which comes down to the of the organisation. Yet, without taking it for granted the company provides plenty of training on how to use E-gate. This can take the form of short video tutorials.

Another useful insight shared by Larsson was about the Electrolux Communications Toolbox, which aims at helping everyone at improving their communications skills. In fact, it is a repository of best practice, which the workforce can consult to broaden their knowledge on communications skills. Most importantly, it is a collaborative source of information, where every employee has the opportunity to share, consult and add any articles. The toolbox provides tools, methods, ideas and tips that come from the knowledge and experience of their colleagues across the globe – anything from creating a communication plan, to delivering a speech or hosting a meeting.

Indeed, it is important not only to capture knowledge, but also to make sure it evolves and improves accordingly with the evolution of the organisation and business’ needs.

Larsson stressed the importance of people profiles and directory, which have become key to easily find, connect and interact with co-workers despite business functions and locations. On E-gate people can download the e-cards of their colleagues as well as access their full Report-to-Chain, which means seeing the people that manage them or are managed by them.

The same applies to the ability of accessing the whole network of any employee, as well as following their activities.

The Square – the intranet for a very diverse audience

The Square is American Express’ internal platform based on SharePoint 2013 and accessed by 60,000 employees and contractors on a daily basis. The solution is currently on premise but future plans include going to the hybrid cloud, according to Director of Online Content and Platforms Ashley Lucio.

Dynamic and multimedia content is key to make staff want come back to the site. Most importantly, The Square avoids corporate language. Other features that are highly appreciated are the live blogs from senior management and investors meetings as well as the quick and topic news called Dailies.

Similarly to E-gate, great emphasise is given to employees and leaders profiles as well as explanatory features in the form of ‘how it works’ or ‘where did that come from.’

The intranet is responsive, which allows mobile employees to have the same level of experience as their colleagues accessing The Square from their desktop computers.

Once again, customisation of content is an important component of an internal platform. The Square enables employees to easily access the tools relevant to them, along with the resources that they use most frequently – from expenses, to travel, HR, and projects.

For me, the fact that the personalisation has become so crucial marks an important transition inside many corporations – the realisation that employees are not passive users. In contrast, they are more likely to feel engaged if they are empowered to get their work done. A digital workplace should enable precisely this.

A killer homepage and mobile intranet

Sprint’s internal platform is among the 2015 Intranet Design Award Winners identified by Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) at the beginning of the year. After attending the session by Terry Pulliam, Director of Communications at Sprint, I could figure out why the team at the US telecoms giant was given such a recognition.

Sprint uses OpenText for their intranet content management platform and SharePoint 2013 for team collaboration and enterprise search.

Sprint uses OpenText for content management and SharePoint 2013 for team collaboration and enterprise search. The platform has been designed after listening carefully to employees’ requirements. That listening paid dividends – currently 30,000 members of staff are enjoying the simplicity of the navigation and the lively use of colour and photography.

The combination of other cleverly thought-through components makes the site engaging – from the megamenus, to its faceted search, its flat design, the good use of short videos posted by staff and the interactive homepage carousel.

The social elements, especially in the form of personal stories, encourage dialogue and help develop a greater sense of community – Sprint’s employees get to learn more about their colleagues both professionally and personally, helping them feel more engaged and part of one big team. Ultimately, this focus on narratives drives most of the traffic to the site.

This is a great reminder that featuring real people rather than corporate speeches and brochures is vital to generate and maintain interest. Quite simply, individuals prefer to read about other individuals.

Equally important, Sprint’s platform supports ideation-collaboration based on the concept of crowdsourcing. Whenever they have an idea that could help improve the business, employees can submit their suggestions in the Idea Network space.

Last but not least, the platform enables employees to socially promote services to customers as well as gather feedback on products and campaigns through Q&As and quick polls.

Culture is ‘undiscussable’

“Culture is undiscussable. Organisations don’t spend enough time on trying to understand employees’ different behaviours.”

Dave Gray is Co-Founder and Partner at Boardthing. He is also author of several popular books, including Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers and The Connected Company.

Gray gave a short, yet powerful speech, reminding the audience that the human side of change is often the most difficult part of any digital transformation.

While organisations need to be innovative, entrepreneurial and team-focused, most companies are still rather process-driven.

But Gray argues this is the wrong philosophy; taking enough time to appreciate the cultural setting of the enterprise is necessary. This implies learning about all the different sub-cultures and ways of ‘doing things are here’ that permeate any working environment.

After years of helping organisations solve complex problems with visual thinking, Gray came up with a Culture Map Model. The tool aims at re-thinking and re-imagining the corporate culture of companies that need to become more agile. It allows them to understand the factors that contribute to the erosion of trust or to identify where the innovators in the system are and whether they are disconnected from decision makers. Those are just a few examples of what the model can do.

There are many frameworks out there. The Culture Map Model is one of them. Yet, what resonated from this session is the undeniable need of every business to understand the cultural sensitivity of their workplace. After all, almost all failures in enterprise transformation come from shortcutting the “elephant in the room.”

Keep it live

Here I have reviewed a few of the many virtual sessions provided by the Digital Workplace Group this week. The conclusions are personal rather than definitive. The points that I emphasised cannot say for sure that they are the way to go. But they do imply that these best practices and thinking would be worth looking at.

This is an evolutionary journey, in other words. The relationship between humans and technologies at work is complex, multi-faceted and unpredictable. Wearables, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality, they say, are already entering the business world. I think that we have to accept that a large proportion of today’s steps will be out-dated at any given time in future.

This is also why we need to keep the conversation live! Let’s not switch it off.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate