A business person at their desk accessing a platform on their PC and their smartphone simultaneously
PHOTO: Shutterstock

It goes without saying that having the appropriate technologies in place to enable communication between employer and employee as well as employee and employee is key to a productive digital workplace. However, it's not about the number of technologies implemented, but rather their effectiveness. Before deciding whether to implement a new technology or app into the workplace, managers need to assess how it can improve the end-user experience and increase productivity.

When considering the many tools and platforms currently available in the workplace for tasks like messaging, collaboration and workflow, it’s important to know what your employees need in terms of improved experiences. You will need to consider new breeds of tech solutions like mobile hubs and employee communications platforms that make the experience better. But what tools should you provide? Clearly that depends on the business goals of the enterprise in question, but one of the big ‘must-haves’ is technology that enables remote working.

How Remote Working Works

Los Angeles-based Elephant Skin is a digital agency that creates real estate marketing for developers including creating 3D renderings of new developments. By its nature and the skills set needed to do this, many of its workers are remote, according to Michael Pang, an employee at the agency.

The team, he said, is located around the world with programmers and designers in Brazil, offices in Miami and Los Angeles and our clients are in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and others. The result is, that like many other enterprises, the normal office is essentially a virtual one that uses tools like Slack and Google Hangouts to chat or video conference. It also uses a host of Google's G-Suite applications like Slides, Drive, Docs and Calendar in order to collaborate on work projects with different teams in different time zones.

When CMSWire asked other companies about what tools they use, it turned out that most were using the same apps. In particular, all had in place the following five types of apps (although there were others that appeared on the list too).

Related Article: 7 Ways to Measure Workplace Collaboration and Productivity Tool Efficacy

1. Content Sharing Apps

Josh Tammaro of San Francisco-based LaunchSquad said that for remote work places to be effective, organizations need to offer the invaluable face-to-face time that employees and teams get in an office environment. These apps are also important for remote messaging and file sharing.

Tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts can act as a substitute for the missing face-time, but can also allow you to share screens and files mid-chat, just like you would be able to if you walked up to someone's desk. Its great for presentations, meetings, quick walkthroughs and more.

An app like Slack makes communication easier across the enterprise. Slack is the go-to that enables you to chat with individual team members, full teams, clients and customers. It enables users share files in an instant as well as integrate with other platforms so that workers aren't wasting time hopping from tool to tool. “Daily virtual meet-ups when working remotely were key and serve as substitutes for the invaluable face time that usually occurs in the office,” Tammaro said. “When asked what tools were most useful for holding team meetings, 88.5 percent of Bynder employees said the best way to hold meetings was using Zoom/Google Hangouts, and Slack was the most cited tool for keeping in touch with co-workers, as it allowed for effective real time communication.”

2. Project Management

Nathalie Couët is communications, content and partnerships manager at Quebec-based DashThis, which provides a marketing reporting system for marketers. The system allows teams to combine their data from across all their marketing tools into one single dashboard.

DashThis uses Asana for project management for the marketing team. When teams discuss projects, instead of talking about the details in Slack (where they can be lost), they can keep a paper trail in Asana. Asana also allows users to keep files, images and documents all together. Users can have big projects, broken down by task (tagged with the person responsible for the task), and then those can be broken down by sub-task as well.

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

3. WMS/BPMS

Jesper Theill Eriksen, CEO of  New York City-based Templafy, says that Workflow Management Software (WMS) and Business Process Management Software (BPMS) are key in the digital workplace. Both are broad categories and vary by industry and organization preference. BPMS for instance, has three major categories: Microsoft-focused (e.g.) PNMsoft, BP Logix), open source (e.g. Red Hat, Alfresco Software) and domain specialist (SAP, Newgen Software).

However, in the world of document workflow management software, many digital asset management and document management system applications already have built-in WMS features. By connecting these different processes and software, employees also don’t need to log in and out of programs, streamlining workflow and increasing productivity. “The end result? Any decision-making processes involved in document creation, management and distribution are simplified for employees – giving them the tools they need and freeing up their time focus on higher value work,” Eriksen said.

4. Document Processes

Houston-based Riversand's global VP of marketing, Katie Fabiszak, said that for planning, drafting documents and branding they use Dropbox and SharePoint. According to Fabiszak, Dropbox has a very clean folder structure, so for most people who are used to tools like Microsoft, it's a seamless format to navigate. She uses a marketing folder, for example, which allows for multiple teams of people to jump in and work with our living documents in real time.

The company uses SharePoint because it's one of the easiest methods to keep templates that ensure consistency in the company's brand and corporate standards, which can be a challenge for companies that have people working in a variety of locations all over the world.

“So basically, DropBox is the workspace collaboration resource for content and strategy drafting, and then in the final phase we [use] SharePoint to share everything, which helps us to collaborate with uniformity,” she said.

5. Unified Communications

Tony McQueen is senior director of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) at Exeter, RI-based Carousel Industries, a provider of communication and network technologies, professional and managed services and cloud solutions. He said midsize and large companies seeking to create a digital workplace after looking at their current communications systems have reached a common conclusion: The existing platforms cannot support the demands of an increasingly remote workforce along with increased pressure to provide seamless connectivity anywhere, anytime.

The UC&C systems may be missing key capabilities, such as voice and video conferencing, presence/IM capabilities and unified messaging, or contact center methods, such as live chat. And with an increasingly large workforce comprised of millennials, cloud UCaaS is also assisting companies in supporting this demographic by giving them the agility to roll out new features quickly to attract and maintain their talent. “Our experience shows that the most robust UC&C deployments typically integrate platforms from leading providers. Therefore, we recommend the following collaboration and communication platforms from our technology partners Microsoft and Cisco,” he said. Among the commonly used offerings are:

  • Skype for Business - Skype for Business makes an ideal tool for most midsized and large enterprises because up to 250 people can participate in online meetings and have full integration with Office 365 apps. And it offers enterprise-grade security.
  • Teams - Teams is a chat-based collaboration tool that provides global, remote and dispersed teams with the ability to work together and share information via a common space. Teams is extremely useful for document collaboration, one-on-one chat, team chat, and more.
  • WebEx - For companies in the Cisco environment, WebEx is a leading enterprise solution for HD video conferencing, online meetings, screen share and webinars. Web conferencing, conference calling and whiteboarding. Among its strengths are data protection, platform comparability, and desktop and document sharing.

As the digital workplace continues to develop, it is imperative that companies focus more on the employee experience to survive in today’s always-on mobile world driven by digital apps. While collaboration tools like Slack are a step in the right direction, they often add to the noise with no way to prioritize important messages or measure message penetration, causing employees to miss important information they need to do their jobs well. Companies will suffer the negative business impact of disengaged, disconnected employees if they don’t prioritize internal communications.

Final Thoughts

In the future, open offices will use big data and adaptive intelligence to create an environment that supports both team collaboration and individual focus work. In the open office, accomplishing this is no easy feat, but by using a mix of experiential design solutions to incorporate principals of biophilic design, intelligent software and user-centered technology, we can help create open office spaces that achieve this harmony.