The challenge for us cloud developers is that it’s no longer enough to build the best file storage cloud, or document editor, or proofing app. Rather, we must also give users of our apps the ability to communicate more effectively with each other. This may sound like a no-brainer, but in reality, there are a few stumbling blocks which mean that communication with your co-workers isn’t quite as straightforward.
Think of Google Docs, for example (an app I’m using to write this article). It’s a powerful text editor, and I can also use a built-in comment feature to leave notes, and within those notes mention other members of my team so that we can discuss the copy.
Similarly, Box, Dropbox and Microsoft cloud products now include features to write comments and instructions, and directly message others. For each individual app this is a great enhancement that aides collaboration by making them more social. The challenge, however, is that very few businesses use just one of these tools.
What that means is that you’ve got a myriad of disparate comments, notes and mentions all over the place. Layer that with email threads, text messages, Slack or Skype chats and other specialised tools and you wind up with a web of communications in which no single source contains a complete picture of your work.
A frustrated user may think ‘I know I saw a note about this presentation somewhere...’ and spend the next 20 minutes looking through six sources for the information they need. And when they find it, they then have to aggregate all updates into a single place.
Missing information is killing workforce productivity
If this pain resonates with you, it’s not surprising. We recently surveyed over 1,400 knowledge workers and 53 per cent of respondents said ‘missing information’ was their biggest cause of stress at work. It’s my belief that this information isn’t missing altogether, it’s just fragmented beyond usefulness within various communication tools.
A 2012 report by McKinsey and Company found that workers spend 19 per cent of their work week searching and gathering information. In addition, a survey of middle managers conducted by Accenture revealed that 57 per cent of respondents said that going to different sources to compile information is a difficulty they face, and 42 per cent said they use the wrong information at least once per week.
It’s also important to understand the neuroscience in how our brain responds to switching focus frequently in tasks. It can take you up to 25 minutes to recover from a task change or distraction. That means if you pause your work to search for information once an hour, you’ll spend about a third of your day trying to ramp back up to your optimal work state.
Claire Burge, CEO of the UK consultancy, This is Productivity, has seen this first hand: ‘In our experience and through the deep research we do when working with clients through workplace transformation programmes, we see that people are only really productive for 3.5-4 hours every day. The rest of the day is lost to distractions, looking for missing information and jumping between very fragmented work environments.’
When you compound this across a company with hundreds of employees, you can see that fragmentation is truly a silent killer for the enterprise, and one that sucks a lot of productivity out of otherwise stellar workers. That’s why solving the challenge of fragmentation should be a goal for IT organisations and developers moving into 2016.
And so 40 years after the invention of email, we’re back to the drawing board. We’ve conquered making communication instant, rich and personal. Now it’s time to bring it all together, and solve the challenge of app fragmentation in the workplace, which is increasingly causing CIOs headaches.
Standardise, standardise, standardise
At first glance, there is a simple answer from the CIO’s perspective: get as many users as possible relying exclusively upon a single product for collaborating and sharing knowledge.
Indeed there are a number of cloud collaboration tools - including our own - which integrate functions like file storage, threaded conversations, project management, email capture and live chat into a single system of record, and, just as importantly, make using it enjoyable enough for workers to want to use it throughout the day. As they do so, the work they undertake becomes the database of statuses, finished work and conversations.
Problem sorted then? Not quite, because no matter how well we software developers do this, users in different teams within a company may still choose competing products, or decide not use any collaboration tools at all.
CIOs need to recognise the cost and pain of fragmentation and do what developers can’t: take initiative in mandating a solution.
As it was with the introduction of email decades ago, by standardising social work management solutions for companies or divisions and enforcing their usage, IT can create an enterprise in which up-to-date and actionable information is available to everyone in the company with minimal searching and compiling.
We have seen that businesses who go down this route not only achieve greater efficiencies, they also manage to generate greater employee engagement and, ultimately, raise their ability to compete.
Making the most of BYOA
If you’ve never implemented a work management platform, I recommend starting by evaluating apps that are already used in your company, and talking to users about the kind of value they receive from them. It may turn out that the perfect solution for eliminating fragmented communications is already being used within the organisation.
Rather than casting ‘Bring Your Own App’ (BYOA) initiatives aside as undesirable ‘shadow IT’, bottom-up sourcing is actually the key to solving this challenge. If an app has stuck with a group of users, odds are good that it’s got something that makes its use natural and addresses some underlying problem.
It’s important that if you mandate an app, you mandate something workers will actually use. Otherwise, the fragmentation process will restart when users get disheartened - and go out and find another app that fits their needs better.
As I think about the future of collaboration in the cloud, solving the problem of fragmented information is an enormous opportunity for business to eliminate waste and frustration for workers.
By making 2016 a year committed to unifying knowledge and communications within a single environment, you can give your workers at least an hour of productivity back every day in a way that will compound with adoption. As work management software continues to evolve, predictive technology and machine learning will further improve the speed with which workers can locate and use their company’s knowledge.