The notion of digital business, which Gartner defines as, “the creation of new business designs by blurring the digital and physical worlds,” is top-of-mind for today’s business and IT decision makers.

But in many ways, successful digital business transformation hinges on fostering a digital workplace, and Gartner Research Director Gavin Tay recently cautioned that most businesses aren't even getting the digital workplace basics right.

The basic tenets of the evolving digital workplace recognize that employees are not bound to a desk or cubicle, and that there exists a need for mobile-centric collaboration tools and technologies that allow them to remain productive and engaged while "untethered."

The 2016 Digital Workplace Communications survey bears this out, as nearly half (48 percent) of communications professionals said that to the extent employee engagement is important to their organizations, their companies need to rethink their digital workplace communications.

For businesses seeking to strike the right balance of communications and collaboration tools, processes and culture to enable a thriving digital workplace, there are four core strategies worth considering.

Enable Team Collaboration

Scattered communications cost the U.S. economy $650 billion annually in the form of interruptions —and studies show office workers are interrupted — or self-interrupt — about every three minutes, drastically cutting productivity.

The business challenge today is to cultivate a digital workforce where team collaboration thrives by eliminating these distractions and lost productivity.

According to a Forrester Report, the number of employees who work remotely is expected to grow to 63 million this year. A digital workplace depends on the ability for individuals both inside and outside the organization to rapidly exchange ideas and content while preserving the history of the collaborative effort — ensuring that mobile, dispersed workers remain engaged and productive.

Digital workplaces must extend beyond technologies that simply connect individuals to one another via calls, video, emails and messaging, and evolve to virtual persistent team workspaces that minimize distractions and maximize engagement.

Deliver a Single, Unified User Experience

One risk to the digital workplace is that workers will become inundated with siloed voice, messaging, video, collaboration and general business applications.

Unless workers can access these tools through a single, unified interface across all preferred mobile and desktop devices, productivity will be negatively impacted as workers spend more time toggling back and forth between apps than actually using them.

In 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer published the results of experiments whereby young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects.

While each task switch might seem insignificant, added up over the course of the day the impact is profound: according to Meyer even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.

Learning Opportunities

Providing a single, intuitive user experience with quick and integrated access to the business apps that they use daily will maximize the benefits of a digital workplace while minimizing the negative impact of app and task switching.

Leverage Contextual Intelligence

A digital workplace should remove the manual burden from employees of having to recall, locate and prepare the conversations, files, images and other resources most relevant to their task at hand — whether it’s a conference call, presentation, email or message exchange.

Consider today’s worker preparing for a conference call, who might have to scan through a long history of email exchanges with other participants to pull up relevant conversations, or search through thousands of files to find the ones germane to the particular call and topic.

This is a considerable time investment, and the inability to find this information quickly often leaves the worker unprepared to make the conference call a fully productive one.

Building contextual intelligence into the digital workplace automates the process of providing business users with only the information pertinent to the task at hand. The digital workplace isn’t about more devices, applications and data. It’s adding a layer of intelligence to everything the worker does, reducing the barrage of data and communications to only what matters for the task at hand.

Ensure Seamless Application Integration

Applications are more successful when they become part of a business user’s existing and preferred workflow. Yes, for some apps workers change habits, but in most cases efficiency and productivity requires seamless application integration, whether it’s integrating presence capabilities into your cloud mail client, or a unified communications screen pop within your preferred CRM application.

Nonproprietary, open tools that facilitate easy integration among business applications are crucial to an effective digital workplace. It’s not just application integration, but platforms and systems as well; the more openness that can be injected into the operational DNA of the company, the more you will be able to reap the benefits of being a digital business.

Enabling a digital workforce is key to becoming a thriving digital business, and reflects that factoring in how employees work is as important to digital transformation as technologies and tools themselves.

Title image by Robert Haverly