A Quick IRL Story
“We use Slack in some parts of the organization, but Teams in others. Oh, and I communicate with my sales team in WhatsApp and, of course, there’s still e-mail.”
These are the words of a CEO of a staffing company I met last Thursday before I spoke on a panel at the Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference in Phoenix. (Yes, an actual in-person conference. Weird.) I’ll call him Kirk here but it’s a pseudonym.
I asked Kirk if he and his firm’s employees typically spent a great deal of time trying to find messages and documents. “Oh, you have no idea”, he lamented. “It’s a real problem.” A few of his colleagues at the table nodded their heads and looked to me for answers.
At least Kirk and his colleagues are not alone. Recent research reveals the extent to which people have spent an inordinate amount of time on coordination, scheduling, and other low-value activities during the pandemic. Asana’s fascinating Anatomy of Work Index 2021 found the following:
With the evolution of the physical office environment, we now face new collaboration challenges due to a lack of clarity around work practices. Despite organizations’ best efforts to recreate what worked in the office in a remote setting, “work about work”1 continues to rise.
Organizations of every size, and across all industries, are losing countless hours to work about work. As a result, 60% of time is spent on work coordination, rather than the skilled, strategic jobs we’ve been hired to do.
Three-fifths of the time.
Lest you think that the prevalence of low-value work is exclusively an American problem, here’s a breakdown of duplicated work country:
Most if not all duplicated work stems from our collective inability to find key documents and conversations. Put differently, searching for existing material certainly qualifies as low-value work. To this end, here are two interesting factoids from Elastic on how we haven’t exactly mastered the art of, you know, finding stuff:
In a word, ouch.
This begs the question: Can technology solve these problems?
When it comes to search, booleans are your best friends.
The short answer is a qualified yes—not that this is news. My 2010 book The Next Wave of Technologies contains a chapter on enterprise search and retrieval. #timeflies And if you want to stitch together multiple hubs, go nuts with Mio, Zapier, or another solution.
Make no mistake, however: “Can technology solve these problems?” is the wrong question to ask. And that brings me back to Kirk.
Simon Says: More tech isn’t the solution. Pick a lane and stay in it.
I asked him why employees at his firm used so many different tools for collaboration and communication. After all, if everyone used a single internal collaboration hub, then by definition there’d be fewer places to search. Teams, Zoom, Slack, and Google Workspace all sport powerful search functionality. (As I write in my For Dummies books, booleans are your best friends.) Employees will waste less time searching and create fewer duplicate documents. Oh, and Kirk’s firm would be setting the stage AI and machine learning enhancements down the road.
Kirk asked for my contact information and connected with me on LinkedIn later that day. He told me that bought two of my books on to start reading for the flight home. There’s a good chance that I’ll be helping his company to adopt the principles at the heart of Reimagining Collaboration.
I didn’t realize how much I missed real-world conferences.
What say you?