How do businesses equip their workforce with the tools they need to succeed in this new world?
A business certainly wouldn’t equip a factory worker with just a hammer and chisel and expect them to produce a car, so are they effectively doing the same with people who work in an office environment?
Before looking at how businesses might work tomorrow, it is important to consider what tools we are equipping the workforce with now.
Many of the tools currently being used haven’t really changed in years. For instance, consider two programs that most workers use each and every day: a word processor and email.
While they certainly have changed their look and feel, these tools are fundamentally no different from when they were developed 20 years ago. Yet, in that time, there has been a meteoric rise in the web, social networks and mobile devices to name a few.
While email is a valuable means of communication, it is increasingly being pressed into roles it is not suited and, in many ways, this incredibly powerful tool has become more of a hindrance to business than a help.
People talk about ‘drowning in emails’ and for many of them the little badge on their mail application is constantly reminding them that they have 4,954 unread messages.
This has led to initiatives to boost efficiency and productivity like ‘Inbox Zero’, which while helpful, feel like more of a sticking plaster than a long term fix.
Email clearly isn’t going anywhere, but people are using it for so much more than it was originally intended. This, in turn, can devalue the emails we receive, lead to mixed messages and can have a negative impact on the organisation.
By changing the way employees use email in the workplace, businesses can immediately see how they could reduce the number of emails sent around an organisation, thereby increasing the value return.
For instance, non-urgent messages could be uploaded to an intranet or included in a newsletter, collaboration on documents can now be achieved through file sharing platforms and one-to-one communications can be had via instant messaging services.
Breaking down office communications into these different channels gives organisations flexibility by using tools that fit into our work patterns more easily.
For example, by working on a file with a colleague using a collaboration tool such as OneDrive, one can simply open the file on my computer, work on it and save it, with their colleague able to see the changes as another makes them.
Looking at the bigger picture, businesses can invite people outside of their organisation to some of the platforms too. They could, for example, share a SharePoint site with an external partner to collaborate on documents.
This collaboration mechanism then fits into the heart of my working day, rather than being an inconvenience – documents are tracked, collaboration is seamless and I’m not even having to think about where the latest version of any file is.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, perhaps you could consider increasing the use of mobile devices (using either off-the-shelf products or bespoke applications) to enable your workforce to work away from a desk.
You could make greater use of instant messaging or video conferencing to reduce the amount of travelling between sites. You could virtualise desktops and allow people to get the same corporate desktop experience wherever they are working, be that at home or in the office.
While the end results are worth the effort, the process of getting there is not effortless. It is important that deliberate thought be put into implementing a new platform and that there is a subsequent commitment to the new way of working.
If some of a business moves to using a file sharing platform and the rest keep using email, then the work is almost doubled. It is also important to ensure the infrastructure in place is up to the task, otherwise frustrations will drive people back to old habits.
Yet, even with all the benefits that new systems have to offer, making significant changes to working practices in your organisation requires a culture that accepts, trusts and values the benefits to make it worthwhile.
Adopting new technologies and principles will set you in good stead for further innovation down the line.
For example, a nurse performing a home visit could now use a mobile application on their phone to get relevant and timely information, whereas previously they may have had to visit the office to print this off and take with them.
A few years on this may have shifted to using augmented reality to present the nurse with this information automatically as they arrive at the house.
Many sectors are constantly striving to make the best use of technology and new principles, yet this kind of continuous improvement seems to be neglected in office work.
While manufacturing has jumped from cottage industry to mass production to just-in-time and onwards, many desk workers are still working around decades old technology despite all the tools required for the work of tomorrow being available today.
Sourced by Chris Grosberg, specialist in communication and collaboration at Waterstons