Digital tool overload. Communications and collaboration platforms abound.
Overwhelming employees with a plethora of collaboration and chat tools isn't helping anyone. PHOTO: Shutterstock:

Digital workplaces are great, aren’t they? 

Colleagues can collaborate from across the world by sharing files over Slack, conversing through Google Doc comments, tracking projects on Trello and discussing internal matters on Yammer — or was that via email? Wait, didn’t the boss schedule a Skype meeting later today to wrap those discussions up?

Oh boy.

Digital Workplace Tool Overload Is Real

Digital workplace tool overload (not to be confused with digital workplace information overload — another common digital workplace problem in its own right), is an issue brought about by the meteoric rise in popularity of digital workplace software such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. A recent Skyhigh study found that the average knowledge worker is using up to twenty-eight different cloud apps, with an average of 8 apps being used for collaboration alone.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that such a chaotic digital workplace only serves to hinder productivity and divide teams, but to confirm those preconceptions, CMSWire reached out to Simon Tyrrell, CPO of NYC-based LiveTiles, for an insight into his own experience dealing with digital workplace tool overload. “[My] Outlook is always open, and we use Yammer for company communications. However, part of my product development team insists on using Slack for other things. I [on the other hand] don’t like Slack as a tool [so I don’t use it], and I miss out on stuff,” Tyrell explained.

He went on to share a recent experience where some of his team member were discussing a matter which — thanks to the sheer variety of digital workplace tools being used — he was simply unaware of. “I asked them what they were talking about and they told me it was discussed on Slack — but I hadn’t seen it. It was very important.”

Jennifer Terrill, CIO at Westlake Village, Calif.-based iPayment, shared a similar experience with CMSWire. “[When iPayments was acquired], we found ourselves using three separate phone systems and various chat tools. Employees who worked out of two or more offices had multiple desk phones, each with individual numbers and voicemail accounts. It was a completely disjointed experience and cross-office collaboration suffered,” Terrill revealed. She explained that, although their issues are now resolved, the situation, “impacted culture and innovation” at iPayment.

So, what’s the solution?

Substitution Vs Organization

When push comes to shove, brands have two options when it comes to managing digital workplace tool overload: substitute out a group of tools for a single platform, or attempt to organize the tools already in play.

The first solution, substitution, may produce more problems than it solves. Forcing employees to abandon the tools they know and love may trigger further frustration, and maybe a stubborn neglect of whichever alternative is provided. However, if you’re keen to cut down the amount of digital workplace tools being utilized, Alayna Frankenberry, Manager of Inbound Marketing for Freedom, PA.-based BlueSky ETO, shared some golden advice. “The easiest solution to tool overload is to find a single tool that has comprehensive features, and can [thus] replace many a la carte programs and apps. This can also save a lot of time when it comes to API integration issues and internal training,” Frankenberry said.

On the other side of the fence is Mike Hicks, VP of Marketing and Strategy at Ontario-based Igloo Software. Hicks told CMSWire that the problem is more to do with, “the way the tools are organized than the actual number of the tools themselves.” He explained that employees use a variety of tools because they each serve a different purpose in accomplishing tasks. The problem, he said, was down to the silos those tools reside in. “Problems arise due to silos between tools, since they can’t typically work together and need to be accessed separately. Integrating all the tools into a digital workplace, into the context of the work of employees and teams, is the best way to decrease inefficiencies and keep employees happy and productive. The answer isn’t to remove tools that employees use, but to find a way for them all to work together better,” he continued.

If we take Hicks’ advice, finding a sustainable and cost-effective way to break down those silos now becomes the solution — whether that’s through knowledge management systems, or through rigorous training, guidelines, workflows and restrictions.

Priority For The C-suite

No matter which solution you deem most effective, there’s one thing you can be sure of, chief executives need to take the problem of digital workplace tool overload seriously. “Streamlining workplace applications within an organization needs to be a priority for the entire c-suite because it has such an impact on the productivity of the organization. If [they] aren't providing a great set of tools for employees, they will find their own, which becomes a real productivity and cost issue when you've got different teams that need to work together but are all on different tools,” iPayment’s CIO Jennifer Terrill continued.

As for exactly how executives should get involved, BlueSky ETO’s Frankenberry once again chimed in with some of her wisdom, underlining the importance of gathering feedback from those on the front lines. “Higher level execs need to have frank conversations with their teams about which features they actually use,” she said. With that information in hand, deciding on whether to substitute or organize existing digital workplace tools should become a tad easier.