How to Build a Digital, Modern Workplace: The Complete Guide

Today’s digital economy is fast-paced and volatile, which is why it is more important than ever to build a modern workplace.

Modern workplaces are more agile, digital, and efficient, which makes them essential for success in today’s uncertain business landscape.

As we’ll see in this article, modern workplaces are better for both employees and employers.

Before we learn how to modernize the work environment, though, let’s clarify what exactly a modern workplace is.

Characteristics of the Modern Workplace

Different sources define the modern workplace differently, but there are a few common themes and characteristics that are ubiquitous.

These include:

  • Digital technology
  • Remote work
  • Modern processes and workflows
  • The workplace culture
  • The employee experience

There are certainly advantages to modernizing the work environment, such as increased employee productivity and engagement.

However, we can also argue that success in the current economy depends on having a modern workplace.

To understand why, let’s dive a bit deeper into the contemporary world of work.

The Modern Workplace: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the modern workplace:

Why is it important to modernize the workplace?

Modernizing the workplace boosts several employee metrics, including:

  • Skills and talent. Proficiency matters more than ever in the modern, digital workplace. New updates and new software implementations require ongoing training in order to maintain productivity. Though selective hiring is important, in today’s complex work environment, digital literacy and cross-training are also necessary.
  • Engagement and productivity. When workplaces fail to modernize, they become less efficient, less relevant, and less productive. Inefficiencies and errors can depress performance, while also driving employees to look for work elsewhere.
  • Job satisfaction. Happier employees are more likely to stay on board for the long-term. This, in turn, reduces hiring costs and contributes to a better work atmosphere. Employers can positively influence employees’ job satisfaction by, for instance, offering more workplace training in order to keep workers stimulated and interested.
  • Agility and adaptability. Modern workplaces, as we will discuss below, are built around the latest business practices, digital tools, and workplace experience strategies. Implementing these ideas into the work environment enhances employee agility, which in turn enhances organizational agility.

Since a talented and engaged workforce is mandatory for success, it follows that improvements to these metrics also benefits the organization as a whole.

From an organization’s perspective, modernized workplaces boost:

  • Organizational agility. In today’s volatile economy, organizations must be able to act and react quickly to external changes. Improving the workplace helps to improve organizational agility, a trait that will become even more important in the months and years ahead.
  • The organization’s performance and effectiveness. Organizational performance depends directly on employee performance and productivity, among other things. By modernizing the workplace, employers are providing their employees with the tools and skills that they need to fulfill the company’s objectives.
  • The outcomes of business initiatives, such as digital transformation programs. Organizational change has become far more common in recent years. Regardless of the nature of those changes, having a modern workplace will help employees maintain the skills and mindsets they need to drive those programs forward.

These types of benefits can prove very advantageous for virtually any organization, yet when it comes to improving the workplace, business leaders often hesitate.

Hesitation is understandable, since there are plenty of other business initiatives competing for funds – but there are definite drawbacks to stalling on such innovations.

What are the drawbacks of not modernizing?

Failure to maintain a modern workplace can have a number of negative consequences, such as:

  • Limiting employees’ ability to innovate. Research from PwC highlighted the growing need for talented workers. Among other problems, a lack of talent reduces companies’ ability to innovate, which in turn impacts the organization’s ability to perform and compete.
  • Lowering productivity and engagement. Poor work environments frustrate workers, lower engagement, increase turnover, and result in many other problems. As we will discuss later, workplace improvement programs are investments that directly impact organizational performance, and they should be viewed as such.
  • More inefficiencies. Poor workplace design makes it more difficult for employees to do their jobs. Ineffective organizational communication, for instance, increases errors, miscommunications, and friction, which in turn negatively impact the workforce’s performance.

In short, these types of errors can significantly interfere with an organization’s performance and even its ability to compete in the marketplace.

The workplace should therefore be viewed as a core business function in today’s enterprise. And since today’s enterprise is continually evolving, it is important to ensure that the workplace also stays up-to-date.

