Virtual Office Design: How to Roll Up Your Sleeves and Get Building

Successful digital workplaces can move mountains in terms of business outcomes—and building them isn’t nearly as laborious as physical office renovations.

Digital workplaces are having a well-deserved moment, but they’ve been making their way into business culture and operations for decades. Slack, Dropbox, and OneDrive have provided spaces for virtual collaboration since the late aughts, while email—arguably the original digital workplace tool – dates back to 1971.

Though the pandemic accelerated the expansion of the workplace beyond four walls and a door, the transformation was already well on its way due to changing workforce demographics and increased productivity demands.

As Deloitte stated in a recent report, “The digital workplace can best be considered as the natural evolution of the workplace … The digital workplace encompasses all the technologies people use to get work done in today’s workplace.”

Natural or not, the shift hasn’t come without its challenges, according to Tom Jelen, Senior Strategic Consultant at DelCor. “Imagine an iceberg as a metaphor for your digital workplace,” Jelen said. “You’ve got the aspects you can see and experience—user interfaces, whether a site loads and performs quickly—but it’s often what’s below the surface that potentially is sinking your digital workplace ship.”

These difficult-to-see challenges include poor adoption rates, trouble locating information, insufficient training, and a lack of technical standards. Overcoming them is often contingent on governance.

Executive sponsorship, for example, is vital for setting the tone, as is stakeholder involvement outside IT. Jelen added that leaders must also provide written standards, policies, and guidelines; clearly define roles and responsibilities; and demonstrate an ongoing commitment.

A Blueprint for Success

Jelen said employees should be at the heart of any digital workplace.

In the most effective examples, staff store files and information according to consistent guidelines and collaborate via consistent digital communication channels. They’re also aware of the productivity tools available to them and have been trained on basic digital workplace competencies.

Getting associations to reach that point is part of Jelen’s role at DelCor. He advises clients to kick off the process with a baseline staff survey to gauge perceptions of the digital tools already in place. He then has them form a digital workplace steering team made up of stakeholders outside of IT. “Steering teams work best when they’re working out loud, sharing what they’re doing with colleagues along the way,” he said.

As you move along in the process, be sure to consult the digital workplace steering team on all big-picture tech decisions and ensure the team is vested with the authority to develop recommendations that can be approved by senior leadership. Then, Jelen said to facilitate a series of meetings to develop a digital workplace roadmap focused on pain points. The roadmap should address objectives to accomplish, tactics for meeting those objectives, and parameters for measuring success.

After you have a governance plan, you’ll want to implement any necessary changes to existing platforms. “Maybe you want to retire a redundant shadow IT system, or you may need to reorganize your file structure,” Jelen said.

File storage standards help employees understand where to save files among various cloud-based storage systems.

“As you move up levels of IT maturity, you might want to have some basic documentation for how your files should be organized. Sophisticated organizations will have more consistency at the sub-folder level,” he said. “Do you prefix files with the date? Do you append with ‘draft’ when a file is in draft form? The key is to keep the standards super simple; no one will read a 20 page-document on file storage standards.”

Train Staff Based on Necessary Skills

Training, of course, is a crucial step in designing and implementing a digital workplace, especially with today’s packed schedules. “Inertia is a very powerful force, and when staff are busy, they may not take the time to seek out training in whatever platform you offer,” Jelen said.

But considering the sheer number of features and capabilities inherent in various systems, IT staff can’t be expected to take on impossible tasks.

“It’s not reasonable to expect IT to train you on every aspect of your digital workplace platforms,” Jelen said. “Rather, you want to come up with a brief list of core competencies that you need to master at your organization to be productive.”

Ensure lessons resonate with employees by offering a combination of training catered to different learning styles. Many schools of thought exist on this subject, but generally, learners gravitate toward practice-based styles, auditory approaches, and visualization. Jelen recommends serving up a mix of on-demand, live, and documentation-based training.

“You should offer some on-demand courses, like those from LinkedIn learning, maybe some instructor-led sessions, how-tos, and materials people can look at on their own schedule as well,” he said. “My recommendation is to form a plan that combines different approaches.”

DelCor works closely with associations and nonprofits to offer outsourced IT support, CIO services, technology assessments, and digital workplace consulting. For more information on DecCor’s digital workplace consulting services and association technology solutions, visit

(Handout photo)