- What are the main challenges businesses face regarding workplace productivity?
From the perspective of productivity, there are many challenges that businesses face, which hold them back from being an effective digital workplace.
First, many organizations have been starved of the budget to upgrade adequately performing legacy IT systems over the last decade, forcing them to maintain aging software on out-of-date and on out-of-support operating systems. The nature of some of these applications mean that they cannot be accessible natively other than from specific locations.
Unsuitable working environments are a further challenge. While an open-plan office can have its benefits, it is not an ideal place for creative thought, collaboration, and meetings and can be the source of multiple disruptions during the working day. The lack of dedicated meeting rooms or collaboration spaces can make it hard for teams to function properly and collaborate effectively.
Inadequate connectivity can also be a barrier. Aging networks and WAN links not fit for additional traffic created by cloud services can cause a slowdown in the performance of web applications, and render VOIP, voice and video calls frustrating and of poor quality.
Data and server sprawl is another challenge. If an organization has been in business for several years, it is highly likely that unstructured data and file shares are located in multiple branch offices and data centers. The files, web servers, and other data sources may be fragmented and difficult to find or search effectively. Over time, knowledge of the environment can deteriorate and the data becomes forgotten.
Businesses are also not always aware exactly what roles and functions specific teams of people fulfill and, as a result, the IT resources allocated to them do not fit their specific job requirements, wasting company resources and restricting the employees’ ability to be effective.
The final challenge is resistance to change. Intrinsically, people don’t like change, and this can hold back adoption of digital technologies by employees not comfortable with their ability to embrace new technologies and working practices. Many push back on change by asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Guiding employees on the journey toward digital working and taking them on the journey can help them understand the benefits that the changes in working can bring to them.
- What role can technology play to help improve the situation?
Sometimes technology is not the complete solution. Changing the company culture to promote the digital workplace and making the working environment a vibrant, interesting, and enabling space to work in underpins the technological changes that ultimately create a digitally enabled employee.
In situations where IT systems have become out of date, discovery of what exists today, and analyses of applications and their business functions can remove the barriers to centralizing and upgrading systems to be 'digital ready.' As is often suggested, moving to cloud based technologies is a journey, and knowing what you have and its value to the business is vital to understanding what success will look like.
It’s also important to not underestimate the importance of good quality WAN links to support new digital technologies, and investigate SD-WAN solutions to optimise the performance of newer technologies and cloud services for a digital workplace.
- What technologies should the IT leadership be looking at to implement in the workplace to improve productivity?
Technology by itself, without a process for mapping technology to desired personal and business outcomes, is not sufficient. The process of 'assess, engage, and change' should not be overlooked, and technologies that enable this process and understanding are a great start, empowering the IT leadership to drive success in the knowledge of a defined business outcome mapped to the correct choice of digital technology.
Office productivity, collaboration, and communication technologies are an excellent starting point. They can remove the shackle to a specific location and e-mail, empowering people and teams to collaborate without the baggage of old work methods.
As an example, Microsoft 365 combining Windows 10 and Office 365 underpins digital transformation in the end user computing space. Maximizing the value by effectively using Microsoft Teams within Office 365, combined with MyAnalytics to understand where time is spent, can drive true collaboration and improve personal productivity.
The days of multiple people working offline in a Word document and e-mailing them as attachments and then pulling the amendments into one document are gone. Providing leadership to allow employees to create, share, amend, chat, speak, agree, and complete their tasks in less time is a good starting point in achieving a digital workplace, but there has to be leadership and guidance to get the best from the tools and enable people to work untethered.
Mobilizing corporate applications so apps and data are available from anywhere online and offline can help kill nonproductive time spent travelling for a digital workforce. With an appropriate level of security, control, and management, a secure mobile digital workplace can bring quick value to the digital workforce.
Future-thinking organizations are already implementing AI and bots to help the digital workforce find complex information they need quickly, when they need it, and from wherever they are. The opportunity to get technical support assistance while mobile can add to an overall frictionless experience. This technology area is among the digital workplace solutions that are shaping the future of modern working and the IT leadership needs to understand what value this can bring to their employees and business.
