insight

The future digital workplace – Using technology to aid rather than hinder productivity

By Stafford Bond, - Insight

The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, data and digital applications ensures that we can create and share more than ever before. The dam has finally broken – we are now flooded with more accessible data streams and information than we humans can physically cope with. But there are glimmers of hope – innovative technology and M2M Robotic assistance should now be seen as an enabler rather than a hindrance in the race for digital workplace supremacy.

Psychologist Tony Crabbe has already investigated the ways in which technology is having an adverse effect on the productivity that it is supposed to encourage.

People’s attention span has arguably become a currency in today’s digital world and is extremely valued and sought after. It’s more than being frustrated by someone who is too distracted by their devices to properly engage in a conversation, but the issue of how we can use technology to alleviate distraction and enhance rather than hinder productivity. As Tony revealed, more than half of knowledge workers are spending less than 30 minutes a day thinking – and emptying a clogged inbox is considered a productive day for 77% of UK workers.

In other words, how can we utilize technology more to help us achieve our potential, rather than bog us down?

As a first principle, technology should automate processes and workflow. It should be used to free people up to solve complex problems and by design exercise their creativity and innovative sides. All too often, we overlook the importance of understanding a user’s day to day workflow from their perspective and push the agendas that we have, leaving a disenfranchised end user.

By focusing on the intended outcomes it becomes possible to identify which processes would be most effective to automate, rather than simply adding more point solutions to any given environment. This, of course, is something that we can use technology for too. Machine based cognitive learning can also help here.

As we get better at implementing this kind of streamlining technology – freeing up users’ attention spans and improving our machine learning solutions – we will be in a position to use technology to assist with those more complex or creative tasks which are still reserved for humans. This is fast becoming the new challenge for CIOs and IT departments alike.

Tony identified CIOs’ core responsibility in a digital workplace as assessing “how the technologies they implement or utilize enhance or diminish the capacity for focus, complex thinking, creativity and relationship building in their people.” We are already at a stage at which technology is beginning to support these processes.

Machine learning can start to propose solutions and test hypotheses (A/B testing is a relatively basic example of this), which, when implemented effectively, accelerates the problem solving process. While we are not yet at a stage at which machines are executing genuinely complex problem solving, we can use technology to bear some of the weight – a weight that we can measure in terms of time and attention spent.

Communication effectiveness, meanwhile, is a difficult skill to hone – and one that few people could say they wouldn’t benefit from improving upon. Whilst it wouldn’t seem that an obvious solution to this is a machine, Microsoft’s Delve has started the ball rolling – surfacing personalized content to users from across Office 365 (including OneDrive, SharePoint and Yammer) based on what you’re working on and who you’re working with.

I’d like to see more of this kind of implementation of intelligent, cross platform analytics. We should be applying the best in behavioral psychology to provide recommendations about how we can adapt our technologies to improve networking and communication skills.

In many ways these ideas can’t be effectively executed without first freeing up the time and attention of the IT suite itself. The shift from large scale roll-outs to a ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) approach  – of which Windows 10, which Microsoft has gone as far as to categorize as ‘Windows as a Service’ (WaaS), is one of the most prominent current examples – should be freeing up time for IT departments to focus their efforts on more innovative work.

Ultimately, the aim of implementing WaaS is to support existing business processes without sacrificing productivity. Without the support of the right partner in this process, there’s a risk that cost and complexity simply gets moved from IT to another part of the business.

In this sense, the way that CIOs and IT departments approach issues of wider business productivity needs to change. It may seem obvious, but solutions, from a technical perspective, should always come second to the users’ and business needs.

CIOs, in their efforts to reclaim time and attention on behalf of employees, should interact directly with the people using the technologies provided. Using focus groups, for example, can be used to hold a mirror up to IT and get a view of the types of services that they actually need.

To learn more about Windows 10, see our previous blog post here. Click here for the next blog post in the series that looks at the challenge of remaining forward-facing.

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