What are the biggest challenges to creating a modern workplace?

Business professionals who want to undertake a workplace improvement project will run into barriers both before and during the program itself.

These can include:

  • Resistance from business leaders. To obtain buy-in from leaders, it is important to maintain solid relationships with management, while also making a business case for the project, as discussed later.
  • Legacy technology, processes, and systems. Transitioning from old technology to new technology can become a complicated affair, presenting problems on many fronts. New systems, for instance, must be integrated with both internal systems and external systems, such as those that belong to suppliers and business partners.
  • Employee resistance. Employee resistance, which we also address later on, can significantly inhibit the success of a project. If, for instance, managers fail to communicate the reasons for a project, employees can quickly feel alienated or even besieged.

Change management is one of the best ways to overcoming challenges such as these, as we will discuss below.

What is the best way to implement workplace improvement programs?

Modernizing the should be an ongoing effort, rather than a one-time project.

Companies that have yet to implement such programs, however, should begin with an organizational change initiative.

These initiatives should focus on areas such as:

  • Employee training. Employee training, as mentioned elsewhere in this guide, has become more and more important in recent years. Digital skills, after all, depend on digital tools, which are continually evolving. To keep up, employees must constantly study and learn – and in many cases, organizations must be the ones that provide the training.
  • The employee experience. Another theme discussed later is employee experience management. Modern workplaces proactively manage employee expectations and needs, which positively affects engagement, performance, and more.
  • Building the virtual workplace. The modern workplace has become largely virtual, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote working became the norm in early 2020, and although this trend should abate after the crisis ends, virtual work is set to become far more common in the coming years and decades.
  • Designing and standardizing digital workflows. Business processes and workflows form an essential part of any workplace. As an organization adopts new tools and systems, new workflows should also be implemented. After all, performance improvements depend as much on tools and people as they do on business process design.
  • Digital adoption. To stay modern, organizations must continually adopt new tools and software. Though software implementation is a crucial step in the digital adoption process, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Truly realizing products’ value depends also on factors such as onboarding, training, and the software experience.

Now, let’s look at how a company can design a workplace improvement project from scratch.

How to Modernize the Workplace: A Step-by-Step Roadmap

The following template can help managers and business leaders design, execute, and manage a workplace improvement project:

1. Assess the current work environment

Before actually implementing a workplace improvement project, it is necessary to understand the current state of the workplace. That information can then be used as a starting point for developing a strategy and plan.

Here are a few areas to consider when gathering information:

  • Costs. Budgets are always top-of-mind for executives when assessing any proposed business plan. For that reason, it is important to assess the potential costs of workplace improvements, as well as their potential ROI.
  • Available resources. Existing resources, such as human capital and IT systems, will form the starting point of any workplace modernization project. They will also form the basis for important analyses, such as a gap analysis, which will be used to create a plan of action.
  • Workforce skills. Employees’ existing skills play an important role in many modernization projects. Programs that include goals designed to improve those skills, for instance, will need to start from a detailed assessment of existing skills.
  • Existing technology. Workplace modernization efforts in today’s digital economy often revolve around digital adoption strategies. Those strategies aim to improve onboarding, training, the digital employee experience, and other areas that will boost the workforce’s digital capabilities.

Analyses and assessments, such as gap analyses, can help project managers better understand the workplace’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs. That information, in turn, will be directly used when setting goals and designing an actual plan of action.

2. Set goals

Goals must be achievable and measurable – when they are, it will be easier to understand the actual impact of the program, make improvements, and demonstrate ROI.

Here are a few examples of goals to aim for:

  • Greater employee productivity and performance, measured by output, qualitative metrics, time, efficiency, and so forth
  • A more pleasing work environment, which can be measured through employee surveys
  • Improved employee engagement and job satisfaction, metrics that can be determined through sources such as surveys and software analytics
  • Increased efficiency, a metric that can be evaluated by comparing factors such as costs, timelines, and resources both before and after the project
  • Agility and adaptability, which assess, for instance, how easily a workforce can adopt new processes, react to external changes, or implement an organizational change project

Goals such as these will act as guiding lights when developing an actual plan of action, covered in step four.

