App overload in the workplace is nothing new, it has been well documented.  Even as early as 2013, the Cornerstone State of Productivity research survey revealed that US employees at the time felt overloaded, whether by work (50 percent), information (34 percent) or technology (25 percent). The report also found that tech-savvy millennials were feeling the most overwhelmed from being “always on,” with workplace apps present on mobile phones being one of the biggest problems workers were facing at the time. Moving forward to 2018 and the picture — or overload — is significantly more pronounced.

Research published this month by RingCentral, based on a global survey of 2,000 knowledge workers, shows yet again that the very workplace apps intended to streamline tasks have sparked an app overload that’s injecting chaos into business workflows and costing enterprises billions in lost productivity. Clearly, as an enterprise cloud communications and collaboration solution provider, the findings will be good news for RingCentral. However, the research only confirms what many workers know anecdotally and which we have seen on many occasions over the years.

The research, contained in the report From Workplace Chaos to Zen: How App Overload Is Reshaping the Digital Workplace, shows that for communications alone, workers currently using an average of four apps, with 20 percent of workers using six or more.  This includes apps for phone calls, texts, web meetings, video conferencing, team messaging, and more. Sixty-nine percent of workers waste up to an hour each day navigating between myriad communications apps, amounting to a waste of 32 days per year.

More than 70 percent of workers say their communications volume is a challenge to getting work done. Sixty-eight percent of workers toggle between apps up to 10 times an hour, and 31 percent of workers said toggling causes them to lose their train of thought.  In terms of preferred apps, 45-years old and older still prefer email (51 percent), but 18- to 44-year-olds prefer team messaging (43 percent). Team messaging–centric platforms are growing quickly in popularity as the preferred “home base” for a single communications platform. So what are enterprises using those apps for and do workers really want, or need, them. For a fully functioning digital workplace it seems not.

While enterprises can provide full suites of digital tools like Microsoft’s Office 365 or G Suite from Google, these too can be too much for day to day work. So what are organizations actually using and what do they need for a fully functionality digital workplace apart from the obvious word processing, spreadsheet or presentation tools.

Related Articles: 3 Enterprise Collaboration Failures and Lessons Learned

1. Collaboration Culture

There are six key functionalities that enterprises need offer workers. However, the starting point is defining what a collaboration culture is, according to San Antonio, Texas-based, Rick Lozano, a talent development consultant. “This sounds like a no-brainer, but what does collaboration even mean? Every company does it a bit differently so before we can build a collaborative culture, people have to have a clear understanding of what that entails at your company,” he said. Organizations need to decide whether a collaboration culture means knowledge sharing, running ideas past a larger team, or is it only when people are working on group projects and we need a brainstorming session? What are the norms and guidelines for when we do and don't collaborate? When we all agree on what is expected, we are more likely to collaborate effectively.

He argues that organizations need to start with the behavior then the tool. All too often, people come up with a magic bullet for collaboration and it often involves technology such as Slack, Sharepoint, Google Hangouts and other collaboration tools. “While those tools are great and can take collaboration to the next level, how often has your organization rolled out a new tool only to have one or two people sharing information between the crickets chirping?” he asked.

2. Mobile

Bossygrl is a starter kit for young female entrepreneurs, enabling them to create and grow real businesses via their phone. Its CEO and co-founder Eileen Gittins believes that the key to digital workplaces now is mobile tools.  Without them, she said, businesses are unable to collaborate effectively with their remote teams. “At Bossygrl, we decided from day one that we all wanted to live where we live — and we live in different places. That meant we had to become adept at using tools like Slack, Trello and Skype to really foster team communication and efficiency. They've allowed us to create an environment where it feels like that person you’re talking to is sitting next to you.  In many ways, it’s more efficient working that way because we’re not trying to look at a white board or the screen up on the wall — we’re all intimately focused on this,” she said.

