The shift to digital accelerated the adoption of workplace collaboration tools, that help remote workers get the job done. But in turn, these apps also launched the “always-on culture”, blurring the boundaries between work and downtime. Jeff Kofman, CEO and Founder of Trint, an AI transcription platform argues next-gen productivity tools like Slack and Box weren’t built to connect, but save time. Since remote working is here to stay, organizations need to rethink sustainable work from anywhere (WFA) strategy that includes “Efficiency Tech” for solving the productivity conundrum.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the world of work changed overnight. Cities emptied out, people converted their homes into offices and businesses put their entire workforces online. Innovation that would have taken two years for businesses to adopt was adopted in two weeks.
Tools that enhance connectivity are thriving, but being “always-on” has a cost: we are left emotionally drained after a day of endless Zoom calls. The physical inability to collaborate on whiteboards and coffee chats constrains creativity and sometimes productivity. Yes, we achieved our goals of keeping a large part of the workforce connected, but isolation is threatening to burn us out in the process.
In early April, The New York Times reported on the comeback of the “humble phone call.” So many of us are so eager to avoid another video call that we are ready to use a phone for its initial purpose again.
Since coronavirus first appeared, the American Psychological Association has conducted surveys to understand the state of the American psyche. It’s not surprising that in comparison to 2018, Americans today are 20% more “significantly stressed out” by the future of the nation. Parents of children under 18 also report 64% higher stress levels than adults without children.
Today, the U.S. is facing rapidly increasing infection rates. Cities are reversing plans to open up. A majority of top tech companies have extended their work-from-home plans, and the rest of us are still struggling to figure out how we’re going to navigate managing workforces from all corners of the world. We are facing the reality that most of us might not return to “normal” work until 2021.
If the first half of this year taught us anything, it’s that we desperately need to change the way we think about work if we’re going to survive the rest of 2020.
We Need to Stop Equating Activity to Productivity
The shift to a primarily remote work environment drove a significant uptick in the usage of tools like Slack, Box, Trello, and Monday.com. Collaborative tech solutions like these have a place in the office, but they all require heavy input from users.
A recent study conducted by product intelligence company Amplitude found that people are working longer and later from home — there was a 66% increase in California users logging in at 11pm.
There are a number of reasons that might explain this shift to late-night work: loneliness and isolation for some; or for people with kids, navigating the schedule challenges of homeschooling while working. But it signals a bigger problem: we’ve spent the last few months making sure everyone remains informed and in meetings, rather than enabling them to just do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
What would happen if we stopped pushing our workforce to be connected and adopted an output-first mentality toward productivity?
I realized first hand how difficult it is to solve inefficiencies like this in the workplace during my 30-year career as a journalist, foreign correspondent and war correspondent with ABC, CBS and CBC News. I didn’t plan to be a tech entrepreneur or inventor at this stage in my life, but I switched careers when I saw an opportunity to leverage A.I. to transform the slow manual processes that got in the way of my ability to work.
I’ve learned that changing the focus from activity to productivity isn’t as hard as we might think (and it doesn’t mean that you have to switch careers unless you too want to create new tools, in which case let’s talk).
Let A.I. Do the Heavy Lifting
The first step is adopting new technologies that take care of the drudgery of work. There are, frankly, a lot of tasks that simply aren’t worth a person’s time. Putting together reports and dashboards can take days, but by using a data amalgamation tool, results are displayed in real time. It applies to personal life, too.
Why try to navigate public transportation when a location-based app can tell you the fastest, simplest way to get to where you’re going? A.I. has been leveraged in amazing ways in the tech world, so if there’s a monotonous activity you’d rather not do, there’s probably a tool that will do it for you. If there isn’t, you might want to think of inventing it. That’s what I did.
The second step is to challenge the assumption that being present on video is the only way to contribute to productivity. Too many Zooms, Hangouts and Teams calls suck the life out of us. What if a summary of a meeting could be circulated to anyone at the “inform” level, rather than the “contribute” level? This Maslovian approach to information sharing would allow an entire workforce to digest critical data in minutes and spend more time focused on production, rather than spectatorship. According to Attentiv, $338 is “the average salary cost of a meeting,” and with data indicating 220 million meetings (on average) held monthly in the US…well, you can already calculate the monetary loss of an active, but unproductive, workplace.
A.I. is starting to show its value in facilitating collaboration. Virtual meetings are the norm, even as some companies are hybrid.
Start Embracing Automation to Drive Efficiency
While we’re seeing an influx of A.I. in curating news websites, self-driving cars and even facial recognition, a 2019 report from CompTIA shows that only 29% of businesses currently use A.I. Everyone, everywhere, had been sitting on the decision to embrace automation, and then COVID-19 forced our collective hand.
I don’t think we could have transitioned so seamlessly to remote without automation. Automation platforms and integrated software allow offices to become fluid and global teams to collaborate across geographies in real-time without hassle. With this ROI clearer than ever before, it’s no surprise that businesses of all sizes and across all categories are now eagerly adopting.
Accounts payable company AvidXchange recently explored how finance executives are managing stress in relation to the pandemic, and a significant number of survey respondents (500 in total) indicated tech, specifical automation, was a prime solution “to combat increasing pressure and workloads.” Nearly 8 in 10 respondents ranging from middle management up to the CFO said automation and technology, specifically, would “help to further reduce rising stress.” And here’s the kicker: 85% indicated that “emerging technologies would help them work more efficiently both during and post-pandemic.”
The Working World is Undergoing a Change
I don’t believe remote working will be the only way we work from now on. I look forward to seeing my colleagues in the office sometime very soon. But I also know that we won’t be returning to office life as it was. It took a global health crisis to accelerate both innovation and adoption of a new wave of tech tools that improve the way we work together and apart.
And no, these tools probably won’t have an integrated chat function or the ability to video call your colleagues. But they will maintain collaborative features — after all, two heads are better than one. It’s a simple and seductive equation: time invested goes down, productivity goes up. Individuals and teams will be able to spend their time doing things that A.I. can’t do: creative pursuits, strategic thinking, people management and so much more. The interesting stuff.
Companies that stand to benefit from the new wave of “efficiency tech” come in lots of shapes and sizes. Instead of looking at whole industries that are due for disruption, we should look at the tasks that can be automated, and then consider the job roles that are burdened with those tasks. These jobs exist across industries — manufacturing, media, financial services, government, law and by giving workers the tools they need to work at peak productivity, we will enable everyone, remote or in office, to work with a new sense of efficiency and job satisfaction.
Originally published here.
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