Interview: Ruven Gotz, Microsoft MVP, on digital workplaces

Ruven Gotz

Ruven Gotz

Los Angeles-based Ruven Gotz has two decades of experience in collaboration solutions and enterprise social tools. He helps clients with planning their strategy, information architecture, governance, change management, and adoption challenges as they relate to the digital workplace.

Ruven has received the Microsoft “Most Valuable Professional” (MVP) award for the past nine years and has been an international speaker and author on these topics for many years.

Q: What does “digital workplace” mean to you?

For many people, “digital workplace” is an overused buzzword so I’d like to refine the definition using a term that I first heard Jeff Immelt (formerly of GE) use: Digitalization. According to Gartner, digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model. A true digital workplace is one that changes how we work in a fundamental way. When I talk to my clients about DWP it’s about digitalization and making workers more efficient and productive through integrated, automated systems. By the way, it is in this exact area where our partnership with Akumina comes into play.

Related to this is the idea of having a single place where team members can go to understand their work and their workday even if that work is governed by multiple, not-yet-interconnected systems. A term that my client used which I’ve adopted is “Engagement Layer.” This is a place where workers can feel that they are at the center of all the different systems that they need to interact with daily.

Q: How does a digital workplace better engage employees and make them feel more focused and productive?

When you have a system that lets you focus on the work rather than where you need to go and which systems you need to use, it helps you with your flow and avoids confusion. No need to ask, “Where do I go now?” because your tools are allowing you to focus on the actual work that needs to get done rather than which system is needed to do that work.

Q: How does a digital workplace impact relationships between employees and management?

Employees can become more autonomous and empowered. And thanks to that engagement layer, tasks don’t slip off of the to-do list.

Q: What are companies doing to leverage analytics from their digital workplace to make more business-driven decisions?

When implementing digital workplace solutions, one of the biggest issues is adoption. It’s important to understand who is taking advantage of which tools to be more efficient and what job roles or geographies are not taking advantage of the tools. Using analytics to understand these differences will help a company adopt and adjust communications and training to get the expected results from their digital workplace solution.

 Q: How can a digital workplace help employees feel more empowered to help customers? 

Whenever an employee says, “I don’t know” or “I don’t know who knows” or “I’m not sure where to get that,” it negatively impacts the customer experience. Having a DWP that coordinates your search and brings insight into multiple content sources so as to quickly find an answer means your customer can be helped at their initial point of contact—which always makes for a better experience.

Q: How does a digital workplace improve general administrative/HR activities like scheduling, payroll, meetings, etc.?

In many organizations, activities that require reminders and follow-ups consume a lot of an employee’s inbox. A digital dashboard that gives an employee awareness of their deadlines and obligations reduces the amount of noise they face on a daily basis.

Q: Overall, do employees prefer a digital workplace? Do they feel it augments or instead represses their experiences?

I talked about management being able to give more autonomy since the employee is more aware of their obligations. On the employee side, having that level of autonomy makes for a better workday.

I love the way author Dion Hinchcliffe describes the current situation at many workplaces: Employees ask themselves “How come I live in the world of the Jetsons at home and the world of the Flintstones at the office?” The reason is that it is difficult for organizations to absorb rapid change. When we design digital workplaces, we may not yet get to the Jetsons, but we are trying to advance toward the Jetsons and therefore give employees a better, more engaging experience.

Q: What best practices would you share with organizations who are either looking to embark on or to refine a digital workplace initiative?

It’s critical to understand how change works in your organization and to plan appropriately to communicate and manage that change. The technology is a tool but even the best technology does not result in a successful DWP initiative.

Q: How do you see trends like AI impacting DWP?

I think that AI is going to impact DWP in a way where it’s almost invisible. A lot of the benefit in AI will be in systems that just work better and offer an experience that’s more relevant to your role and your tasks. I don’t see an in-your-face robot, but a menu or search that’s adapted to you or a news story that’s more relevant to you.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

That’s so hard but one of my favorite movies is Moulin Rouge. I thought it was a brilliant concept—that the main character is a songwriter who writes the most amazing songs. How can the filmmaker fake writing great songs? By using some of the most well-known and impactful songs of all time and repurposing them within the historical setting of Paris in the 1800s. It’s also incredibly visually attractive.