This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Record.
For many people, the working day starts with a warm beverage and a review of the hundreds of e-mails they’ve received overnight. Research indicates that when these are coupled with the constant trickle of e-mails during working hours, employees spend an average of between 2.5 and 4.5 hours processing and responding to e-mails every day. Some use filters or assign assistants to do the work for them, while others simply ignore e-mails and end up with an inbox with thousands of unread messages. Is answering e-mails a sign of productivity, or just a distraction from completing primary work tasks?
Over the past two years, social media technologies have crept into the enterprise. Some companies use them informally, whereas others have officially implemented enterprise social networking platforms like Microsoft Yammer. However, in most cases, these platforms are just another place to share information alongside the constant stream of e-mail. Today, organisations use several types of collaboration techniques depending on who needs to be involved in the communication and which work group employees are participating in.
The first work group employees interact with daily is the enterprise-wide or divisional work group, which shares broad company communications, new organisational policies and topics that interest all employees – known as ‘outer loop collaboration’. The technologies companies use to share this information could include e-mail, corporate web pages and social media platforms. Second, employees participate in a group with internal and external colleagues who are working on the same core projects and tasks as them – known as ‘inner loop collaboration’. Employees typically use e-mail to share information on a one-to-one or one-to-many basis, or store it on platforms like Microsoft SharePoint and OneDrive so their colleagues can access it.
Productivity transformation comes when enterprises combine the best of inner and outer loop technologies into a single intelligent collaboration strategy, moving employees away from e-mail and towards optimal tools for sharing information based on the groups of people they are trying to connect with. The biggest opportunity for productivity gains and e-mail reductions is within the inner loop and this is where Microsoft Teams can revolutionise the way companies work.
Microsoft Teams creates a workspace where employees can converse as large groups or smaller, private groups. It enables them to use group discussion, personalised news feeds, voice and video calling, productivity applications and integrated information from disparate applications to work together to get tasks done faster and more efficiently.
While technology will enable organisations to reduce e-mail use, their biggest hurdle will be helping employees to overcome the associated cultural changes. It has been done before – think about how enterprise voice services on smart devices have largely replaced the telephones that were on every desktop 10 years ago. However, e-mail is much more ingrained, so the cultural change will have to cross many barriers if it is to be truly replaced by intelligent collaboration tools. Changing the way we work will be challenging, particularly because the new collaboration technologies disrupt the comfort of current work practices.
Employees often resist new technology, so top-down support is essential. Once senior management has led the way by integrating the technologies into their daily lives, changes can be implemented through new IT and human resources (HR) policies. Staff at all levels can then act as evangelists for the power of the new technologies to improve best practices and in time, the culture of work.
It’s critical that the business, HR and IT management teams work together to support and implement the cultural changes that intelligent collaboration brings. Business transformation should start small and grow over time – the expectation is that it takes two to three years for people to fully understand the benefits of using e-mail less and adopting new working practices.
E-mail will be here for many years, but its usefulness is questionable. Companies should start now by getting executive sponsorship and participation from their customer experience officers downwards to effect cultural change. They should define best practices to use these technologies effectively and ensure the HR and IT teams support and manage the change programme. Finally, they should switch off legacy collaboration systems as they go.
Keith Hudgell is global lead for Workforce Collaboration, Unified Communications and Employee Productivity Services at DXC Technology
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