Why Digital Workspace Tools Are So Important
In our article Digital Workspace we described in detail what the digital workspace is and how small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) can implement it or can improve the existing implementation of a digital workplace in their company. And we provided even more details in the article The best German-Language Blogs about the Topic Digital Workspace and the linked interviews with the editors and authors of these blogs, in which they gave us a lot of practical suggestions around the topic digital workspace.
Mr. Schulze of the Dokumentenmanagement Blog, run by the agorum Software GmbH, for example said that one of the most important trends surrounding the topic digital workspace is that companies have to provide good alternatives to popular apps like for example WhatsApp or Dropbox in order to prevent company information from leaving the internal IT structure of the company. As an example, he talked about modern corporate means of communication and apps that facilitate the exchange of documents with external contacts.
Furthermore, Mr. Bachmann of the Arbeitsplatz 4.0 Blog which is run by United Planet, the vendor of the portal software INTREXX, emphasized the importance of usability in this regard: Employees are used to a certain level of usability due to the apps and software they use in their private lives – at the computer as well as on their mobile devices. A digital workplace therefore does not only have to offer access to all files and information, but also has to be designed in a way that employees enjoy.
As you can see, the topic digital workspace tools is very important. These tools are the basic requirement for a digital workplace to function. Because a digital workplace means: the employees of your company must be able to access corporate data – no matter from where and no matter when – in order to allow for an overarching collaboration.
Which Digital Workspace Tools Are Important
The independent IT research and consulting company Crisp Research claims in one of their articles [in German] that the following four concepts are the pillars of a digital workplace:
- Communication (unified communication solutions or voice calls, video, chats, social networks, email)
- Teamwork / jointly working on one task (fileshare solutions, project management software, social intranets or cloud-based office and productivity platforms that allow people to work together in the same document)
- Productivity (the cloud-based office, apps for design, calendar and task management solutions)
- Management / security (all areas must rely on the management tools and security standards that are in place)
According to the study „Arbeitsplatz der Zukunft 2017 [in German]“ (=workplace of the future), the following are the tools that are used most often according to companies as well as according to their employees: teleconferences, workgrouping tools and remote desktop. From the perspective of companies, the biggest need for tools in the future is in the areas „self–help“ and „collaborative reviewing“. Also from the perspective of the employees, „self–help“ is an important topic where tools are concerned, but they regard „online project management“ as even more important.
Digital Workspace Tools – Suggestions for Small and Medium-Sized Companies (SME)
The online portal “Digitaler Mittelstand”, run by the Deutsche Telekom, points out that for SME the most important tools are those that facilitate an efficient communication and agile project management. When these tools are cloud-based, then employees can productively work even in their home office or during a business trip. As always, the security of these tools is an important consideration.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, that supports all companies equally well in their digitization efforts. Every company must examine the available tools and think about if and how they could fit within their own environment. Which tools are needed by your company depends on how your employees are currently working.
Below, we have prepared a list for you that summarizes the most popular tools that we think work well in the small business environment in Germany. Some of these tools fall into a single category, but most are true jacks of all trades and fall into all three important areas: productivity, communication and teamwork. Since most tools have a focus on one category, we have listed them in the category that highlights the tool’s real strengths.
Digital Workspace: Productivity Tools for SME
Office365 is a cloud–based system that allows you to work from anywhere and to collaborate on documents at the same time in for example Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It is easy to scale their use and the product is very user-friendly. Your employees can rely on professional email, calendar and task creation in Outlook. Office 365 also allows your employees to work in the web versions and mobile versions of the office apps. The app Skype for Business lets your employees chat in a messenger and organize online meetings. Microsoft Teams instead is a program that allows your employees to exchange opinions about different projects and tasks in online chat rooms. Even data storage and sharing are relatively simple to implement using Office365.
The G Suite by Google is a very well-known alternative and offers similar productivity tools:
- As an alternative to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Google offers Documents, Tables and Presentations via your browser (or as a mobile app) including the possibility to simultaneously edit a document by different users
- As an alternative to Outlook, Google offers Gmail, Calendar, Task
- As an alternative to Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, Google offers Chats for people and groups and Video Conferences. Furthermore, the G Suite also offers online storage and is just as easily implemented as Office365.
If you prefer to work with smaller providers, we suggest this article by IT-Zoom, that summarizes alternatives to Microsoft and Google very well: Alternativen zu Microsoft und Google [article in German].
Digital Workspace: Communication Tools for SME
Not to be underestimated as the most important communication tool is still the email. While the communication tools described below can save you a lot of emails and can facilitate more orderly discussions, your employees still need access to a good email program. There seems to be an endless amount of choices here. Many are offered in combination with productivity tools. Our suggestions in that regard can be found in the paragraph above.
