Don’t let your digital tools sabotage the employee experience

rebecca hindsRebecca Hinds
5 April 2024
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This article was originally published on Reworked.

Great companies don’t just value the employee experience (EX) — they’re fanatical about it. In the past, this obsession translated into office spaces that resembled adult playgrounds, boasting features like climbing walls and bean bags, baristas serving up artisanal lattes and serene meditation spaces for decompression.

But, in today’s era of distributed work, where both in-office and remote employees depend heavily on digital tools, the EX has become increasingly digital. It's an ironic situation. Companies are pouring money into digital tools — with spending on SaaS licenses even eclipsing healthcare costs on a per-employee basis. Yet they’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle: how these tools impact, for better or worse, the digital employee experience (DEX).

Your digital tools might be saboteurs of your employee experience. Here’s what you can do about it.

Recognize the problem

The first step to tackling this issue head-on is acknowledging the problem. According to some estimates, the average enterprise juggles more than 300 SaaS tools, many of which are collaboration tools. This digital clutter is more than just an inconvenience; it's a significant drain on employees' time and focus.

Our research at The Work Innovation Lab, a think tank by Asana, in collaboration with Stanford Professor Bob Sutton and UC Santa Barbara Professor Paul Leonardi, uncovered the startling impact of this clutter. We found that workers lose 57 minutes per day just switching between collaboration tools. They lose an additional 30 minutes deciding which collaboration technologies they should use for a specific task. That's nearly an hour and a half every day not spent on productive work, but lost in the mental gymnastics of shifting between tools.

What’s more, every time workers switch tools, they face a “reorientation tax”—they can lose over 20 minutes each time as they struggle to regain their focus and momentum. The repercussions of this context switching and resulting loss of focus ripple through every aspect of work and have broader implications. Nearly two-thirds of knowledge workers report digital exhaustion according to our research, a direct hit to both personal well-being and organizational effectiveness.

Launch a tech audit

The next step to addressing the problem and improving the DEX is to launch a tech audit. Think of it as a regular health check-up for your company's digital toolkit. Our research shows that nearly half of knowledge workers (43%) are uncertain whether their companies regularly assess the effectiveness of their collaboration tools. When companies don’t perform regular audits, they unwittingly cling to redundant or suboptimal tools that clutter their digital workplace.

Tech audits involve more than just counting tools; they require understanding who uses these tools, how frequently they’re used, for what specific purposes, and how much value they generate. A well-conducted tech audit doesn't just weed out the unnecessary; it fine-tunes the digital ecosystem, setting up new integrations and workflows that drive efficiencies. As a result of a well-conducted tech audit, you ensure that each tool in your tech stack isn’t just a utility or budget line item, but a vital contributor to the DEX and overall organizational performance.

Commit to a top-down strategy with employee buy-in

Effective digital tool management requires a top-down strategy. In our recent research, we found that a significant 74% of employees want everyone in their organization to use a standardized set of core collaboration technologies. While the allure of hyper-customized tools seems appealing, employees prefer standardized tools that reduce context switching and make it easier to find the information they need to do their jobs.

Our recent “collaboration cleanse” intervention further illuminated the need for standardization and top-down guidance. In the experiment, employees were asked to pause the use of certain collaboration tools for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, over half of the respondents reported that this digital detox helped them identify redundant tools in their tech stack.

However, they also expressed a need for more support and direction from their leaders. As a leader, you need to lay out clear guidance and rules of the digital road for employees. When should Slack be used? What about Google Drive? Asana? PowerPoint? Why? This approach isn't about top-down dictation — it’s about clarity, consistency and strategy. It’s also important to actively seek and incorporate feedback from employees. Are the tools and policies in place resonating with employees and enhancing their productivity? Or are they just digital hoops to jump through?

Recognize the strategic role of the CIO

The Chief Information Officer (CIO) and other IT leaders like the CTO play crucial roles in leading your top-down tech strategy and taming digital tool sprawl. Their role is less about gatekeeping and more about strategic vigilance: monitoring how tools, often innocuously, infiltrate the company. Your CIO will be critical in steering your organization toward a more streamlined DEX. Consider this real-life example of an organization where a CTO introduced “good friction” to rein in digital clutter.

He instructed the accounting team to scrutinize and report every software-related charge on corporate cards. Any tool not greenlit by IT was promptly put on hold and managers were required to formally justify their tool choices. The review determined that the organization was using several redundant tools, like Slack, Teams, and Webex, for similar functions. In the end, the organization was able to reduce the number of SaaS tools from 55 to just 20 essential ones.

The future of DEX

In a world where the employee experience is increasingly digital, companies face a pivotal challenge: adapt or fall behind. The path forward isn't just a series of steps; it's a strategic overhaul.

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