2021 Contributors of the Year: Sam Marshall


For over 20 years, Sam Marshall has helped organizations to operate successfully in the digital workplace. He also prepared — perhaps less presciently — many organizations for the remote and hybrid workplaces of the last two years. Starting in the knowledge management space, then graduating to intranets and on to the broader digital workplace, Sam has long understood the potential of these services to improve how everyone — including frontline workers — do their jobs. 

Where many hear “digital workplace” and think of technology, Sam approaches his work at Clearbox Consulting and his monthly column on the site with an understanding that the technology provides a basis on which to build the digital workplace, but not the final result. He once said organizations that were more successful with the transition to remote work during the pandemic were those that had long ago identified that: “a workforce that was more flexible and decoupled from physical locations will be more resilient, and probably one where people could work in a more natural way.”

Digital Workplaces Take a Big Leap Forward

What excites you about your field today?

Digital workplaces during the pandemic have taken a bigger leap forward than a kangaroo in low-gravity orbit. Now we are past the theoretical objections to “Will it work or not?” There is much to be done about how to optimize virtual and hybrid working, and a real push to engage more with the frontline workforce.

If people could use only one word to describe you, what word would you want them to use?

Billionaire (but only if it’s true 😉

What’s one lesson that we collectively can’t seem to learn?

Enterprise search isn’t really about search but finding information. It will never work like Google and it takes a whole lot of effort to make it effective. Every employee has complained about this for 20 years or more, but so few organizations seem willing to seriously tackle it (and yes, I’m channelling Martin White on this one!).

What work-related trend will you be watching in the year(s) ahead?

There are new contractual relationships between employees and organizations emerging and I’m really intrigued to see how we all navigate this. My own company will be moving to a four-day week in 2022, and it will be an experiment not just internally, but also in how our customers react and support or resist it.

Generally, I expect people to want more sabbaticals, part-time roles and development opportunities than ever before, but these have economic implications that are far from straightforward for an employer to provide.

What’s one work-related trend that surprised you? (could be from any point in your career)

I’ve been surprised by the unquestioning enthusiasm for modern AI over the last five years or so. The technology has come on amazingly well when you think of the accuracy of things like speech recognition, and it is right that we value that. But so many things are taken as ‘just round the corner’ that are really many years off, and that lack of skepticism I find unsettling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Always remember that we’re terrible at figuring out the knowledge of others. People who know only slightly more get over-credited; others with deep smarts never get invited to share it.

If you could make one wish for your industry for 2022, what would it be?

I wish that software vendors could take a year out to fix all the annoying bugs and simplify the UX of their products, rather than piling on new features. Or, being more realistic, I wish everyone brief and efficient meetings all year long.



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