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Digital workplace as a concept has come a long way. Digital workplace as a practice has a ways to go PHOTO: NASTUDIO

The digital workplace — as a concept — gained a foothold in 2016 and looks set to gather momentum in the year ahead.  

From vendor websites, to consultant briefs, to conferences and significantly in job titles and as names of internal teams — the terminology is cropping up all over. 

Yet despite this progress, we're still in the early stages in terms of digital workplace development. 

Strategy, governance, usability and user experience, search and findability, integration, mobile, big data and change management are just some of the big-ticket items digital workplace teams are tackling now.

But other themes, some of which are subsets of those above, which have so far either been ignored in the digital workplace context or where progress has been slower than expected. 

Advances are slow across the board (I'm looking at you, search), but these seven neglected areas of the digital workplace stand out:

1. Accessibility

We still have a long way to go on accessibility in the digital workplace. While pockets of good practice exist, for many digital workplace teams, accessibility is important, but not a priority. Multiple reasons explain why, but mainly they're logistical and technical.

The problem also comes down to mindset. People tend to regard accessibility as a compliance issue and a tick box exercise. And when something is mandated, it can take on negative connotations, seen as a barrier to creativity or corporate brand guidelines.

Digital workplace usability has strong advocates — and that's great. But accessibility is a usability issue too, which we mustn't neglect.

2. Audio Quality

Organizations put a lot of effort into the visual experience of digital workplaces and content. Unfortunately, audio quality isn't always given the attention it deserves.

Good audio is critical. If you can't hear someone, video conferencing or viewing video content will not happen. 

All too often poor audio ruins a meeting. Have you ever been on a video conference where the picture is clear and the audio is dreadful? Good audio is impacted by the equipment available, software used and physical office design. We need clear sound in the digital workplace, just as we need intuitive and beautiful interfaces.

Some businesses are even going the extra mile and introducing intranet radio.

3. Information and Data Management

Information management is a broad term which usually falls under the broader umbrella of governance. In other words, the boring but essential stuff you must do.

Everyone wants to jump the gun and put digital solutions in place, but you need to get the policies, information and data in shape to make it happen. Information scientists, librarians, taxonomists and knowledge management professionals need to be involved in the digital workplace.

4. External Channels

One theme I keep on returning to is the importance of including access to external-facing channels in your digital workplace. External channels might be primed for external audiences but they often contain useful content and information which directly supports internal stakeholders, like customer service. Moreover, your staff should be aware of how you go to market. 

As your company increases the number of external digital touchpoints, employees should have easy ways to interact with these channels. All too often the digital workplace roadmap doesn't incorporate external — and it should. 

5. Alignment with the Physical Workplace

Coordinating digital and physical workplaces is talked about more than its put into practice. The internet (or intranet) of things, sensors, mobile devices and smarter collaboration spaces provide many opportunities to take action here.

While real estate functions and facilities departments often have decent links with IT, when intranet or internal communications teams drive the digital workplace agenda, the ties to the physical workplace weaken. Optimizing and supporting the physical workplace feels like as area ripe for innovation.

6. Wearables

When Google Glass flopped, interest faded in the potential of wearables in the workplace. However, we are still forging ahead with Apple watches, virtual reality and fitness trackers. Perhaps 2017 will see some progress in this area.

7. Reaching ENBADs

I invented an acronym to describe the group of retail, factory and field workers without easy access to a terminal during the working day: ENBAD. Employees Not Based At Desks.

Digital channels and services traditionally neglect this group, and in some cases these employees don't even have a digital identity within the organization.

Despite internal communications' attempts to deliver news via mobile apps, ENBADs are still poorly served in the digital workplace when compared with the 'knowledge workers.' Partly due to the logistics, partly due to the mindset of providers, we need to work harder to reach this disenfranchised group.

Now that the digital workplace and employee experience are mainstream concepts, we will hopefully progress in some of these areas in the year ahead.