The Truth about Digital Workflows: Are They Really the Answer?

 In Employee Experience, Future of Work

The digital workplace is being hailed as the solution to all our business problems, (including improving the employee experience). That means we have to consider our digital workflows.

What is a Digital Workflow?

A digital workflow is how we complete a sequence, process, or task using digital technology. By defining these types of workflows, you’ll be able to easily keep track of the data around progressions, activities, and deadlines. You can even automate these workflows, which will save you time and effort.

For example, many HR and internal communications teams are using tools like the SocialChorus workforce communications platform to digitally transform the content workflows of their employee communications. Using the Content Planner feature, they create, collaborate, schedule, and even predict engagement outcomes. And at any point, teams can check the status and progress of any piece of content in their workflow.

However, technology alone does not guarantee your processes will go smoothly.

Productivity Skills versus Productivity Tools

Switching from paper planners and spreadsheets to digital platforms has historically proved to be a struggle. Remember, you also need to have a good digital workflow management process in addition to the right software. And that starts with learning some key skills.

For example, most people don’t just pick up a tennis racket and become champions at Wimbledon the next day. If you know how to swing the racket and hit the ball, it doesn’t mean you’re going to even hit the ball over the net. The end goal is to play the game, not just learn to use the racket.

On the flip side, if Serena Williams was given a used tennis racket and even older tennis balls from a garage sale, she may not play up to her usual standards. You need both skills and the right set of tools to win.

Productivity is the same—success requires a combination of skills and tools. Just having the right software isn’t enough. An organization needs to invest in a solid methodology for employees to get the most out of these tools.

When rolling out software, most companies only provide instructional training. That is, they introduce employees to the technology by providing instruction on the various menus, and how to do certain tasks. Meanwhile, they say little about how the software will increase efficiency and, over time, productivity. This is a common pitfall. Whenever you roll out new software and technology, focus first on context. Explain to employees how the new tool works and what the results will be when they use it routinely. Then you can explain exactly how to use it.  

Learning as a Digital Workflow

In order to understand digital workflows, one must first understand the flow of work for an average individual. Studies show that there are some broad commonalities among knowledge workers; according to the Harvard Business Review,

  • There are 780 million knowledge workers globally.
  • On average, they sit in front of a computer for 6.5 hours every day.

Knowledge workers spend 28% of their time on email, 9% of their time searching for data, and 14% of their time in meetings.

As you can see, currently email, research, and meetings constitute 61% of the overall time at work for knowledge workers.

However, the future of work is expected to bring about a different kind of split in how employees (particularly knowledge workers) spend their time. Increasingly, employees will learn and develop their skills as part of their digital workflows. (In fact, research shows that opportunities for development are now the second most important factor in workplace happiness, right after the nature of the work itself.)

 The learning-in-development workflow incorporates the idea that for learning to really happen, it has to fit around and be aligned with working days and working lives. Therefore, corporate learning has become something that is served to employees where they are and when they are most amenable to learning.

In other words, digital workflows will rely on technological tools that are designed for intuitive, easy use. The “training” required to learn how to use the tool will simply be using the technology and incorporating it into everyday work life. (One could see the two technological giants of Google and YouTube as original examples of “learning in the flow” platforms.)

A New Way of Doing What’s Already Good

When The New York Times decided to improve its Morning Briefing, which was already considered by readers to be either a good or extremely good product, they were faced with the challenge of finding a digital workflow that would make a good product into an even better one.

 The key insights for introducing a workflow that would lead to even better results were:

  1. a clear structure,
  2. friendly guidance,
  3. ability to scan over content quickly and easily, and
  4. a cross-functional process.

In particular, a cross-functional process allows for teams operating within a digital workflow to collaborate and deliver better results.

A successful integration will lead to a repeatable process for teams with clear parameters around how to work. This way, introducing the digital workflow redefines work, and increases trust and understanding among teams because they see the value of a user-centered development process.

(Read more about how The New York Times transformed from old-school print publications into a digital powerhouse in our blog recap, SocialChorus’ Webinar With New York Times Digital Guru, Cliff Levy.)

Digital Workflows in Media

The Wall Street Journal says the only way digital workflows can succeed after implementation is if they’re accompanied by a cultural shift encouraging everyone to work toward a common goal.

 When implementing its own digital workflows, The Wall Street Journal employed mandatory training for staff, completely rehauled their newsrooms, introduced operation teams into the newsroom to successfully monitor digital workflows, and even changed working hours.

Finally, the key component that makes every digital workflow implementation succeed is internal communications. Talk to the people in your company, especially managers, and be ready to explain why you’re embracing this change. Also, be prepared to explain clearly what will be expected of employees. If your people are not informed, your workflow initiative may falter.

Digital Workplace Hubs

 Workflows and collaboration are still a big challenge for many organizations. Lots of executives are wondering if one digital workflow tool could potentially solve all of their collaboration needs.  

A single solution is very attractive, but it needs to be flexible to support the multitude of different work styles and preferences in one company. Additionally, it needs to be flexible enough to offer options to suit the needs of all different teams and employees.

 Digital workplace hubs or platforms that offer different workflow integrations are considered to be the answer to the problem. With this approach, collaborators work together on a platform that integrates a multiple of tools.

A good example is a workforce communications platform for HR and internal communicators. This would integrate different data management software, such as your HRIS, and then create a single publisher (and digital workflow) to plan, create, collaborate, schedule, publish (to all your comms channels, like email, intranet, mobile, etc.) and even offer predictive analysis to your internal communications content. By integrating your channels, you avoid common one-size-fits-all problems, and can instead publish content to an employee’s preferred channel.

It also provides a simple and easy to use a digital workflow that streamlines the communications process and offers a unified analytics dashboard to easily track and report content metrics.

 

Conclusion: The Truth about Digital Workflows

Technology tools alone are not always the solution. You need the winning combination of skills and the best tools on the market. Here’s what else you need to know:

  • Learning while in the flow of work is a new concept that is expected to take over as digital workflows proliferate.
  • A successful integration of digital workflow tools will lead to a repeatable process for teams, clearly defining how to work best.
  • The only way digital workflows can succeed is by also introducing a cultural shift that encourages all employees to work toward a common goal.
  • Internal communications is key to informing and helping employees understand new digital workflows and any business initiatives.
  • A workforce communications platform is a good example of how leaders can streamline their digital workflows.

 

Learn more about successful digital transformation with our latest eBook, Digital Transformation For CIOs: 7 Steps To Success.

 

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Leveraging the Digital Workplace to Improve Employee Experience: Five Pillars for Success

Why CIOs Should Care About Employee Communications

How To Optimize Office 365: 12 Easy Tips

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Why Internal Communications Is at the Center Of Digital Transformation

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