The Digital Workplace is Not a Trend: StitchDX President Erick Straghalis On What’s Next, How to Prepare, and Why Intranet Matters More Than Ever

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This post is part of MassTLC’s 2023 Thought Leadership series on Trends.

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Erick Straghalis, President and Chief Strategy Officer at StitchDX, can’t stop thinking about what he describes as the big, audacious question: What if organizations invested as much in their employee experiences as they did in their customer experiences?

“Would we be in the same place we are today with quiet quitting and the challenges that we’ve seen with how employees feel about the workplace?” he asks. “If we spent as much energy, time, and thought building out employee experiences, would we be in the same place?”

At Lowell-based StitchDX, Erick and team work to address this question for organizations of all sizes all over the world every day via the digital workplace arm of the agency’s business.

MassTLC spoke to Erick to learn more about StitchDX’s approach to the digital workplace, including what’s next. We covered the relationship between digital marketing and digital workplaces, the importance of the intranet (it still matters!), and what Erick thinks about AI and the Metaverse, and more.

Read on for the full conversation.

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Tell us more about StitchDX.

StitchDX is a digital experience agency. We help businesses use their technology better to engage their audiences — their customers and their employees.

Our Employee Experience practice is focused on the importance of communication, coordination, and collaboration in the Digital Workplace. One thing that the pandemic uncovered for businesses was how valuable and important technology infrastructure is to enable and empower their employees to build resilience and growth.

StitchDX started as a digital marketing agency and now has both digital marketing and digital workplace arms of the business. How are the two connected?

Organizations spend a lot of time, energy, and money marketing their business by promoting their brand promise. But they don’t necessarily bring their employees along to make sure they align with that promise internally. We often saw this disconnect with our Digital Marketing clients. Customer expectations, and employee’s needs to execute on those expectations, don’t always align. This realization led to the creation of our digital workplace practice, and we integrate both holistically by focusing on the people journey.

Our digital workplace discovery process is designed to understand how organizations function — how the people work, collaborate, and communicate. We take that learning and use it to design the right solutions, develop tools, and establish processes that drive engagement and utilization.

Can you share more about the digital workplace projects that you work on? What type of companies do you work with?

We work with SharePoint and Microsoft Teams organizations that are struggling to use these tools effectively. Oftentimes they don’t have the right governance or structures in place. For example, employees that still use Google Docs instead of Microsoft Word and Teams to collaborate and share documents. There are things you can do to help maintain and manage governance and security within your organization, while enabling and empowering your users and employees to use the appropriate tools more effectively.

Another example is intranets. When it comes to sharing news, information, or successes with your employees, sending an email doesn’t really work anymore. Modern intranets are among the most effective ways to connect and engage with your workforce — whether it’s recognizing colleagues for the work that they’ve done, learning about the organization, creating social connections, or connecting employees more efficiently to information and tools.

Combined with Microsoft teams, an intranet can act as a gateway to help employees search and find documents and  information more easily and deliver a better digital workplace experience.

Our goal is to partner with our customers to help them utilize their existing technology investments better and to think about their workplace as a roadmap. We don’t just deliver something, drop it in their lap, and walk away; we provide training, and guidance every step of the way.

Change management is critical to the success of any digital workplace. We know that any time new technologies or new ways of doing things are introduced, there’s going to be some level of resistance, so we focus on helping people to get through the change, see the value of it, and build new habits.

Why do engaging digital workplaces matter?

So much of work today is driven by data and information. We’ve proliferated so much data and information that it’s now become difficult to manage. People need optimal tools, regardless of whether they’re working in the office, at home (or in a coffee shop), to access that data and information and make sense of it.

For example, all day, people email documents within an organization. Every time you email a document, it creates a copy of that document on somebody’s local machine. That document now lives in different states on different machines. Which one is the true real source document?

Now, assume you need to find a specific document. How do people search, identify and collaborate on the right one? All these things are part of an information architecture strategy that enables and empowers employees, regardless of where they are.

Employees are consumers as well; they’re consumers of data and information inside their organization. When they can find what they need, work, and collaborate in digital spaces, they can perform more efficiently and effectively. Younger workers expect consumer-level experiences in the workplace. Organizations need to be thinking about that. That’s the usability part of it, but there’s also the utilization part, which is, how do you structure that architecture to provide guardrails for people to be able to get things done while still maintaining security, naming conventions and taxonomy, and architecture so that you can scale that approach and manage it when people leave.

What’s next for digital workspaces? What’s on your radar?

I’m excited about AI-driven communication to help organizations create a self-service type of experience for their employees. That could be in the form of chatbots, or simply a better search experience that anticipates what you are looking for. AI is already starting to show up in our workplace experiences through certain Microsoft tools. But there’s a lot more we can do to make it useful. As we proliferate more and more data and information, sorting and tagging things individually will become very difficult. Being able to categorize information using AI will open a lot of possibilities for improving search results, opportunities for collaboration, and even research by dynamically surfacing relevant information to a user.

The trouble with AI is, yes, it’s intelligent, but you still need good inputs for it to be able to start learning. Chatbots for instance, require a lot of initial intervention. But there’s no question that AI is already here, and it will play a bigger role moving forward.

A lot of people are also talking about the metaverse. One of the challenges I see is that you still must create that space. There’s a lot of work involved in building that out so that it’s meaningful and usable — beyond the hype and novelty. Still, I’m fascinated by the potential of this area, especially when it comes to areas like learning and development. There’re are many studies on how an immersive environment changes the dynamic of how people are engaged in a learning experience. A thoughtfully crafted metaverse can make that environment incredibly dynamic and highly accessible. It may not be super practical for most organizations to focus heavily in this right now — it still requires  a lot of hardware and software investments — but I expect solutions will quickly evolve to lower the bar of entry in the coming years.

At StitchDX, we focus on helping organizations optimize for the tools they have today, while planning for the future. By creating digital experiences that are practical and usable, we help streamline workflows, optimize how people work together, and help organizations meet and exceed the expectations that they have for how their work is being done.

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Erick Straghalis, StitchDX Erick Straghalis, President and Chief Strategy Officer at StitchDX, has 20+ years of experience in marketing, design and organizational development Fortune 100 and 500 retail, bio and technology companies. Erick writes about the impact of technology on the customer and employee experience—with a special focus on Office 365, Teams and Sharepoint, as well as digital marketing strategy.

 

 

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