E-mails, zoom, WhatsApp, Slack… when the proliferation of digital tools undermines the quality of life at work

Published on 21 February 2024
Teams, Zoom, Microsoft 365, Slack, Drive, Dropbox and so many other videoconferencing systems, professional messaging systems or document sharing and storage platforms… To ensure the continuity of remote activities during the health crisis and then to stabilise hybrid working methods, companies have equipped themselves with a multitude of collaborative tools, the use of which has intensified, without prioritising and sometimes without structuring usage strategies.

They have been added to previous systems, meetings and e-mails. The number of communication channels is increasing, and this seems to be having an impact on both employee well-being and organisational efficiency. A number of recent studies point to a growing sense of unease among employees in the face of the jumbled web resulting from chaotic digitalisation.

In a study commissioned in 2022 by Opentext, a leader in digital document management and data exchange, 40% of employees in 12 countries (including France) said they were stressed by poor information management, particularly the sheer number of applications they had to consult every day. At the beginning of 2022, a Pega survey of 14 countries found that three quarters of employees felt that their work had become more complex, and 42% blamed digital transformation for this.

This is also what emerges from the Teleworking and Hybrid Organisations barometer designed by Malakoff Humanis. The people questioned stated that the main difficulty caused by hybrid working is the increasing digitalisation of the workplace, as did this manager, who works for a consultancy specialising in digital tools:

Before, I had emails, it was simple, I might go on Skype from time to time to ask if the person was free for a call. But now there are discussions on SMS, WhatsApp, Teams, email, possibly content on the corporate social network… It’s very difficult to manage the flow of information, you can miss information because you’re not looking at the right channel. So we’re all wasting time.

Julie Panier

A tool for every purpose

Faced with such a mass of difficult-to-manage tools, the first step is to rationalise the portfolio of communication tools that companies have at their disposal. This involves identifying the most relevant use cases for each tool, depending on the type of message to be delivered and the context.

Many companies are aware of this need, but often struggle to bring their thinking to fruition.
As an example, we show here the pyramid of uses for the various communication tools at DOIST, a company with 90 employees. Because it operates on a full-remote basis, i.e. with employees working where they want and when they want, the company felt the need to formalise precisely which channels to use, depending on whether it was a question of making an announcement, sharing ideas, commenting on the work of others, organising bilateral exchanges, team meetings or working groups, organising a team-building event, or acting in an emergency.

As is often the case with management and work organisation, there is no single recipe. It’s up to each company, or even each team, to shape its own pyramid of tools and uses in line with its operational needs and constraints. This is all the more important given that structuring tools in this way is not enough, and must necessarily be accompanied by regulating their use, which can only be done at several levels.

Acting individually remains limited in the face of collaborative tools

From an individual point of view, it is always possible to ensure that you have time to concentrate and breathe. This can be done by indicating “absent” or “busy” in your diary, deactivating notifications, putting your phone on silent mode, filtering calls or emails, etc. These mental hygiene measures will be all the more justified if the other levels of regulation fail. However, they quickly reach their limits because of the “collaborative” nature of these tools.

The individual’s room for manoeuvre in terms of collaborative digital use is still very much framed by the practices of his team, and particularly by the expectations of his hierarchy. As one manager explains

What counts is not you or your decision, it’s the group you work with.