Related Article: 4 Best Practices for Real-Time Collaboration and Communication

3. Controlling Integrated systems

Ryan O’Connor is the founder and owner of One Tribe Apparel, an e-commerce fashion brand that sells handmade clothes, bags and yoga accessories from Thailand. By its very nature, he has to run the business remotely with two employees in our manufacturing base in Thailand, its social media manager in India, its graphic designer in Portugal and its general assistant in the Phillipines. It may be a small company, but it is global in the true sense of the word. “With all of us working remotely and on different time zones it's really important to stay organized and to communicate effectively. Our primary stack for doing so is Gmail/Google docs, Asana and Slack,” he said. However, tracking work is key in remote work environments so the company also uses Asana.

Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams track their work. Founded in 2008 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein, it aims to improve the productivity of employees in digital workplaces. “We have our big long term assignments planned out through Asana and through the Asana integration on Slack we can discuss the finer details in day-to-day chat. Then we use Gmail and google docs for spreadsheets with information about our upcoming marketing campaigns, potential products and more,” he added.

Organizations really have to commit to planning their digital workplace and encouraging workers to learn how to use their primary platforms. Once this is done, O’ Connor says, it gets easier for employees to take charge of their responsibilities, check in with team members and check in with other team members.

Learning Opportunities

4. Digital Asset Management

There are other applications, though, that are not traditionally associated with enterprise collaboration, but which are playing an increasingly important role in the digital workplace. Digital Asset Management (DAM) is one of them. DAM is software that is used to store and retrieve rich media and to manage digital rights and permissions. Rich media assets include photos, music, videos, animations, podcasts and other multimedia content. However, increasingly enterprises that have invested in modern DAMs, many of which come with full sharing and collaboration functionality, are using them as core content engagement applications.

Carlie Hill is Content Marketing Manager at MediaValet, a digital asset management system developed in Vancouver.  She explained that as a DAM acts as a central library it also acts to improve internal process efficiency, enhancing team collaboration and making repurposing content easier and faster. “In the last few years, DAM systems have added integrations into existing business tools, such as Office 365, Slack and Hootsuite, which has transformed it from a marketing platform into a cross-organization collaboration tool,” she said.

That said, it is important to keep on top of DAMs. Recently, Brooke Emley a software implementation consultant for Widen, a digital content solutions company, in a CMSWire post pointed out that a digital asset management (DAM) system might be the base for marketing operations, but it can also devolve into a glorified attic complete with renegade raw files, forgotten flash videos and jumbled JPEGs that will accumulate without proper upkeep. 

Related Article: 9 Big Community and Collaboration Platform Trends for 2018

5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Customer Relationship Management applications have also been overlooked as collaboration applications, according to Deidre Woollard, a publicist working with Lion & Orb, a Los Angeles-based real estate public relations agency. She said that as a PR firm, the company is often adapt to the tools that their clients are using to help manage projects which means popular networks like Slack, Wrike or Trello depending on preferences. However, there is more to the story than that. “I wanted to also suggest that CRMs play a role in this team collaboration aspect as well. For many companies, knowing who last talked to someone and what was said is critical,” she said. The system they work with manages over 200 million relationships for small businesses and they believe it's important for teams to share assets, be it contacts or brand-specific creatives.

The importance of collaboration and CRM along with other customer experience management tools cannot be overestimated and the connection between them has been recognized by Microsoft, for example, which only last year repackaged its enterprise resource planning tools and its customer relationship management applications in Dynamics 365. Other companies, like Chennai, India-based Zoho have been pulling all this together since the beginning with its suite which now includes over 30 interoperable apps.

6. Delegation

Arcusys is a digital transformation specialist based in Finland. Janne Hietala is the COO. He points that no matter what apps you use, the ability to find information and delegate information to the right people without risking security is key. Unobtrusive communication with intelligent tools to aid in work processes will help teams form rapidly and work with networks outside organizations,” he said. “An immersive, personalized and context-sensitive learning environment will create a fully functioning digital workplace. Also, being able to access the digital workplace from different devices helps people work more efficiently on their own time.

A fully functioning digital workplace should empower employees to communicate and collaborate even as companies, industries and employees change. Organizations must develop a strategy that evolves with these changes so that people can connect, and easily find and share information and expertise. .