Transitioning to a digital culture doesn’t happen just by adopting a few tools. It requires a complete strategy overhaul.
– By Suresh Sambandam, CEO – Kissflow
On March 11, the COVID-19 outbreak  was characterized as a pandemic by the WHO. As major companies across the world are compelled to ask their employees to work from home, traditional collaborative work has been disrupted.
CEOs and leaders who aren’t used to this model face a lot of challenges. How do you make sure work continues? Do you need to reevaluate how you measure productivity? How do you stay in touch with others without having 6 hours a day of meetings?
Your first response is probably to find some quick technology fixes. You quickly adopt a messaging and video conferencing platform to replace your current conversations. Then, you’ll keep approving more tools that come your way that seem to facilitate better collaboration.
But you are actually in the middle of a highly condensed version of what CIOs of digital companies have been struggling with for the last 10 years. Transitioning to a digital culture  doesn’t happen just by adopting a few tools. It requires a complete strategy overhaul.
The obvious solution isn’t always the right one
If you are new to digital work, your first instinct is to pursue a new tool for each problem you are trying to solve. You follow a best-of-breed model and use tools that are well known for certain functions.
However, this quickly causes an overload of applications and creates even more confusion. Employees will spend their time jumping from one application to the next and constantly learning new interfaces. You will need to expand your IT team just to handle all the chaos and to build custom connections between different tools.
In the end, adding more digital solutions often results in increased costs, not only in software but also in the number of people who need to manage it.
Multiple tools vs. a digital workplace
Instead of multiple tools, you need to actually think about what is required for a digital workplace. A digital workplace is the place where your employees go when it’s time to get work done. It’s a single platform that houses all of your collaboration, projects, and processes. A digital workplace gives every person the key tools they need to manage any kind of work that comes their way.
Using a digital workplace requires you not only to work from a digital environment but also to think digitally. How will you share the information you have with other teams? Will the data you produce be useful for other processes? What is the most effective way to share ideas? Why are your conversations about work happening in a separate place from where you actually work?
A digital workplace is where the organization’s people, intelligence, processes, and infrastructure come together as one integrated unit, where all the employees work collaboratively towards one set of unified business outcomes tied to exceeding customer expectations.
How work changes with a digital workplace
Adopting a digital workplace paradigm is more than just using video conferencing. While your immediate need might be communication apps that replace what you’ve always done, here are two ways that a digital workplace will fundamentally change the way your company will approach work.
In a digital workplace, managers don’t look over people’s shoulders to make sure work is being done. Their primary role is to create and optimize the systems that allow for the best work to take place. A digital workplace gives full visibility over projects as well as individual tasks, so that everyone knows the status of work without needing to have a meeting about it.
Managers can spend more time looking at how work gets done and taking care of employees rather than tracking time in seats and creating slides.
A digital workplace allows managers to immediately create an automated process, a flexible project board, or a collaborative channel to discuss work.
These tools help managers:
- Set clear goals
- Decentralize control
- Have a system that distributes accountability
- Track progress of individual tasks using an automated process management system
Whether co-located or distributed, teams need a place where they can share information and connect on the work they are doing. The key advantage of a digital workplace is that it puts the collaboration right in the same place where the work is being done. When you need to recall a conversation about a key item in a process, did it happen in email? Slack? Teams? On the phone?
It’s much better if that collaboration is contextual, meaning that it happens right inside the item.
Contextual collaboration  allows employees to:
- End siloed conversations
- Bring in new people with a quick tag
- Have discussions on the go with anyone
- Be able to look at the full picture while talking
- Record the full conversation history around tasks
For the next few months, your focus will be on trying to keep your business running, which means looking at chat and video conferencing tools. However, after the newness fades away, you’ll quickly realize that these are just features on top of something more foundational that you need to run a digital company.
The digital workplace has been coming for a long time, but COVID-19 might usher it in much sooner than anyone predicted. 
The good news is that companies have been going through these transitions for the last 10 years and there are mature products on the market that can help you learn from what others have had to struggle through. This is a very unique opportunity and a wake up call to pay attention to your digital transformation needs and pave the way for a system of working together from anywhere.
(Originally published in ETCIO.COM)