Businesses lose an estimated $11 billion annually due to employee turnover, in large part due to a disengaged workforce. 

Organizations have tried improving engagement with intranets, team collaboration and knowledge management. But now we're caught in a digital productivity trap, as social activity streams and apps have spiraled out of control. We have reached such a crisis of interruption and information that 70 percent of US workers are disengaged from work.

As we’ve written earlier, one way out of the trap is designing collaboration tools that can understand, reason and learn. Another is to create engaging employee digital experiences. That means enabling people to collaborate with one another and with business content in a simple, contextual way.

Learn from Digital Customer Experiences: Create Purposeful Workspaces

Online US sales are expected to exceed $500 billion in the next five years, up 56 percent from 2015. Outstanding web, mobile and cross-channel digital customer engagement is a key driver of that growth. 

We can learn some valuable lessons from these digital customer experiences.

Our work experiences need to mimic the richer, more dynamic and personalized experiences from consumer apps and retailers. We expect them to be connected to back-end systems that check inventory and availability before we order something. 

We expect apps to just "work" — that they'll be easy to use and communicate with each other. My calendar knows where my dinner party is meeting, and tells me to leave in 10 minutes to make it on time. 

We now demand that our collaboration tools, our intranet, our process applications all just "work" too — connecting all of our business systems, so we don't have to switch apps (and context) constantly. And we want the apps to require less training. No more green screens or bad web interfaces or long instruction manuals.  

Leading organizations deliver outstanding digital employee experiences as a key differentiator to encourage new hires and retain top talent. Digital workplace transformation isn't a perk: it's an imperative for creating long-term engagement. 

Blend Systems of Record and Engagement with Design

Avoid falling into the historical trap of creating “the one place to do all my work.” That thinking is what brought us to the current digital productivity trap in the first place. We should have learned that lesson from the Knowledge Management failures of the 1990s: a single database, tool or hard-coded system simply isn’t the answer. 

Rather than buying yet another collaboration tool that promises to help you "do amazing things," but only results in creating more frenetic, frenzied activity, look for tools that can connect your existing systems together in relevant, contextual, purposeful ways. Those workplace systems of record, like accounting, customer relationship management or human resources apps, are key. Also critical: make sure they connect in a lightweight fashion that allows you to iterate rapidly. 

The days of the encyclopedic intranet where information goes to die are over. Lightweight, contextual and continuously refreshed employee portals help employees uncover the information they need, while remaining focused on the work at hand.

Align Innovation with Business Strategy - and Leave Room to Grow

New technologies play a big part in transforming your workplace, but so does new thinking about designing the experience. 

Don't focus too much on the technology. Rather, look for early opportunities to unite departments around an explicit set of user requirements that could benefit from an immediate improvement. For example, with the heavy emphasis many companies have on customer service improvements, experimenting with collaborative applications like team persistent chat rooms that link directly to your CRM and call center applications could result in quick improvements in customer retention and call center costs.

Those opportunities should provide enough room to grow, so that you can build upon that success without painting yourself into a strategic corner. Build off of that ROI to fund the next project that builds on the future business strategy. Sticking with the customer service example, connect your customer service reps directly to customers through a web self-service portal that also integrates with the persistent chat room.

Digital workplaces aren't a destination, they're a journey. As employee (and customer) expectations shift, a flexible approach that allows for experimentation, rapid prototyping and continuous learning helps create the longer-term engagement you need to recruit and retain the best and brightest to your team.

Title image Christos Barbalis