How productivity tools might change your business

On World Productivity Day, let's talk about the most important tools and solutions that businesses can use to boost "productivity".
20 June 2018

Today, is world productivity day. Source: Shutterstock

This month sees World Productivity Day observed, for those that care to note its coming to pass. But please don’t feel like you necessarily have to be more productive on June 20th, or indeed on any future ‘official’ day of this nature.

In truth, World Productivity Day is to business what World Bread, Cake and Pastries Day is to the baking industry i.e. it is a mostly contrived annual appointment created by an industry body and/or associated vendors designed to help promote the sale of productivity software, or indeed yummy cakes and pastries.

Regardless of whether you enjoy industry-sponsored annual festivals or not, this particular event of note has come about as a result of the number of firms now aiming to sell productivity tools that will all claim to revolutionize our businesses. But what effect might these tools really have in the workplace?

Email is dead, or at least wounded

One of the main precepts that many of these companies use to sell their wares is the notion that email is dead, or at least dying off.

They claim that email was never designed to be a heavy-duty business tool. These same naysayers also say that email suffers from fragmentation in terms of the unstructured types of information we are all able to ‘dump’ into it.

Far better, say the productivity tool specialists, would be to streamline tasks and processes so that we can group interactions by team, department, job, or even by individuals’ skillsets.

The concept carries forward and argues that by more intelligently corralling, classifying and managing our tasks, we can include external know-how from partners, customers or third-party specialists where security, governance policies and privacy rules allow us to.

Surviving the data explosion

Data evangelist at NGdata Ian Matthews explains that this focus on productivity has come about due to the massive data explosion in data that most firms now find themselves having to handle.

The fix here is not just about conversations and email; it extends into all customer-facing interactions at the core.

“Companies need to take responsibility for their own productivity by implementing technologies that streamline processes and maximize value,” said Matthews, reflecting this need to more intelligently group the work that we do.

Matthews argues that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help, to a degree i.e. it can take over simple tasks to free up employees to use uniquely human skills, such as creativity.

He further argues that customer engagement ‘bots’ can help businesses to be more effective in terms of the way they interact with their customers.

“For example, customer engagement is often seen as a cost center for businesses, not a driver of growth. Having a functional app is no longer enough in the mobile-first world – data and context should truly reshape the customer experience and allow them to interact and navigate purchases in ways that are right for each individual,” said Matthews.

It would be tough to have gone past any analysis of productivity software without mentioning AI, bots and the use of data intelligence aligned to increase customer experience efficiencies – and clearly, we didn’t.

There could now very arguably be a coming together of these technologies as we architect our way out of the workplace productivity stumbling blocks of the past.

Productivity pitfalls

Audio and communication technology company Jabra argues that these past pitfalls stem from what actually happens in the workplace, wherever that physical workplace actually is.

Research referenced by Jabra in the Wall Street Journal suggests that, on average, employees are distracted at work every three minutes and that it can take us as long as 25 minutes to refocus.

In a world where businesses are striving for every possible efficiency and productivity gain, there is an imperative to resolve the age-old conflict between collaboration and concentration.

According to Jabra’s EMEA North regional managing director Nigel Dunn, noise is often considered the number one deterrent to workplace productivity, although culturally some nations rank this as much more of a problem than others.

Clue: Jabra research suggests that Germans (54 percent) have an issue with noise, whereas only US workers (35 percent) rarely list noise as productivity issue in 2018.

“Nevertheless, it is a positive trend that in some countries people start to experience less noise disruption, proving that technology like Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) has had a significant impact on noise perception and increasing workplace productivity. The ongoing debate about how we organize work is making its mark,” said Dunn.

Meetings will always be a contentious discussion point when it comes to productivity.

Jabra says that although meetings are still a fundamental part of work, the millennial workforce (18–35 years) in particular find discussions without direction to be the biggest cause of unproductive meetings, highlighting that businesses must look into ways to improve their internal meeting structures to ensure the most productive use of time.

UN approval

While its still rare to find any Happy Productivity valentines in your local greeting card shop, World Productivity Day is in fact recognized by the United Nations.

The UN clearly has our personal and collective efficiency ratings at the heart of the things it cares about.

Productivity software and hardware is very likely coming to the IT stack that your enterprise employer deploys, if it hasn’t already.

If you don’t work for a large corporation, then productivity technology is very likely coming to the enterprise firms that you interact with as an individual.

These are some of the basic truths and central discussion points in terms of our human ability to embrace productivity technologies.

The big question is, did you get to the end of this piece without being distracted?