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It seems the discussion about the digital workplace has focused on either the technology that drives the digital workplace, or the workforce — the people that actually work in the digital workplace. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that a successful digital workplace depends on getting the balance between technology and employee experience just right, according to the recent Workfront 2020 State of Work report (registration required).

Digital Workplace Workers

The research explored what the current digital workplace worker looks like and found that the digital workforce is one that is invested and technically astute. These employees want to do purposeful work, take pride in what they do, and crave modern technologies that help them work more strategically and efficiently.

The study conducted by Workfront, which develops a work management application platform for the enterprise, surveyed 3,750 knowledge workers across the United States, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Some of the results of the research give an interesting perspective on the digital workplace and workers:

  • 91% of worker’s say they are proud of the work they do.
  • 78% say their job represents more than a paycheck. However, it also shows that technology can help, but only if it's the right technology.
  • 42% of respondents said the number of work applications their companies provide actually make them less productive.

The study found that most workers don’t believe adding more technology solutions will necessarily improve work, in fact, many managers said too many tools can actually hinder productivity.

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Tools’ Impact On Productivity

Shane Murphy-Reuter, SVP of marketing at Intercom, pointed out that the many tools used by teams inside a business have impacted productivity in that they spend a lot of time switching between tools, copying and pasting customer data between different tools including CRMs, customer data platforms (CDPs) and other platforms. This is especially true for customer-facing teams within marketing, customer success, customer support and sales. In fact, the average worker switches between as many as 35 different applications per day as they hunt for information, complete  workflows, or copy and paste data.

“When it comes to sales, spending time switching between all of these apps also hurts business deals — 63% of sales reps have lost a sale because they didn’t respond quickly enough to a prospect,” he said. “This is likely due to the fact that the rep didn’t have all the information they needed at hand, in real-time. There are a few things to think about when trying to remove the friction that comes from constantly switching tools.”

Tools Working Together

What managers should do when building their tech stack, according to Murphy-Reuter, is make sure all tools work seamlessly together — make sure the tools are talking to each other. Mangers should, for example, make sure that Salesforce, Zendesk, Marketo and other places where customer information is stored are interconnected. This not only increases team members’ productivity by bringing their most common workflows together, but it also gives them the information they need automatically at their fingertips to free up time to focus on more strategic, high-impact tasks that are more likely to keep them engaged.

The increased efficiency of having everything in one place boosts the productivity and engagement of sales and support and enables teams to provide faster, more effective and personalized sales and support, resulting in an improved, frictionless customer experience as well. This, in turn, reduces churn, increases customer satisfaction and ultimately enables businesses to close deals faster.

Technology Is Not the Solution

That said, technology is not the solution, according to Mike Duensing, CTO of Skuid, which develops a no-code cloud application platform. The most important ingredient is a solution that is designed well for the intended function, which requires starting with the user and understanding what their needs are, then designing a solution that provides a great experience tailored for those needs. “Simply buying a new technology solution that provides an out-of-the-box experience most likely will not address the specific requirements of your business workflows,” he said. “You want your employees to feel like they are creating value for those that they serve.”

If workers have the right tools, he said, they will be engaged and more productive. They won't use the tools provided if the experience is not fit for the job at hand. This is not only a waste of productivity but will hurt employee satisfaction and business outcomes.

So what role does technology play? There’s a curve when it comes to the number of technologies and engagement, and I wouldn’t say the engagement drops after adding a certain number of technologies,” said David Lee of the Kastling Group. “I think engagement is tied to the change in employee experience, so it’s important to consider the touchpoints where the employee interacts with technologies,” he said.

If the technologies create additional touch points or deteriorates the quality of existing interactions, then the engagement will likely drop. If technology is added without increasing these touchpoints, e.g., by using the same, sensed, or automated inputs, there should not be a negative impact on engagement.

Bottom line, employees want to like their jobs, and if they do, the productive output will reflect that. But sometimes an employee's happiness at work will begin to drop due to changes in the job or the overcomplicating of it, said Mike Golpa, director of G4 by Golpa.

Things are considered complicated when they are new and are perceived as unhelpful and unproductive. “What this means is that if we are adding tech to a job we should introduce it slowly with comprehensive training and we should make sure we need this tech for the job. Otherwise, we create more work for less output,” he said.

Low-Value Activity

The Workfront research concludes that even in the middle of a technology and connectivity revolution, today’s workforce still devotes a tremendous amount of time to low-value activity. And the workers know it.

Over the six years they published the State of Work report, the findings have consistently shown that knowledge workers on average spend just 40% of their work week on the job they were hired to do. Despite trillions of dollars and countless initiatives, companies have gained almost no ground in helping workers focus on their most important work, the report reads.

It adds that it can take more than 20 minutes after an interruption or technology jump to return to the original task. The conclusion; the very tools workers are using to enable communication and collaboration may actually interfere with productivity. It is time, therefore, to reassess the role of these technologies in the digital workplace.