- Many employees feel they’re no more productive even with more tech in place than ever before. What’s the issue here and how can it be overcome? (Better utilization of existing tech, sourcing more suitable solutions, better training, flexible working, and culture change, for example.)
A digital workplace can be a great enabler for an employee’s productivity and personal happiness. Empowering them to collaborate and find the information they need and when they need it, commensurate with their role within the company promotes a sense of personal achievement. Combined with a forward-thinking company culture and embracing flexible working practices that untether the employee, it can contribute to a more harmonious work-and-home-life balance. This, in turn, can increase creative value from the employee and, as a result, reduce turnover of employee talent.
Personal productivity and satisfaction are a combination of having the freedom to complete core activities within the working day from anywhere and from any device using cloud workplace, have time to be creative, and enjoy time to pursue out-of-work interests and spend time with family and friends. It should be frictionless.
While this nirvana of the modern work style is achievable with the right mix of technology, knowledge, and management culture, it isn’t always that way. Looking at organizations and how productive and engaged their employees are, it is clear there can be multiple organizational challenges that stifle productivity and some of these are caused inadvertently by some of the tools provided. These behaviors become ‘productivity sumps.’ E-mail dependency is one prime example.
It’s rare to meet anyone who is employed solely to answer e-mail, but it’s common to see many people locked into their e-mail client, feeling stressed if they are away from it, and trying to manage sometimes in excess of 100 e-mails a day, often working into the night to clear e-mails and ready for the next day’s deluge.
When you take time to look at the nature of the messages and requests, you start to uncover a cultural issue, where much of the e-mail is sent to too many people and, hence, are irrelevant; others abdicate responsibility by sending an e-mail to you, while some e-mails cover so many people's views that it is time-consuming to follow and are ultimately pointless. Instant collaboration would easily prevent a lot of these e-mails. An IM message, a short telephone call, video conversation, or a short face-to-face conversation removes the wall between sender and recipient and gets to a speedy resolution.
It is also easy, in some organizations, to attend meetings or calls with too many people in attendance set for a period of time that is too long. The net effect can be that you can have multiple people on a call or in a room with only a small subset of those people having a relevant conversation while the others are either not contributing, replying to their e-mails, or sometimes even on another call. If you aren’t contributing to or interested in the subject matter, then why are you in the room?
Setting a clear vision of organizational culture, setting communication standards and boundaries will release people’s time and creative spirit to be more effective at their job and be more productive. It is easy for people to feel demoralized when they are doing their 100 plus e-mails at 11pm because they have been in back-to-back meetings all day.
Cultural change can be hard, but technology without it does not create a true digitally enabled creative employee and shackles productivity and creativity.
Microsoft MyAnalytics (Part of Office 365) is a hidden gem to let employees understand just how much time is spent being unproductive in sending emails that go unread, time spent in meetings - it is a revelation when a person looks at their statistics for the week and can visualise how their time is spent.
One look at the ubiquitous Microsoft Office 365 suite will show an array of different excellent capabilities, including a number of collaboration options. Employees can communicate with Skype calls, Skype IM, Yammer, Teams, and SMS. This can cause confusion and fragmented communication without a clear policy or guidance on how and when to use which medium.
If we add to this other common enterprise applications, the desktop can become distracting and the value from investing in technology can be wasted. Now, add to the mix messages being sent to the mobile phone and ‘digital distraction’ can be felt. Technology needs to be mapped to help people get to what they need quickly and efficiently for their role or 'persona' — it is a balance but needs to be right or the effect can be negative.
Management culture is another example. In many businesses, flexible working is actively encouraged to help people work from home, a coffee shop or anywhere where they want. The now aging mantra of “work is what you do not where you are” is established and becoming the norm. Allowing people to fit their work around the school run, gym class, and family time takes a degree of trust but often this is paid back in creativity productivity and loyalty.
Some management styles are not conducive to this way of working and there can still be a fear that if you cannot see someone, you cannot manage them. A digital workplace needs a digital culture to help drive the true benefits from the modern technologies that organizations have invested heavily in and not just more technology.
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