“Digital workplace.” Sounds nice doesn’t it? It brings to mind clean, white offices where happy workers have effortless access to high-tech amenities while robots zip around keeping the place in perfect condition. While this is a nice dream, the reality is much more messy. We have seen countless reports about the importance of implementing a digital workplace but almost none of them have given practical examples of how to actually do it.

The reason is that creating a digital workplace is hard. Technology aside, creating an integrated workplace management system requires on-boarding vastly different groups of people. You see, the offices have a variety of important managers, all with their own goals and incentives. Glenn Hicks of iOffice presented about the possible conflicts between these players at our recent Future of Work event in New York City.

To understand which groups need to buy in to the idea of a digital workplace, and which ones should be in charge, Hicks thinks we need to look no further than the conference room. The conference room is the original communal space. It needs to be accessible to everyone but can not be shared. Now, many offices have open seating, creating a conference room situation for every workplace, so understanding who owns the conference room can shed light on who will need to lead the digital transformation.

The first major stakeholder is the IT department. They are the ones that actually have to set up and maintain the technology for the conference room. If a piece of technology is not working, they are likely the ones that will be called in to fix it. In some cases they are the only ones that know how the workplace technology integrates. The problem is, they are often not accessible to the end user of the conference room. They might have created a scheduling software, but finding a way for everyone to access it is out of their expertise. Many times, they are employed by the owner of the building, so they don’t have a lot of contact or integration with the tenants. If user experience is the true index of success, then they might not be the best suited to control the conference room, or the digital workplace.

Another important player is the facilities manager. They are the worker bees of the office colony. They control lighting, temperature and are usually in charge of setting up and breaking down major layout changes. Since they are the ones that actually do the work it would make sense for them to be the first to be informed about any insights into the conference room usage. Giving them control of the digital workplace is logical, since they have the closest interaction with the user but they sometimes lack the long-term incentivisation that is needed to create change when it is needed.

That is where the last group comes in, the real estate professionals. They are hands off of the day-to-day operations but are the ones who usually call for major layout changes. They understand the market and can help a building get the most out of its floor space. To do this, they need access to the information that the IT and FM crews collect. I a space is not being fully utilized, they will be the first to notice and correct it.

The worst part about this battle for the conference room is that if it continues, no one wins. For a digital workplace to be successful everyone has to use and contribute to one central platform. Usually all three of these teams act independently with their own bank of spreadsheets. Getting them to integrate their own individual files is futile since they all have different needs with the information and often don’t even use the same terminology.

That is why there are a lot of new systems, like Hummingbird from iOffice, that are being created. Getting facilities managers, real estate professionals, information technology engineers and actual end users to use one system is the ultimate hurdle for the digital workplace.

Here is Glenn talking about how a truly integrated digital workplace can empower the building’s users.

Even though this is a difficult task, it is worth it. They payoffs come in the form of a vastly more useful workspace. Employees can know where their colleagues will be at a particular time, can book private rooms and conference spaces seamlessly and any new developments can be shared throughout the entire network.

The digital workplace might seem like a distant dream but, with new tools to help bring everyone involved together, it might be closer to a reality than many think.

Franco Faraudo

Franco FaraudoFranco Faraudo has an MBA in entrepreneurship and works as a real estate agent and property manager. He has been involved in both commercial and residential real estate as an agent and investor. He writes about start-ups and their role in modern cultural and societal trends. He is co-founder and chief content officer of propmodo.com.