Why defining the digital workplace is useful for GCs

The term and concept ‘digital workplace’ is an increasingly popular way to describe the experience of technology provided to employees by organisations.

Steve Bynghall on 14/11/17

It is now being used by vendors and consultancies such as Microsoft, Accenture and Gartner. There are even conferences dedicated to it.

What is the digital workplace?

There are differences of opinion about the exact definition of the digital workplace. Some regard it as a managed environment provided by the organisation, which is almost like a virtual counterpoint to the physical workplace. Others regard it simply as the portfolio of applications which are officially “sanctioned for use”, plus the devices employees access it on. Some see the digital workplace as something more conceptual altogether.
In practice it’s one of those terms which is likely be defined by the individual circumstances and frame of reference of how each organisation provides its IT. To some extent, you can use the term and concept however you like.

Why is the term useful for GCs?

The idea of a digital workplace is useful for GC’s as it marks out the virtual environment for which they will need to have some knowledge over and for which they may need to consider risk processes and providing relevant guidance. 
One of the most useful exercises is to try and define what your organisation’s digital workplace actually is. What is the official list systems, applications, software and devices that your organisation provides for its employees? 
When carrying out this kind of audit process, it often becomes far more complex than originally envisaged because there are inevitably some applications which fall into the grey area of whether they are officially provided systems, for example:

  • systems that are not supported or sanctioned by central IT but are used and owned within different departments
  • systems that are used personally but are “tolerated” by IT departments or managers, either explicitly or by turning a blind eye
  • software that is under-the-radar but is used by some teams and therefore supported by a manager
  • legacy systems that are still being actively used but are due to be phased out
  • systems which are fully outsourced to a third-party vendor.

In truth, any “digital workplace” is actually highly complex but the process of trying to define it can throw up the questions which need to be answered and issues or risks which need to be addressed. For example, you might uncover some potential risk of ‘shadow IT’ which are often consumer-grade apps being used by employees to store confidential work files or data.
Inevitably there will also be a likely divergence of opinion on what the digital workplace is from different stakeholders. IT, HR, Marketing, specialist functions and normal employees. GCs are potentially in a good position to take a common-sense view from the centre by looking at what systems get used and how, what risks there are and what needs to be done, if anything.


It’s quite possible that eventually the digital workplace will join the pile of other business buzzwords that have fallen into disuse or discredit, but even if it does, the practice of thinking about the digital work environment and what it actually entails is always a useful exercise. GCs need to have some knowledge of what systems are used and the “digital workplace” is a good starting point. 
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