The Digital Workplace of the Future

Admired CEO and founder, Scott Burns was a featured panelist for Digital Workplace Day 2020.

Scott offered this series of 5 short videos answering questions like "What are some bad habits that digital teams need to break?" and thinking ahead to what still needs to change the most in our evolving digital workplaces.

We know that building a high-functioning digital workplace is important to you and hope these tips help you on that path.

Video Transcript



Scott Burns: Hi, this is Scott Burns, I'm the CEO and co-founder of Structural, which is a technology platform that organizations use to connect their people to opportunity and to each other.

I came to this work by first becoming a consultant at McKinsey and then I launched a company called GovDelivery which did digital communications for the public sector and we grew that from the basement to 250 people. So both in learning amongst ourselves and in learning and working with some very large clients, I developed a passion for helping people connect and collaborate more effectively and I'm excited to be sharing that with you today.


Q1- Which is more important, getting the right tools or enforcing the right rules?

Scott Burns: I'm not a big fan of rules, specifically. That wording kind of bothers me, but let's think about the norms that you have in getting your work done in the organization. Getting those norms right is essential, and that had to be a real driver for setting the tone for what kind of tools you do take on and for what kind of improvements and bottlenecks you could sort of seek to address over time.

And so with norms, let's use a simple example, a good norm for a collaborative distributed team is to be willing to put things in writing, to be willing to make that investment as an individual in that kind of efficient, asynchronous, democratized way of getting your ideas out there and letting other people provide feedback to them.

If you have good norms like that in place, the tools are important, but there's sort of a basic standard of tools you have to have in place, and then you start thinking of all the different fancy tools that you can bring on, but you only bring those on to reinforce your norms and to compliment the work you're getting done, not as a solution in and of themselves, the norms are to drive what tools you select.


Q2 - What are the collaboration habits of a high-functioning digital team?

Scott Burns: The most important habit, is to really cultivate and nurture trust. Trust is essential to everything you want to accomplish as a high functioning digital team. Now, after trust, I think accountability is very important. When you have those two elements in place, I think it's important to have an openness for dissent. Now you can't invest in that openness for dissent, or openness for disagreement, until you have trust and accountability, working well across the team. And then, I think that commitment to the written word is really important. The willingness of people to put their ideas in writing and to be willing to collaborate, that way is so much more efficient, than the old way of collaborating and really leverages the benefits of a digital native environment, from the tool stand point, from the time stand point, all of those things. So, if you get it right with trust, you combine that with accountability, you have a real comfort level on the team for dissent and criticism and open discussion, and then you have a good investment in the written word, I think those are really good habits that ought to lead to good results.


Q3 - What are some bad habits that digital teams need to break?

Scott Burns: One big one is investing in trust, but not investing in accountability to go with it. So when somebody says, "I want you to trust me," if your version of trust in your organization is to trust that person, regardless of the level of work they're going to do, you're going to find that that breaks down very quickly, because if the quality and the accountability isn't intertwined with trust, it's a real problem. So that's the first challenge, first bad habit to break.

Second bad habit is under-investing in serendipity. I think that there is a real temptation when teams first go digital to actually really try to get somebody into a role that's specific and task oriented, so it can be tracked and really optimized, and the problem with that is humans don't work that way, that job's actually going to stink over time and you're going to miss the chance to expose people to new opportunities and that serendipitous collaboration that sometimes drives the best kind of innovation out there.

And so the third problem is over-investing in productivity. Productivity is important but you really have to preserve time for innovation, for making of mistakes, for serendipitous connections and for making work interesting, creative and new for individuals, so that they can also optimize the things that they have to do in a repetitive way.


Q4 - What are the biggest collaboration challenges we haven't solved yet?

Scott Burns: So this one is near and dear to my heart because as a manager, I got very frustrated in the digital workplace on how, instead of making more connections, people seem to get even more limited into their discrete role, when they were working remotely, or working in a distributed way, so I think it is important for people to be able to connect expansively to their colleagues across an organization, to connect in a very fluid way and to connect with new opportunities to contribute, learn and grow.

The way we approach this at Structural with our clients is we help them create a really robust, internal people directory, focused around great profiles and allowing people to connect with each other better, and then we helped them launch an internal opportunity marketplace to promote opportunities to take on new roles, new gigs, new learning and those sorts of things.

Whether you're using our platform or not though, I think the important thing is to make sure that you're investing in creative collisions, in serendipity and in expansive connections, rather than just focusing on how much you can get people to get done in the role that they're assigned to that day. There's a place and time for that, but you've got to have a balance of both.

Structural connects people to opportunity in ambitious organizations of all sizes.


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