3. Address challenges

Obstacles can derail any business project if they are not handled properly.

Common barriers to any change project can include:

  • Budget constraints. Every company has a budget, which will naturally have an effect on their ability to invest in workplace modernization projects. In some cases, however, these budget restraints depend more on strategic priorities than they do on the availability of funds.
  • Demonstrating ROI. When budgets depend more on organizational investment priorities than the availability of funds, then it is a good idea to demonstrate the potential ROI of the project. Doing so can increase the project’s budget, while also improving the chances of executive buy-in.
  • Lack of executive buy-in. A lack of executive buy-in can significantly inhibit any project’s performance or even derail it completely. Demonstrating the program’s potential ROI is one way to gain buy-in. But politics and relationships should not be overlooked, since they can play an equally important role in the program’s success.
  • Employee resistance. Resistance to change is a common problem that often stems from some form of fear, such as the fear of incompetency or inadequacy. Communication and training are two important strategies for minimizing resistance.

Ideally, obstacles such as these will be identified during the initial assessments, through, for instance, employee surveys and discussions with leadership. With a detailed understanding of those potential barriers, it will be easier to develop strategies that can overcome them.

4. Develop a strategy and a roadmap

A strategy represents the overall method being used to solve a problem – in this case, workplace modernization.

Encapsulating that strategy in a single, articulate statement can help ensure that all stakeholders stay in sync and productive. It can, in other words, act as a guiding “north star” that will provide context and mobilize team members.

The roadmap, or project plan, will be the actual series of activities that turn that strategy into reality.

This document will include items such as:

  • A timeline of events, broken up into stages. Every project is built around a specific timeline. Over the course of the project, timelines and deadlines may shift, but it is still crucial to maintain a project calendar. Among other things, a timeline acts as an accountability mechanism, keeping teams on the same page.
  • Descriptions and goals for each stage. There are many types of journey maps and equally as many opinions on how they should be constructed. Many experts agree on certain key elements, however, such as a set of organizational objectives, a general description of the stage, and goals for specific teams.
  • Key protocols, procedures, roles, and responsibilities. The clear delegation of responsibilities is a must. Organizational change projects, after all involve new procedures, and confusion can easily result if those procedures are not clarified. Along with the timeline, these should be outlined in an easily accessible document.

As with any other journey map, this roadmap will act as both a management tool and a communication tool, ensuring that employees understand their roles and responsibilities.

5. Pilot test the program

Pilot testing is not a necessary step, but it can be a useful way to gather data, collect feedback, and make early adjustments.

For instance, if a workplace modernization project revolves around adopting new digital tools and workflows, managers may decide to perform test runs with a small group of people.

This type of test-driven approach could look like this:

  • A small set of employees receives training on the new tools and processes. For instance, if a company decides to implement Salesforce as part of its modernization strategy, then phased testing can help improve the rollout. Test groups will include super users as well as a test group of standard users.
  • They begin working with the tools part time, in addition to their existing software. Having users work with both old and new tools simultaneously is the most conservative approach. A less conservative approach would be to have the test group switch over to the new platform all at once, which is what many organizations do. Another approach, which would be even less conservative, would be to skip pilot testing altogether and make an organization-wide switch all at once.
  • Managers collect feedback, examine software analytics, and make changes as needed. Data can include software analytics, such as those provided by digital adoption solutions, as well as user feedback. This information can help managers better understand employees’ needs, which can then be incorporated into the full-scale rollout.

This last step can be repeated as many times as needed in order to refine the program prior to full-scale implementation.

6. Roll out the program over a set time frame

Regardless of whether managers choose to pilot test the program, the program will need to be rolled out across the organization.

When implementing any organizational change, including workplace modernization programs, it is important to follow change management best practices.

This includes:

  • Ensuring that employees are aware of the change, its purpose, and its rationale. In other words, employees must know the what and the why of the change. Providing mandates without an explanation is, unfortunately, all too common – and it is also a recipe for resistance.
  • Providing workers with the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to enact the change program. Unless employees have the right knowledge and skills, they will not be able to drive a project forward. For that reason, it is important to develop a goal-oriented onboarding and training program, then that prior to the actual start of the project.
  • Proactively coordinating the project until completion. Managing a project is necessary to maintain accountability, track performance, and make adjustments when necessary. Poor management can result in inefficiencies, major problems, or even the complete failure of the project.

Naturally, no organizational change project will be perfect right out of the gate, which is why it is necessary to stay agile and make adjustments as needed.

7. Monitor and improve

Clear-cut goals and measurable objectives, as mentioned above, will provide insight into the program’s health and performance.

Those metrics will also help managers make improvements, even in the midst of the program.

Here is an example of a continuous improvement process:

  • Metrics are used to track key performance indicators (KPIs), such as employee satisfaction or time-to-competency with a software program. Each KPI should be tied directly to the overall goals and objectives of the modernization program. Not only will this help managers make adjustments during the project’s execution, it will also help them demonstrate the actual impact of the program on performance.
  • Managers analyze that data, compare it to performance goals, and identify opportunities for improvement. Real-time data gives managers the ability to spot problems as they arise, then fix them before they grow too large. Analyzing users’ performance during a digital adoption project, for instance, will help managers identify and address problems with onboarding and training efforts.
  • Adjustments are performed as needed. It should be noted that these adjustments are not final. Once changes are implemented, they will be monitored continuously, and further adjustments should be made if necessary.

This process should be performed regularly in order to maximize the outcomes of the project.

How to Maintain a Modern, Digital Workplace: Best Practices

Here are a few tips and best practices to keep in mind when implementing the steps covered above:

Create a digital workplace

The modern workplace is, by necessity, also digital.

After all, today’s economy is built upon digital technology, so any business that wants to keep up in that economy must also become digital.

There are a few areas to focus on when designing a digital workplace:

  • Digital adoption. Digital adoption refers to the integration of new tools into a digital environment and the use of those tools to their fullest extent. Since the value of software depends on users’ skill levels, it is important to effectively onboard and train users, which is one main focus of digital adoption.
  • Digital transformation. Digital transformation refers to the use of digital technology to enhance an organization’s products, services, processes, customer experiences, and other areas of the business. Effective digital transformation depends on, among other things, effective digital adoption.
  • Digital maturity. Digital maturity frameworks measure an organization’s overall capabilities. These frameworks are based not only on the tools an organization has deployed, but also on employees’ skill levels, business processes, and other factors that impact an organizations’ overall capabilities.

Though IT modernization represents an important part of workplace modernization, it is only one piece of the puzzle. To truly make the most of that technology, it is important to implement a comprehensive strategy that revolves around tools, as well as people and processes.

Utilize modern work processes

Business processes are another important area that should be improved upon and modernized.

With the right processes and business methods, workplaces will operate more efficiently and effectively.

A few modern business practices include:

  • Agile. Agile methods are modern business practices built around customer-centric design, collaboration, and incremental improvements, among other things. These methods are designed to improve speed and responsiveness, both of which are essential for success in today’s dynamic economy.
  • Lean. Lean, like agile, aims for speed, user-centrism, and incremental improvements. By following user data closely, it is easier to create products and services that more closely match users’ needs, while minimizing waste and timelines.
  • Data-driven processes. Building processes around data, rather than preconceived notions or emotions, can help improve results across board. Data-driven practices can improve overall performance, lower error rates, improve decision-making, and more.
  • Hybrid organizational structures. Newer, more flexible organizational structures can provide a number of advantages. Cross-functional teams that are given more autonomy and authority, for instance, can avoid bureaucratic slowdowns that interfere with productivity and performance.

Business approaches such as these can significantly improve a work environment, improving not only productivity and performance, but also employee satisfaction and engagement.

