Information Technology

The business technology paradox

Digital communication tools can improve productivity—if you use them right

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These days, there’s plenty of evidence supporting the implementation of business technology to improve employee workflows. Slack’s own Future of Work report found that 76% of workers want more communication tools available to them in the future, while 74% of respondents in one McKinsey survey reported that social technologies were somewhat, very or extremely integrated into their day-to-day duties.

Harvard Business Review’s The Connected Workforce survey also shows how digital collaboration tools help grow revenue and profit margins, boost productivity, improve products and services, and build customer satisfaction. Yet for all the ways technology is turbo-charging workplace collaboration, there are also growing concerns that digital tools meant to improve communication and productivity are actually hindering it.

Call this the business technology paradox: How can leaders implement business technology that keeps employees connected in all the right ways—without letting the tools themselves dominate their time? Here are some best practices to follow to ensure that your team doesn’t get stuck in a collaboration trap.

Streamline your business technology toolset

Before adopting new tools, do all the homework and the extra credit before pursuing a digital transformation. Survey your organization and get extensive insights into the kinds of challenges that are unique to your team, as well as the specific ways a new tool might ameliorate them. Organizational agility might be crucial, but rapidly cycling through new tools could kill teams’ ability to perform.

And while transparency in business is good, not everyone needs to keep up with every status update. Precious productivity can be eaten up when everyone is required to check in on every project management platform every day.

Instead, ensure that managers are also managing the amount of information and digital responsibilities given to their direct reports. When implementing best practices for the tools you’re using, encourage employees to make liberal use of mute functions for notifications whenever possible.

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Establish best practices and include them in your knowledge base

Whatever business technology you’re selecting for your company, chances are someone has already developed a best practices document for it. Before rolling out a new tool to the whole organization, make sure to have a comprehensible user manual for your teams to reference. An internal searchable knowledge base—one that standardizes naming conventions, defines org-specific terminology and acronyms, and outlines how and how not to use tools—can head off some unnecessary clutter as well.

If you already have a knowledge base...

But your people still have unanswered questions, your knowledge base might need some renovation. Try:

Set aside time to automate

If your business technology plan doesn’t include automated bot support, you might be doing it wrong. One McKinsey report found that tech enablement—that is, the employment of bots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence technology to take care of general and administrative challenges—could save the advanced industrial sector “in the region of $60 to $120 billion globally.” The same study found that “27% of finance activities could be automated using technologies already available.”

Feedback is key too. Make sure the automated solutions you’re implementing are geared toward alleviating the challenges faced by your organization specifically—don’t just pick what the rest of your industry is adopting. And for those workflow bots, remember to include explanations of what each bot does in your knowledge base.

Schedule routine offline checkups for your business technology

Use some of the excess time digital tools free up to conduct regular evaluations of which features are working and which ones might need to be tweaked. Is a task that’s been automated creating more work for employees to clean up after?

For instance, say a tool that typically works well isn’t suited for a particular project. How easy is it for employees to bypass one technological hurdle to get it done without the hassle?

Remember, adopting (or dropping) new tools is a form of organizational change. By taking a flexible, feedback-driven approach, you can root out entirely avoidable inefficiencies down the line.

Spoiler alert: Business technology is not an all-encompassing magical solution. In fact, it’ll only improve business efficiencies if leaders are doing the work to motivate workers and actively meet their needs with empathy.

Knowing your employees—both how they work and who they are—is a necessary precursor to any digital solution. If you can’t imagine how any given team in your organization will react to a new digital solution, you probably haven’t done enough of the human work that will ensure that it’ll work for you in the long run. Start with your people.

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Slack is the collaboration hub, where the right people are always in the loop and key information is always at their fingertips. Teamwork in Slack happens in channels — searchable conversations that keep work organized and teams better connected.