Where Europe is at in terms of adopting the digital workplace

If businesses are to succeed in the new digital economy, digitising their HR processes will prove vital. But going down this route will undoubtedly be testing.

Introducing a digital workplace initiative requires effective collaboration and communication between departments that have previously operated independently. As a result, in many instances, it will necessitate a significant cultural shift. It will likewise require smart planning, not only during the initial stages but also as the new workplace evolves and changes in areas ranging from job roles to business processes.

These are the key findings of a study we undertook with Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC) at the end of 2016 in order to better understand the status of the digital workplace in Europe and the readiness of businesses to navigate the changes that come from automating HR processes. The research also revealed that:

  • 74% of European HR and IT managers believe work environments have a ‘strong’ or ‘critical’ impact on business success
  • 42% place digital workplace transformation high on their investment agenda
  • 63% plan to invest in modern apps and technologies within two years
  • There are significant differences between European countries in how far they have got in digitising their workplaces.

Interestingly it is French companies that are setting the pace for modernisation, particularly in terms of mobile working, with Belgian firms following closely behind. Some 45% of French businesses also reported seeing significant cost savings after digitising their HR processes compared with a European average of 30%. A higher than average number of workplace managers in France were likewise ‘completely satisfied’ that their project had hit expectations.

UK slow to digitise

While the UK is leading in terms of delivering and executing on digital HR strategies, which include implementing HR self-service, actual workplace modernisation appears to be less important than in other European countries-although it is seen as an investment priority by 69% of UK HR and IT teams.

The UK’s relatively slow move to digitisation is believed to be due to its high proportion of service sector organisations. The study revealed that, in general terms, manufacturing companies were the most likely to invest in new digital applications, technologies and working practices.

Only 53% of UK HR and IT managers, compared with a European average of 74%, felt that the quality of workplace infrastructure was strongly or critically important, but investment in workplace infrastructure consolidation, network readiness and central provisioning platforms was nonetheless top of the agenda.

The UK also ranked lower than other European countries in terms of improving employee satisfaction, with 41% failing to do so against an average of 25%.

But the biggest laggard of all in implementing digital workplaces was Germany, largely down to many local organisations’ resistance to adopting the public cloud while there are still question marks over its security. The UK and Germany were also behind other countries in adopting mobile technology.

Benefits and challenges

The most significant challenges faced by organisations in all countries when digitising their workplaces, however, related to security and compliance. Managing cultural and organisational change was also high up the list as were budget restraints.

Nonetheless, just under three-quarters of businesses said they believed that digitising the workplace was a critical factor in improving business performance, with 75% per cent indicating, for example, that introducing cloud-based tools increased efficiency.

While there are no accepted standards defining what the optimum digital workplace should look like, specific HR processes that are commonly automated today include:

  • Performance reviews – These take place virtually across multiple, globally-dispersed teams
  • Learning and development – This is online and delivered in a self-service format
  • Flexible working – Contingent and contract staff are included in this definition and productivity is optimised in line with workforce management objectives
  • Time management – The aim here is to introduce a flexible cost structure and optimise the use of talent.

Although no diktat has been issued to say that you must transition to a digital workplace lock, stock and barrel immediately, those organisations that are starting to invest in digital apps and platforms, analytics and big data in order to understand and maximise the value of their workforce, are undoubtedly already starting to see the benefits.


Simon Porter is global vice president of sales for Digital HR Services at NGA Human Resources. He helps large enterprises transform their HR services in order to help their workforces adapt to the rapid change caused by digitisation and reduce the cost of delivering existing HR services.