Maintain a skilled, savvy workforce

Digital savviness was once a perk, but today it is a necessity.

Employees who lack the proper skills can inhibit organizational performance, innovation, and more.

To maintain a talented and digitally savvy workforce, it is important to focus on areas such as:

  • Talent. Since the modern workplace is fueled by constant change, cultivating and maintaining a talented workforce has become more important than ever. Talent management, through measures such as selective hiring and employee training, ensures that workers can stay engaged and productive.
  • Culture. A company’s culture has a significant effect on the workplace, employee productivity, job satisfaction, and many other areas. Cultivating proper cultural traits, such as openness to change and a digital-friendly mindset, can go a long way towards enhancing the work environment.
  • Modern workflows. Redesigning and standardizing business processes keeps those processes more efficient and relevant. If, for instance, a company adopts new software, it must also adopt new processes and workflows in order to stay relevant and productive.
  • The right training tools. Training matters, but training needs have changed in the digital workplace. On the one hand, employees must receive more software-related training, which means that employers provide that training effectively and efficiently. For this reason, many companies implement modern tools, such as digital adoption platforms.

By incorporating these aims into workplace improvement programs, employees will be far more productive and adaptable. And that flexibility will be key to success in the future economy, which will be driven by change and volatility.

Dedicate resources to maintaining and improving the workplace

Since the economy is continually evolving, organizations should also continually modernize and improve their work environments.

Dedicated workplace improvement functions can focus on areas such as:

  • The employee experience. It is well-known that the customer experience has a dramatic impact on business performance. Many companies are also beginning to recognize the importance of the employee experience, which directly affects workplace metrics, such as engagement and productivity.
  • The digital workplace. A digital workplace exploits digital technology as much as possible. On the one hand, this means adopting new technologies, such as remote working software, but it also means utilizing that technology to its fullest extent.
  • Employee onboarding and training. Onboarding and training efforts should include a strong digital component, especially in today’s increasingly digital environment. Workplaces that emphasize these areas will ensure that workers stay efficient, proficient, and engaged.

Above, we saw how metrics and KPIs can be used to provide insight into an organizational change program.

That same concept holds true when developing a dedicated workplace improvement function: ongoing data collection can help managers understand what works, what doesn’t, and how to fix it.

The Future of the Workplace: Beyond Digital

Here are a few trends that we can expect to influence the future workplace:

Perpetual modernization will become the norm

In today’s era, change is the only constant.

Technology-driven innovation disrupts industries, driving sweeping change that affects businesses, industries, and the global economy – and, of course, the workplace itself. Such a fast-paced business environment compels businesses to constantly adapt.

With this context in mind, it should be clear that modernization is a never-ending task, as mentioned above.

Agility, speed, and innovation will be key for successful workplaces

Today, agility, speed, and innovation are viewed as advantages.

In the coming years, however, these traits will become prerequisites for success. And the best place to begin cultivating those traits is in the workplace.

“Traditional” workplaces may become a thing of the past, and cutting-edge workplaces may become ubiquitous.

From virtual technology to data-driven business practices, these innovative work environments will leverage every tool at their disposal to succeed and lead.

Digital leaders will dominate their industries

Digital transformation agendas have proliferated across the business world in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

As most of us know, many of the world’s most successful companies exploit technology to its fullest extent. And their utilization of technology in large part contributes to their success.

In the years ahead, that will not change – those companies who lead in their industries will also be digital leaders.

Naturally, maintaining a digital workplace will be one of the top priorities shared by those industry leaders.

Final Thoughts: The Future Is Now, Modernize Today

Maintaining a modern workplace, as we have seen, requires deliberate effort on the part of business leaders.

Managers must define goals, create strategies, and implement organizational change in order to modernize their work environments.

One-time change projects, however, are not enough.

To maintain a modern, productive workplace, it is necessary to continually make improvements, adopt digital tools, and implement modern business practices. Doing so will not only keep employees happy and productive, it will improve organizational performance and help companies stay competitive in tomorrow’s ever-changing digital economy.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.