Today we should be talking about the workplace web, not the digital workplace.

Back over 10 years ago, I ran a short survey looking for a new term to replace the word intranet. Out of the many suggested, my personal preference was the workplace web. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and the digital workplace won the naming game.

In January 2011, I published a short version of how the term digital workplace came to be. A 10-Year Term with New Life. (Apologies in advance for any key steps I may have missed.)

A few highlights from the article about the birth of the digital workplace:

At the beginning…

One of the first uses of digital workplace was in 2000 by Jeffrey Beir co-founder of eRoom Technology who wrote “How to create a digital workplace”. (Link removed, article no longer online.) He defined it as a place “in which distributed teams can get work done… and members of an extended enterprise can work together, resolve issues and make decisions”. He identified 5 criteria which he coined the 5 C’s: comprehensible, contagious, cross-enterprise, complete and connected. Great criteria still today!

Another interesting reference I found was in 2001, believe it or not, was with the US Census Bureau who defined the digital workplace as “adults using computers and the internet at their workplace.” Leading edge vocabulary but pretty basic definition!

Two company examples: In 2002, IBM referred to their internal online work environment as a digital workplace. At around this time, I had read an article about Verizon using the term digital workplace but can no longer find a reference to that.

Along the way…

In June 2010 pioneering IBF used the term during their worldwide Intranets Live event “Exploring Intranets and the Digital Workplace”, which then evolved into Digital Workplace 24 of which the next event will take place September 30-October 1, 2020.

In 2010 my own 4th annual research report “Global Intranet Trends for 2010” was sub-titled “Towards the workplace web”. A year later, the 2011 research (published early 2012) was entitled “Digital Workplace Trends”. I had caved in!


Today’s reality: People, places and capabilities interlinked and working together inside and outside traditional organizational walls.

Today, in 2020, the term workplace web resonates stronger than digital workplace. It is more comprehensive. More accurate. It lets us envision a web of people, places and capabilities interlinked and working together inside and outside the traditional organizational walls. This is what the workplace is like today.

Although I use the term digital workplace because it has become a de facto standard, the term has serious disadvantages in my view. It sounds technical.

  • Years ago I worked with more than one organization who said they could not use the term digital workplace. It was “owned” by the IT department who used it exclusively for major technology and work station migrations. HR and Comms refused to use the term.
  • A second and longer-lasting negative aspect of the technical sonority is that it “ignores” the human side of the workplace. We are presently paying the price for this.

Today digital teams are struggling with helping people change how they work. I was at a global company in Paris a month ago (several divisions, over 150,000 employees worldwide) to hear how the IT and transformation teams are working on supporting people change the way they work.

Their approach is so people-based that colleagues they reach out to throughout the company are surprised. “We thought you were coming to talk IT!” What a compliment!

The era of the workplace web is just beginning.

Good luck to the team I met a month ago, and to all of you working in this area. Your time has come! Just one more thing. A top change influencer is a compelling story, a sense of why. Have your formulated yours?

Republished with permission.

Featured Image/graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay