Earlier in 2020, many organizations suddenly found themselves in a relatively precarious position when it came to rapidly connecting their workers together almost entirely using digital communications tools. COVID-19 had arrived without much upfront warning and subsequent stay-at-home strategies rapidly dispersed worker populations to their homes around the globe for the foreseeable future.
Organizations now needed the best digital communications tools not only available for their far-flung talent base but situated as effectively as possible for their newly remote workers to remain, and in many cases become even more, productive. However, all of this arrived at an already dynamic time in the industry.
Communications Silos Continue to Significantly Plague Workers
While most enterprise had already accumulated a long and growing list of such communications tools, the technical solutions themselves had been undergoing a major shift of their own just before the pandemic arrived. For the first time in decades, e-mail was shifting into newer, more immediate channels like team chat, while voice was well under way in its steady migration to new online meeting services that also served up video, especially when point-to-point calls weren’t involved.
Popular new solutions like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Slack had also emerged on the scene in the last few years and were widely perceived as more modern, more usable, and effective. A broad shift to these platforms was thus in progress and many organizations had moved to them, even though individually these new tools only served some of the new digital communications modes — like group video calls — that workers and businesses sought.
Complicating matters, many of these tools were not even 1-to-1 replacements with each other in many cases. Yet these more consumerized, easier-to-use, and richer options were found compelling by many, driving demand and continued change, even if they often accumulated around the edges, and so didn’t form the center of gravity for their daily communications.
Our research over the years has shown that the digital communications experience has grown ever more fragmented and complex, to the considerable detriment of effective engagement and collaboration both between workers and between them and other key stakeholders such as customers or partners/suppliers.
For years now, some of the biggest productivity killers — ranked at the very top in certain studies — is getting workers to understand how to actually use the growing wealth of communications tools at their disposal. Making the extensive and ever-growing IT investments accessible to workers — who are turning over more than ever before in the workplace — is a growing hurdle around the world. Business want their workers using the latest, most effective technologies, yet workers need more education, support, and enablement to ensure these investments are actually being used.
A Better Way to ROI with Digital Communications
However, instead of costly training and ongoing support, our work with large scale digital workplace strategies and employee communication technology rollouts over the years has shown that there is actually an easier way most of the time.
Enterprises can situate today’s powerful new communications tools together, while integrating them more seamlessly into the center of the worker experience so that these channels work together with each other whenever possible. This can be in a worker’s main communications application, virtual desktop, or mobile device, or wherever it makes the most sense. Such integration efforts were difficult and/or costly in years past, but today most organizations live in a time where such systems can be connected together into new user experiences more quickly and inexpensively than ever before.
One major gap in the digital workplace has been between the latest generation of communications or meetings tools and long-standing infrastructure like public or corporate telephone networks. Workers generally seek to use the latest meeting tools like Microsoft Teams, which has been experiencing near-runaway growth in 2020. Yet they then struggle to include those participants in digital sessions, especially if they are outside the company and aren’t yet trained on newer solutions like Teams.
It is therefore very useful — ideal even — to treat traditional phone networks as first class citizens within these new tools. In fact, our research finds significant ROI, on the order of double digits in many cases, across the spectrum of benefits in offering workers a more integrated communications experience. The key is in ensuring that as many communications channels are integrated as native, first-class citizens in a primary hub or in existing communications/meeting solutions.
As we’ve seen recently with the advent of new capabilities like high quality PSTN integration into Microsoft Teams as a seamless extension of the platform, organizations can now significantly streamline and improve the digital communications experience for most workers. There is a whole raft of attendant benefits which are of particular importance now that the majority of work must be carried out within these tools during remote work/working from home.
The Value of More Integrated Communications
The overall benefits of a more integrated worker communications experience are:
- Higher adoption of communications solutions. Organizations can ensure their workers are getting the value out of enterprise investments in digital communications by making them seamlessly integrate more a single solution that is available where workers are already focusing their largest share of communications time.
- Improved productivity. When workers aren’t trying to figure out how to connect people together using different communication endpoints or sorting out the least common denominator, they can spend more time getting work done. Integrating different channels with common modalities (like enabling all voice technologies to connect to all other voice technologies) makes a huge difference in helping worker focus on their job instead of their tools.
- Less training/support. When a fewer number of digital communications tools are used that support a wider variety of channels, including legacy ones, workers almost always benefit. They have higher skill levels with those tools since they use them more. They also have fewer problems finding the right communications tool, and need less support in troubleshooting their communications experience in general.
- More team cohesion. The remote work environment of today is different than when remote work was an occasional activity for most people. Remote work can be isolating and spreading workers across more channels and tools makes it even harder for them to stay engaged with each other. Bringing digital meetings together with public phone systems, for example, ensures everyone can participate in meeting sessions, without complex rituals to get people dialed in, for example. Workers spend more time together with an integrated communications experience and are less frustrated or stressed when doing so.
- Less cognitive overload. Human resources teams have long worried about the complexity of today’s IT landscape, and for good reason: When too much mental effort needs to be put into finding the right tools and/or channel to communicate in, the quality of work itself suffers. Creating more centralized, streamlined, and usable communication experiences can offload workers to focus better on their business activities.
- Lower operational costs. Many of the benefits above translate into cost savings: Workers are more productive, quality is higher, and mistakes are fewer when usability is improved, teams function together better, training and support overhead is lower, and so on. The key to gaining these benefits is not to acquire more point communications solutions and roll them out to workers, but instead think about them in a more organized and consumption-focused way.
The key to gaining these benefits is not to acquire more point communications solutions and roll them out to workers, but instead think about them in a more organized and consumption-focused way.
The primary question is this: How can we make today’s digital channels and legacy communications tools work better together in a more cohesive way that lets workers focus on the communication itself, rather than the technologies and tools that underly them? If IT and communications teams that focus on enablement and usability through better underlying integration of communication tools, they will produce eminently more satisfied workers and better business results.