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Henrik Gustafsson, co-author of “The digital workplace” and digital strategist at Knowit writes about what is required in order to succeed in a digital working environment, elevate employees and enable digitalisation of the business.

Rapid technological development, new competition and increased demand for better customer experiences are drivers for more productive businesses, change and innovation. These requirements can be a burden for employees who are locked into old methods of working, using outdated IT systems. This leads to overload, stress and health challenges that destroy enthusiasm and prevent employees from working effectively and, not least, creatively.

There is no use in throwing digital dust on existing work environments

As consumers, we have switched to a new way of relating to different businesses. It should be quick, intuitive, regardless of channel, at any time of day or night, and the business in question should know who we are and what we prefer. We can move seamlessly between web, mobile phone and social channels when interacting with the business and, not least, recognise ourselves in the experience offered. The business listens to us and learns from our behaviour to allow it to constantly offer better and new services based on this insight.

In practice, however, nowhere near all businesses and organisations are delivering this kind of customer experience, and the digital transformation for many is about capturing and reducing the gap that occurs between the business’ existing digital customer experience and what the customer actually expects. A large number of managers find that digitalisation grinds to a halt once an app has been launched and that the company fails to keep up internally.

The digital working environment is often poorly designed and frustrating to use

Investment in and implementation of new IT systems is often about streamlining a process or a function. Based on the fact that this is often not seen from an employee perspective, a report from Neochange shows that productivity in the American companies tested has decreased by almost 20% in recent years, in spite of IT investments being made in order to increase productivity. The problem is that from an employee perspective, this is perceived as multiple systems that work in different ways and which lead to inefficiency and frustration. A recent Swedish survey showed that during the course of a working day 110 employees at a hospital were in contact with 117 different systems.

It is obviously unsustainable to continue with this type of technology-driven and silo-orientated investment in which the user and user experience are neglected to the extent that the organisation as a whole functions less well.

Shift #1: From technological platforms to digital services

Increased use of digital services is part of a shift that has been going on for a long time in which the economy has moved from the production of products to the production of services. As consumers, we see growing benefits in not owning products, instead only paying for the time we are able to enjoy and benefit from them. The supplier is only charging for the actual use, and we avoid the responsibilities and risks that ownership entails, as well as handling products and platforms.

When you develop digital workplaces, it is important to think “services”

The “service” mindset moves the focus naturally from the actual product and technical platforms to user needs and the value as perceived during use.  Digital services become the building blocks that can be planned and prioritised according to stipulated goals. Services can be designed, developed and optimised on an ongoing basis. Technologies used to realise the services can be replaced when new, improved technologies emerge.

“Avoid technology-driven and silo-orientated investment Shift focus, think digital services; not products and platforms”,

Thinking in terms of services is an opportunity to create digital workplaces with the user and value creation in focus and to be able to change them, service by service, at a rate that the business and employees can keep up with. 

Change #2: From structured processes to creative knowledge work

We are currently seeing the automation of administrative tasks in which digital agents and assistants take over routine activities. 

Taking the initiative, thinking outside the box and interacting with others are critical when the world around you is constantly changing. Google’s Eric Schmidt believes that the only way a business can consistently achieve success in today’s world is to attract smart, creative employees and create an environment in which they operate on a large scale, i.e. it requires a work environment in the form of a digital workplace that enables employees to be individually productive but also capable of finding each other, sharing knowledge and flexibly resolving problems, even if they are often spread out over different offices and time zones.

The path to a digital workplace that elevates employees

Digital transformation of the workplace requires an holistic approach and a level of coordination that has not previously been required. Generally, ownership is too fragmented for the digital working environment as a whole to function optimally. Then problems arise concerning complexity, sub-optimisation and silos.

Our most important advice is to involve interested parties from various parts of the business, including employees, to define challenges, needs and frustrations. We have discovered that a derivative version of Osterwalder’s business model can be beneficial.  The model frames the task so that you can see the whole, discuss and make decisions. See the figure below.

The building blocks on the canvas should answer the following issues:

  • VISION. How can we formulate an overall ambition that provides frameworks and direction for the digital workplace?
  • USERS. Who are the most important users, and what characterises their needs?
  • UNITS. Which types of digital units are required to interact with the various services in the digital workplace?
  • SITUATIONS. In which different user situations and contexts is the digital workplace used?
  • CAPACITIES. Which digital capacities, i.e. digital services and working methods, meet the users’ needs?
  • PLATFORMS. Which digital platforms are required to deliver the digital capacities and services?
  • INFORMATION. Which information resources are employed by the users and services?
  • MANAGEMENT. Who owns the digital workplace, and who is responsible for the various components?

With a picture of the current situation, the necessary measures can be identified, and those that are easy to implement and generate high value can be implemented immediately in order to kick-start the change. The next stage, according to the canvas, is to begin the work of creating a picture of a desired situation and then create a schedule to reach it.

The book “Den digitala arbetsplatsen” (The digital workplace) describes in detail an approach in which the business’ strategies and goals, employees’ needs and actual work situations in combination with research into new digital opportunities, form the basis of the business’ digitalisation. The methodology is influenced by modern design thinking and strategic thinking in which needs-driven innovation, rapid results and continual learning are important ingredients. 


  • Berg. Gustafsson. (2016). Den digitala arbetsplatsen. Intranäverk.
  • IT Adoption Insight Report. (2012). Neochange.Söderström, J. (2011). Jävla skitsystem! Jonas Söderström.
  • E. Rosenberg, J. (2014). How Google Works. John Murray

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