Nowadays, many companies provide their employees a messenger and chat rooms in addition to email, so that quick questions can be answered easily within the company and so that the communication outside of the company with suppliers and clients can be quick and uncomplicated. A really good handbook about this topic has been published by the Mittelstand 4.0-Agentur Kommunikation, a funding initiative by the Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie: Messenger in der Unternehmenskommunikation [document in German].
In order to communicate quickly with clients, WhatsApp is the market leader. According to the study MessengerPeople Studie 2018 [in German], already 10 million people use messenger services in order to communicate with companies. In 2018, companies received a total of 117 million requests via messenger – most of them (98%) via WhatsApp. Regarding corporate communication inside the company, there are better alternatives that deal with data in a more secure way and provide other functions alongside communication though.
You can offer your employees chat rooms and more with a variety of tools. Slack is probably the most used and most well-known communication tool on the market in that regard. Companies can create different chat rooms or employees can communicate directly with each other. You can upload documents, share them and comment on them. There are a variety of other features and on top of that Slack can be integrated with many other programs (like Twitter or OneDrive). Microsoft’s answer to Slack is the product Teams, which your employees can use for group chats, online meetings and the sharing of documents in various chat rooms. As described above, Teams is part of the productivity tool Office365.
Another tool that works very well is Bitrix24. Teams can communicate in different project groups and employees can talk to each other and share documents in chats. However, Bitrix24 is much more than a „simple“ communications tool. For example, your employees can plan projects, assign each other tasks and even organize the whole CRM, if they want to. A similar solution is Asana. This tool also allows you to discuss topics in different groups with your team and assign each other tasks.
In addition to these tools – or an alternative to chat rooms – it is often helpful for the company to provide their employees tools that allow them to organize online meetings. These can simplify the internal communication among employees and can also be used for example for customer training or recruiting new employees. The Mittelstand 4.0-Agentur Kommunikation lists many free and fee-based options in their handbook about online meetings Leitfaden zu Online Meetings [document in German]. The most known among them are probably: Skype, Skype for Business (as described above, this tool is a part of Office365), GoToMeeting and Team Viewer.
Digital Workspace: Teamwork Tools for SME
Nowadays, collaboration tools are indispensable for modern companies. And thanks to the many, many offerings on the market, such solutions are easy to implement and affordable for SME. Document sharing in the cloud allows your employees to save their documents and then download them onto any device from anywhere in the world. The most well-known options are OneDrive and Google Drive, but there are many, many more out there. There are many intranet solutions that can be used for document sharing and that also allow your company to connect processes and employees and to inform them about developments within the company.
The probably most well-known product is SharePoint by Microsoft. Some of the communication tools mentioned above like Bitrix24 have many similar features and can function as communication tool as well as teamwork tool. Tecchannel.de has examined some collaboration tools specifically in regard to German SME: Central Desktop, ProjectPlace, Amagno and Teamdrive.
There are many tools on the market if you want to support your employees with their project management. Often, the same ones are suggested. Vodafone’s magazine featured Business for example suggests the relatively simple Microsoft Project or the more advanced OnePoint Projects to SME for their project management needs. As a project management tool that is more geared toward communication, they suggest Basecamp and as a project management tool that can also be used for document management, activity feed and email integration as well as time tracking, they suggest Wrike.
For small companies or start-ups that don’t want to spend anything or very little, but that still value organized digital work, there is a remarkable amount of solutions. Most of the tools described above provide a basic version that can be used for free. In addition, the website Gründer.de has summarized the best free project management tools in this useful article: Die 11 Besten im Vergleich [in German].
Selecting and Implementing Digital Workspace Tools
When it comes to selecting and implementing digital workspace tools, again, the editors and authors of the best German-Language Blogs about the Topic Digital Workspace have some suggestions for our readers.
An important suggestion comes from Mr. Thimm, project manager BVMW e.V. and responsible for PR at the digital workspace blog _Gemeinsam digital: Especially for SME it is important to know that it doesn’t always have to be the big solution right away. Often even small changes lead to positive experiences and offer the chance to dive deeper into the change process of designing the digital workplace.
In regards to the implementation of digital workspace tools, companies should „ensure that they are dealing with the topic digital workspace holistically and include staff in particular from the very beginning in the change process“ says the team of the digital workspace blog oneclick that is run by the oneclick AG.
Want more? Then read our article Digital Readiness for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises – the Road to Digitization, in which we summarized the newest studies about the topic digitization in SME for you and even provided a list of steps that can support you in your digitization efforts in your own company.
And as usual, you can of course contact us if you have question regarding the selection and implementation of in your company. We would be happy to support you and the digitization of your company in the future. Simply send us an email to email@example.com or fill out the form on our contact page. You can also find our phone number there.