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The Digital Workplace Turf War: IT vs. Communications vs. HR

Successfully launching a digital workplace project is hard. While the expected challenges are usually technology related, often the biggest issues are within the organization as the Digital Workplace becomes an inter-departmental political battlefield.

These tools are implemented with the lofty goals of improving employee engagement and increasing workplace productivity. However, conflict arises as inter-departmental teams try to work through the details of implementation. IT, who has long owned enterprise software inside organizations, sees selecting software based on detailed feature requirement lists and best-of- breed security practices as top priorities. Meanwhile, communications departments, in an effort to increase engagement, want broad access to loads of social features. And HR is terrified by all of this: what if employees act inappropriately with social tools?

Unfortunately, the biggest loser in this battle is often the employee that ends up with tools that are underutilized and fail to deliver value and engagement numbers that are stubbornly low.

At ThoughtFarmer, a social intranet software company, we sometimes see this turf battle play out during the procurement process. In some cases, it either halts projects entirely or divides teams and severely limits their ability to achieve consensus on key decisions. On the other hand, we’ve also seen companies forge strong bonds between IT, Communications, and HR, and implement outstanding new digital workplace tools that increase engagement and drive productivity. So, what are the biggest areas of friction between departments, and how are successful teams overcoming them?

Access and Security

This is consistently the biggest area of friction: how do you keep sensitive documents safe inside and outside your organization? Security policies are written with the best of intentions, however, they often leave employees with very limited access to the documents they need; in an effort to reduce risk, these measures sometimes fail to differentiate between high-risk and low- risk information. Instead, they often severely restrict access across the board, including mobile devices which are increasingly valuable resources for employees. As a result, social collaboration research analysts, the Real Story Group, found that only 14% of enterprises have mobile-enabled tools. With more HR departments recognizing the retention and engagement benefits of flexible working arrangements, this limits employees’ ability to work from home or remotely. Many security-focused organizations also remain fearful of cloud technologies, which often results in out-of-date software versions that IT doesn’t have time to manage.

Instead of limiting access, try creating policies that take sensitivity and risk into account. MD Financial Management implemented an ‘open-by-default’ policy that encourages employees to create and share content and saw adoption skyrocket. Documents that are deemed as sensitive can still be restricted to only certain users, or restricted to within office walls. Likewise, cloud opens up better access and more modern tools. Use identity management tools to add an increased layer to cloud security. Offering more accessible digital tools to your employees will actually help increase security—as it minimizes the need to send secure documents through email or share them with unauthorized third party tools.

Feature Prioritization

The next area of concern is features: who gets to decide which features are most important? This commonly leads to laundry lists of feature requests, or one department squashing the needs of other departments and losing their buy-in in the process. The best way to get consensus is to use real employee data to drive decisions. Instead of conflicting hypotheses about what business leaders think employees want, use actual employee research to guide decision making. These insightful observations pull teams together as they try to find a solution to the core business problems, instead of fighting over individual priorities.

We often see teams overvalue features as a percentage of their overall weighting. Pick out a smaller set of features that you think will truly drive business results—and then focus on implementing them flawlessly. Ease-of-use and implementation are often much bigger factors in digital workplace success, then a list of edge-case features.


Lastly, if employees don’t adopt the new tool, all your efforts are lost. HR often wants to limit social features like commenting and profile pictures, to avoid any potential infractions. Employees themselves are scared to try out new tools, where their content can be viewed across the organization. Instead of limiting engagement features, try creating clear guidelines that encourage participation, but still document what’s considered unacceptable. Then, use leaders inside the organization to role model positive collaboration, to get the ball rolling.

As IT, HR, and communications departments fight over digital workplace politics, employees aren’t getting quality resources they need to do their jobs. This is often thought to be a technology problem: the tools aren’t providing enough functionality, are too hard to use, or are poorly connected. However, the root cause of the issues if often a people problem—siloed departments can’t agree on organizational priorities. When you bump into common pitfalls like security problems, feature fights, and adoption issues, remember to focus on the employee experience first. Employees are the great unifying force. Make it easier for them to do their jobs, and employee engagement and productivity will follow.

Written By

Darren Gibbons is the co-creator of ThoughtFarmer, a social intranet software provider founded in 2006 and based in Vancouver.

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