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Finding Your Employee’s Center of Gravity

The idea of a digital workplace or workspace, or hub—call it what you will—is one of those amorphous concepts that seems to take the shape of whoever is leading the initiative and whatever business challenges they’re trying to solve. So, when I hear one or another of these terms, or other variations, I always have to stop and think, “OK, what is 'digital workspace' this time, exactly?!”

A half-dozen years ago, in a post she wrote for WorkSpace Connect sister site, No Jitter, my colleague Robin Gareiss, Metrigy CEO, described the high-level function of a digital workplace as integrating, customizing, and leveraging technology to make people more productive. “By consolidating numerous enterprise apps, collaboration apps, electronic forms, and functions into a single, personalized dashboard, accessed by any device anywhere, people can work more efficiently,” she said.

At the time, some pitched the idea of the digital workplace as an extension of a traditional corporate intranet. Robin argued that it was much more, particularly because it would incorporate much more, including communications and collaboration applications. Today, we often hear that those very things, especially team collaboration apps such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, are the digital workplace platforms themselves.

In Metrigy’s “Workplace Collaboration: 2023-24” global study of 440 companies, 52.7% say they view their team collaboration app as the hub in which employees not only collaborate with peers, but also manage most of their work. The 29.3% that view team collaboration as “just a messaging app” might want to reconsider: Two thirds of the most successful companies benchmarked for this study think of their team collaboration app as their central work hub (with success determined by revenue growth, cost savings, and productivity improvements). 

Slack, not surprisingly, subscribes to this idea. In Metrigy’s latest episode of our MetriSight podcast, Steve Hamrick, VP of product management at Slack, tells me why he thinks the “center of gravity for where work is happening” has shifted from intranets or other employee portals to team collaboration apps. If you’re a desk/office worker, there’s really no job today “where at some point in the day, you don't have to collaborate with someone else to get your work done.” A solution like Slack that can stop the pain of application switching by bringing together real-time collaboration with integration to the other applications employees use throughout the day plus automation provides a much-desired experience, he argues.

Automation is an operative word here. Slack is building automation into its team collaboration app—or should I say, “digital workspace?”—for a number of use cases. In conjunction with parent company Salesforce, Slack supports a capability it calls service swarming. With service swarming, a service agent having trouble resolving a customer inquiry can push the ticket into a Slack working group, whose members might be other service agents or subject matter experts. Whoever is available can work as a swarm to find an answer to the customer’s issue—all without the service agent ever having to escalate the ticket or prolong resolution. Salesforce’s generative AI capabilities can even kick into play, for auto-creation of a knowledge base article that can help other service agents address the issue should they encounter it at some point.

Another example is Slack Sales Elevate, which brings Salesforce data and opportunity management into Slack, allowing salespeople to see, update, and collaborate around opportunities within a Slack channel. From within Slack, salespeople can create workflows, set reminders, and monitor sales metrics, for example. 

In that No Jitter post I mentioned earlier, Robin pinpointed the addition of automation as a second-stage deliverable of a digital workplace platform. Coupled with machine learning/AI, she wrote that we might see something like auto-launch of a video call via a calendar integration—and the call would include relevant materials from the team chat channel and integrated document store, as well. I haven’t seen this particular auto-launch capability come into play yet, but we’re on the brink of change—one point in case, the above-noted example in which salespeople will be able to create workflows from within Slack. And, doesn’t “include relevant materials from the team chat channel and integrated document store” sound a lot like a directive a meeting organizer should be able present to a generative AI-enabled assistant that’s been integrated into the digital workplace?

Generative AI-enabled assistance is already a capability we’ve seen made available via companies like Notion, which pitches its app as a digital (or connected) workplace hub yet hasn’t morphed from intranet or team collaboration origins. Rather, it launched with underpinnings of project and document management, with team chat to complement those.

So, “What is 'digital workspace' this time, exactly?!” I don’t know that we’ll ever have a definitive answer. To twist the old expression, “The answer will be in the eye of the beholder.” In other words, a digital workplace will continue to take many forms, and become increasingly sophisticated via AI and automation, based on business need.