Eric van Gils
When Social Media first became popular (mid to late 2000’s) I was part of a focus group tasked with reviewing the pros and cons of allowing people to use social media on our corporate network. The main concerns were the effects social media would have on productivity. (in those days social media was not possible on your pre-smart mobile phone)
We debated at length and then one of the senior leaders, who had been quiet until that point, raised his hand and contributed something very profound.
He had been around when the fax machine, the internet and email had all been introduced into the workplace and had witnessed the exact same debates we had been having around social media. The same concerns were raised as to whether the "new tools" (internet, email and fax machines) would have a negative effect on productivity rather than the expected improvements on a teams ability to deliver.
Today there should be no real debate whether the internet or email have allowed us to get more done in our day-to-day work lives. Processes that would have taken days or weeks, now only take hours or minutes. These tools have required our teams to work in new ways, have different skills, and apply different approaches to getting stuff done.
These tools do however also have their downsides. We are seeing the average office worker trawling through 200 emails and spending 2.5 hours reading and responding to emails. Managing this volume is a new skill and a failure to manage your inbox can severely affect your ability to perform.
New tools will require new skills and new ways of working
10 Years later we are seeing a flood of collaboration tools in the market, including Slack, Google Hangouts Chat and Facebook Workspace, and once again there are concerns as to how we ensure they increase productivity, rather than drain our talent’s productive time.
One of the productivity wins that Slack initially boasted was the reduction in internal emails, and most organisations have been witness to this. Collaboration tools make internal work, communication and engagement slicker and more intuitive, but as with everything, there are also downsides. The most common complaint regarding these new tools are the unexpected volumes created in other areas. People are finding themselves spending time on tasks they were previously not required to focus on.
Although only introduced relatively recently, some organisations have already dropped the use of these tools , citing a reduction, rather than an increase, in productivity and when Slack went down in June 2018, users became MORE PRODUCTIVE rather than less productive.
It's obvious we need to seriously consider how we are using these new tools.
Managers need to focus on the ways of working as opposed to the tools being used.
In the early days of email, the internet and the cellphone, we also saw an initial drop in productivity. We could argue most people have now mastered these tools to better support the requirements of our roles. We can expect the same steep learning curve within our teams when it comes to the skills required to work with collaboration tools.
Online collaboration is only going to become more prevalent in South Africa
In the latest Deloitte Human Capital Trends, of the 256 South African organisations that responded, 79% of them expect an increase in the use of online collaboration platforms in their business going forward.
We need to understand that this will cause teams that more than likely do not have the skills to work in this new environment to initially face a drop in productivity. Leaders need to ensure their management teams keep their eye on what true productivity is and measure their teams against predetermined tangible yardsticks. We also need to be considering the effectiveness of our hiring processes and internal learning and development processes, and how these processes are supporting our teams in upskilling on the new ways of working.
Some additional reading: