By Gloria Lombardi

“I focus on how organisations can tackle their digital workplace issues from a behavioural perspective. I talk business problems first, not heavy technical detail.”

Sam Marshall (pictured right), is Director of ClearBox, the Chester-based consultancy that specialises in intranets, SharePoint and knowledge management. Before setting up the firm in 2007, he had been responsible for rolling out the first global corporate intranet at Unilever. Not such an easy thing to do when you have 95,000 employees worldwide and 4,000 different platforms to consolidate! But that experience gave him the confidence and expertise to start supporting companies with complex collaboration challenges.

One digital workplace

Today, when Marshall helps large organisations to develop a road map for their intranets, one of the biggest needs he sees is around delivering better communications: “How are you going to communicate the entire business that this is the intended use of the tool? This can be achieved in many ways. Unless you are very clear from the beginning, you will not achieve your objectives.”

Marshall is a strong advocate of the digital workplace  as a unifying concept of the intranet and enterprise social network. “Often organisations make a split between the two: the first one is perceived as the information and publishing solution, the second one as the social collaboration tool. We should get rid of this distinction since it disconnects people.”

While he believes that such boundaries have little meaning from an employee point of view “because people just want to find, do and share things,” he recommends focusing on understanding from their perspective how everything should fit together. And from there, creating the right format for its consumption.”

This includes planning intranet strategies with reference to all the other collaboration tools. Plus, the communication changes that are underway within the organisation, “otherwise the employee experience will always be fragmented.”


While many enterprises are enjoying turning to apps for short-term initiatives and easy ways to interact with staff, Sam voices a warning. “Apps demonstrate the need for a new way of working that people like. But at some point, we should stand back and ask ourselves if they are going to scale.

“Not only may they not scale, but they could also create digital silos between a department using an app and other teams using others. There will be a time when the business needs knowledge sharing across the whole  organisation. That will require a tool where messages go to everybody inside the company instead of just a single group. So, while apps are great at certain things, I would suggest thinking long-term before rolling them out.”

Do you really know who can contribute the most?

Past experience with one large client has taught Marshall the importance of opening up the channels to the broader workforce, even at the experimental stage.

“After having done research for this big company, we planned to run two-day workshops and face-to-face focus groups involving a number of selected people. But for some reasons they could not join the place and the meeting was cancel. We then decided to work together through a micro blog. This was kept open to everyone inside that organisation; we did not see any problem with that. To our surprise, employees who had not been invited to the original workshop, ended up being the most enthusiastic, influential and the ones who contributed the most to the discussions and the success of the initiative.”

Since then, Marshall has changed his methodology. He stopped trying to target precise stakeholders and force them when they may not be quite ready. Instead he starts by looking for the people already enthusiastic about collaborating, and give them an opportunity to be more involved with the implementation of the digital workplace strategy from the outset.

Different channels suit different leaders

Marshall understands the importance of the digital workplace for leaders who need to engage with a global workforce. “You can surely be an inspiring leader, and often even better than in face-to-face environments.”

There are many ways to do that including blogging, employees Yams, and video conferencing: “The key is to understand that different channels suit different leaders. We cannot force someone to be in front of a video camera if they aren’t up to it. But they may write very well, or answer a specific question in a very honest way on the discussion forum.”

Don’t ask for the ROI

A consistent fact in the social collaboration space is that even the most mature and successful organisations find it hard, if not impossible, to quantify the Return on Investment (ROI).

Marshall has a simple answer to clients who ask him for the quantified business benefit: “Having a digital workplace improves employee engagement.

“If you think that is worth having a collaborative organisation that works effectively towards the achievements of your business strategy, then I can help you to achieve that goal. But don’t ask me to show you the number on Column B of your spread sheet.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate