This chapter will focus on defining a digital workspace, its characteristics, the elements that it comprises, and the issues that obstruct businesses from creating the “ideal” digital workplaces. A digital workplace is a natural evolution of traditional workplaces since technology and the fourth industrial revolution has affected the varied aspects of people’s personal and professional lives. Hence, there is a need for organizations to understand how a digital workplace is defined and how to set up a suitable work environment in the digital space.
Definition of the Digital Workplace in the Literature: Similarities and Differences
Broadly defined, a digital workplace is the software and applications designed to help an individual perform their work duties; however, different authors emphasize varied aspects of this definition in their articles. For example, Williams and Schubert (2018) state that this is the software and hardware infrastructure designed to support the work of the employees. The authors note that the concept of the digital workspace was developed by Brier in the 1990s as a way to integrate technology into the workplace.
Currently, technology is an integral part of people’s work in the developed states, which means that the digital workspace’s definition has evolved towards showing the technology’s ability to help employees do their work. Alternatively, Deloitte (2011) defines it as “all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace – both the ones in operation and the ones yet to be implemented” (para. 1). Hence, this definition focuses more on the tools that employees need on a daily basis and not on the infrastructural aspect of such workspace.
Ifenthaler (2018) defines this workspace as a cost-effective method for delivering information to employees. For example, the digital workspace can be used to facilitate the learning of the employees and to ensure that they have constant and immediate access to their training materials. This allows companies to save on the development and implementation of training and development programs.
Other authors focus primarily on the benefits and outcomes of employing a digital workspace solution. Pavlović (2020) defines it as a holistic set of tools and applications that allow achieving productivity at work. This author’s focus on the holistic aspect of the digital workspace design is interesting since other definitions, apart from those referring to the infrastructure, do not focus on the issue of having a single system designated to help the employees.
Li and Herd (2017) define it as the technology used to manage information within the organization. This is a simplified definition that emphasizes the knowledge and information management aspects of the digital workspace. Therefore, a digital workspace is generally understood as the technology and the supporting infrastructure that allows employees to work on a daily basis, for example, communicate with customers and colleagues, plan activities, and others.
The authors in this review have a uniform option regarding the evolution of the digital workspace since its integration into the daily work lives of the people could not have been avoided considering the rate of technological advancement we are experiencing. Harry (2019) argues that the digital workplace is a consequence of the fourth industrial revolution, which is based on technological advancement, digitalization, and the development of telecommunications technology. Attaran et al. (2019) state that “employees feel that their workplace is not smart enough and they are ready for a workplace that can accommodate their changing lifestyles” (p. 1).
Hence, the digital workspace allows addressing this discrepancy by creating a smart space where people can leverage the technology to achieve advancement in their professional life. This is a people-focused perspective; however, it allows one to understand that the integration of information technologies into the professional lives of organizations is inevitable and has to be encouraged.
In general, the goal of the digital workspace is to provide the employees with the consistency of their experience when using applications and software that they need for work, since in cases when there is no digital workspace, they have to continuously switch between different applications. Hence, the outcome of having a digital workspace is better employee satisfaction and increased engagement in their work because they can perform their job responsibilities more effectively.
The similarities between the different definitions explored in this chapter are that all authors define the digital workspace as software that aids employees in accessing the files and information needed for their work, communicating with colleagues, and performing their work duties. However, the definitions differ depending on the industry and the field of work of the specialist, which suggests that there is no uniform approach to creating a digital workspace; it depends on the industry and the company’s requirements.
This is supported by a study by Williams and Schubert (2018), who found that employees interpret a digital workspace concept differently, which suggests that the meaning of this concept varies based on the point of it of the individual expressing their ideas. The other similarities between the different definitions are mainly linked to the emphasis that the technology aids the employees and allows them to achieve optimal productivity as opposed to not using the digital workspace. In summary of this section, different authors approach the definition of the digital workspace differently; however, there is an agreement on the use of technology that aids the employees in their work and helps them achieve better results.
Elements of the Digital Workplace
The elements of the digital workspace depend greatly on the specifics of the industry and the job responsibilities of an individual. According to Harry (2019), the call center employees are “omnichannel, which include virtual assistants, instant messaging, chatbot and mobile apps designed to facilitate interaction” (p. 109). Hence, the goal of this digital workspace and its elements is to aid the employees of the call center in their interactions with the customers, and the elements of the workspace are designed accordingly. These are the particular tools that encompass the digital workspace in a company that works in the call center industry.
From a broader perspective, Karam (2014) states that the technology-specific elements include the entire software and hardware infrastructure used to create this workspace. For example, access devices such as laptops or tablets allow individuals to use the actual workspace. Next, to ensure that these devices are interconnected and allow access to the firm’s information resources and applications, there is the element of the communications infrastructure (Karam, 2014). Essentially, the company mainly chooses a cloud-based solution or store their data on-site, regardless, there is a need to connect the employee’s devices with the databases and with one another to facilitate the work.
Next, there are the software tools that are an essential part of the telecommunications element of the digital workplace. The software is the applications, such as Persistent Systems or WebEx Global, that allow people to actually perform their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities (Karam, 2014). Therefore, the technological element of the digital workspace is a complex one and requires a lot of attention from the company because it is a complex system of hardware devices, data storage solutions, and connectivity elements that create a unified system of the digital workplace.
Some tools that are integral to digital workplaces have become their distinct areas of development as study. For example, Schwade (2021) discusses the “enterprise collaboration systems (ECS) have become the core of the digital workplace in many organizations” (p. 113587). Evidently, ensuring the collaboration between the employees who work remotely or who primarily use digital tools for communication is among the biggest challenges for organizations. Hence, the ECS tools aim to bridge the gap in communication; however, there is a limited understanding or research on how to effectively use these new communication tools. Hence, leaders use ECS to set tasks and encourage cooperation between their employees; however, more research is needed to fully address this topic.
Learning and development is an important element of the traditional workspace, and it is the investment of the organization into the development of its human resources and the company’s competitive advantage. According to Ifenthaler (2018), another aspect of the digital workspace is the learning and training materials, making the human resource training and development. The benefit of such an approach, especially for small businesses, is the ability to save on digital solutions and implement customized solutions, which would be impossible with non-digital workspaces. The learning space development also requires specified software and technologies that will aid in the process.
When dividing the digital workspace into the categories such as “technology, people, and process,” it should be examined. Williams and Schubert (2018) define the important characteristics of this workspace as the technology platform, organizational strategy, and the employees. For example, the digital workplace should be set up with regard to the future of the organization, considering the plans and strategic developments. Additionally, there is a need to set up the infrastructure considering the current employment laws and regulations regarding data privacy, including the legislation that outlines the rules regarding the collection and storage of information.
From the viewpoint of people, Williams and Schubert (2018), as well as Clifton (2021), argue that the digital workspace should be set up considering the employees’ needs with the end goal of helping them achieve better productivity. Clifton (2021), in particular, argues that this workplace should support knowledge sharing, collaboration, and engagement of individuals. Hence, the digital workspace approach of the organization has to align with the internal processes and the overall strategy of the business since, in another case, the solution will not operate in a way that allows achieving the main goal, which is productivity enhancement.
When reviewing the elements of the people in relation to the digital workspace, it is important to consider the skills required to operate in this space. For example, Dittes e note that although the majority of individuals living in developed countries are familiar with digital technologies and their applications, this is not the case with developing states. Hence, to implement a digital workspace, one would also have to invest in the development of the computer literacy and skills required to operate these machines in order for the workspace to be used effectively.
In summary, when examining the elements of the digital workplace, it is important to consider the general business environment of the organization where this solution is employed. For example, the internal processes, including communications between the employees or learning, are important, as well as the overall strategic direction of the business. Additionally, the technological infrastructure, including the devices that employees have and the data storage solutions, are vital. Finally, the skills of the individuals and their ability to use the digital workplace solution define the potential outcomes of using this solution.
Challenges on the Way to the “Perfect Digital Workplace”
Evidently, there are barriers obstructing the creation of the ideal digital workspace as any system has flaws, especially considering the connection between the digital workplace systems and human resources. One of the challenges defined from the company’s employees’ perspective is the emergence of cyberbullying that is facilitated through the digital workspace. According to Zedlacher and Hartner-Tiefenthale (2021), “cyberbullying can be pervasive, fast, and intrude the private sphere” (p. 572).
Moreover, it is difficult for organizations to control whether their employees engage in such adverse behavior, while the consequences of cyberbullying can be detrimental to one’s mental health. One way of addressing this is by promoting moral values and establishing social control within the digital workspaces (Zedlacher & Hartner-Tiefenthale, 2021). Hence, a digital workplace creates a need to manage the company’s culture in a new dimension, which is less controllable when compared to traditional workplaces, where HR managers typically engage in programs and practices to promote moral values and good workplace culture.
Another challenge from the people’s perspective is that some individuals may struggle to adapt to the work dynamics within the digital workspace. Although according to Zedlacher and Hartner-Tiefenthale (2021), 90% of people in the Western states have access to the Internet, the case is not the same for the developing nations, and Harry (2019) argues that many individuals there cannot use the digital workspace tools without prior training. The issue with this is the difference in the level of computer literacy and, therefore, the understanding of how to use the workplace tools effectively, which may create a gap between the employees or groups of employees (Dittes et al., 2019). However, training programs and HR practices can help address the inconsistencies.
Another challenge from the perspective of the companies is that due to COVID-19, many of them had to transfer to digital work rapidly. Butusina (2021) states that such a rapid transition means that there was no proper adjustment time and ability to develop adequate digital workspaces or train the personnel on how to use these since their government’s restrictions required organizations to transition people to remote work immediately. Many organizations went through the transition toward the digital workplace environment rapidly, which left a lot of gaps that continue to obstruct the effective work of their employees. However, as the pandemic is a less significant issue now, businesses can take time to adjust their practices and ensure that their workspaces are efficient.
From the company’s perspective, there are two main barriers to the implementation of the digital workspace, the cost and the infrastructure associated with it. With the cost, there is an option of ordering a customer solution, which is more suitable and effective as the contractor will create a digital workspace infrastructure and tools that are designed specifically to support the needs of this organization. With the infrastructure issue, there is a need to have the hardware and supporting systems, such as cloud storage, to allow the access and use of digital workspace tools for the company’s employees (Dittes et al., 2019).
Moreover, with COVID-19, as mentioned by Dittes et al. (2019), the challenge of hardware and infrastructure development has become more apparent because companies had to provide their employees with tools such as laptops and create a system that allows remote access to the digital workspace if it was not used previously. Therefore, the development and implementation of digital workplace practices is a significant investment for organizations, and businesses must treat it accordingly by ensuring that they have a strategic plan for the development and use of these applications and the resources required to implement this strategy.
Evidently, the implementation of the digital workplace requires a change in the way companies manage their human resources. Li and Herd (2017) investigate the issue of Human Resource (HR) practices and their adaptation to the realities of the digital workspace because HR professionals have to redefine their approaches toward understanding the social environments that the employees are in and the learning behaviors of this induvial.
This necessity is linked to the HR professional’s responsibility toward creating a work environment that supports the employees and aids their learning and productivity; however, the interactions in the digital workspace differ from those in an office space. Regarding this issue, more theoretical and practical articles and studies are needed to learn about the social environment that is a result of the digital workspace and to understand how to leverage it for the benefit of the business.
The employees’ attitudes towards the use of the digital workplace become a focal point of discussion in relation to the efficiency of these systems. Selimović et al. (2021) conducted a study where they collected the opinions of the workers employed in the financial industry regarding the digital workplace and their intention to use it. The results show that the intention to use determines whether the system will be utilized effectively in the organization, and therefore, the management has to work with the “people” element of the digital workplace and ensure that the latter understand the importance and usefulness of these software programs. Moreover, Selimović et al. (2021) state that those “who feel connected in the workplace will achieve higher work performance but also higher level of enjoyment” (p. 101610). Hence, organizations need to consider the broader context of applying digital workplace tools and focus on the professionals working for them to mitigate the employee barrier.
Interestingly, Meske et al. (2020) discuss the formal barriers that arise as a result of the implementation of digital workplace practices. More specifically, the majority of organizations operate on the basis of formal hierarchies, which define the power and authority of the individuals and allow the leaders to manage the work that is completed by the employees. However, the digital environment creates a gap in perceiving these hierarchies, as opposed to the traditional work environments. Moreover, Meske et al. (2020) found that the power distance and hierarchy characteristics differ across cultures, which creates another barrier from the viewpoint of the digital workspace.
Finally, the perspective of state and society defines the direction of development of the digital workspace in a particular legion. As was mentioned, some authors focus on the importance of comprehending the legal frameworks behind the management of data and employment laws, which affect how digital workplace strategies can be manifested (Butusina, 2021). However, Butusina (2021) also argues that the majority of economically developed states, for example, Sweden, have voiced their support for the implementation and integration of digital workspaces into the company’s daily lives. This means that the legal frameworks relating to digital work will continue to evolve in support of this approach. Moreover, it is evident that the pandemic has changed the social and state-wide views of the digital workspace since many people were forced to work remotely.
In summary, this section focuses on the barriers and challenges that organizations’ leaders may face when working towards the implementation of the digital workplace. The majority of the literature cites human-related issues, such as resistance from the employees, a need to facilitate training or a difference in the skill level that allows the use of digital tools. Additionally, digital workplace practices require one to understand the challenges regarding the company’s culture and values and potential problems such as cyberbullying that arise from the use of digital communication tools. These issues can be addressed through adequate HR management practices and by creating an appropriate company culture within the digital space.
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