When it comes to office worker communication, email is king, writes Andy Dunbar, Technology Services Lead at SoftwareONE.
Email may still be the primary way to communicate with colleagues, customers and business partners but it comes with many issues – trawling the inbox, for instance, represents a major source of lost productivity for UK office workers.
A recent survey from SoftwareONE showed workers browsing their inbox results in two hours being lost each day, with a typical employee sending at least 10 emails per day to colleagues that could be replaced with face-to-face communication or instant message.
This is clearly a problem for businesses, as a productive workforce is crucial for them to grow revenue and remain competitive in their market.
Most organisations have now embarked on a digital transformation journey, using technology to boost productivity, collaboration and drive ever-growing levels of staff output. This digitisation drive has indeed led to an explosion in apps styled as ‘collaborative’ that make email seem somewhat slow and outdated – especially as the office environment has transformed in the past few years. But is the solution quite so simple as replacing email with the latest and greatest applications?
Inbox Inventory Management: What Else is Out There?
Completely removing email from the office workplace isn’t really a viable goal: 86 percent of business professionals prefer to use email to communicate and so office workers will continue to have to use it when contacting business partners, customers and other key contacts. However, the way workers communicate with each other will need to change. Research shows employees now work on twice as many teams as they did five years ago, and so it’s crucial businesses look at alternative ways of helping workers boost collaboration, to improve productivity.
One way of finding these alternative channels is to look at the tools embedded in software already used by an organisation. Often, enterprise software comes with applications and features that could benefit office communication and collaboration, but are not being employed. For example, many organisations pay for Microsoft 365 but only use a handful of applications it contains, because they don’t know about the other features or don’t recognise the potential benefits.
Maximising the full range of tools on offer, through apps such as Microsoft Teams, for example, can help enhance how employees work together. Microsoft Teams provides instant messaging, video meetings and calling, and allows workers to work together on files in real-time – all of which can greatly reduce the volume of emails sent and received. However, employee IT knowledge also needs to be built up at the same time, so that workers feel confident in using these kinds of applications available to them.
All the Gear and No Idea
For productivity to improve, all employees must change the way they work. This will require workers to embrace new tools and processes; however, this is a challenge as workplace IT remains an area office workers struggle to get to grips with. SoftwareONE research found a fifth of office workers feel their work performance is hindered by their lack of IT knowledge and 15 per cent are too shy or embarrassed to ask for help using office suites, causing it to affect their time management.
This ultimately all feeds back into the same issue – low awareness of what office software suites offer, means tools that could improve productivity by making it easier to message, chat or collaborate on documents without reverting to email, fly under the radar. Even for those employees that are aware of the tools on offer and do use them, they rarely use them well.
Educating and empowering employees to understand the IT resources on offer and the efficiency benefits they will get from them is vital. This can be achieved through online educational courses, webinars or workshops driven by the IT decision makers and IT department, which guide office workers through the process of using unfamiliar applications. If office workers understand how tools like Microsoft Teams can help them collaborate instead of using email, inbox trawling will be reduced and productivity will rise. However, organisations shouldn’t be complacent and think this educative process is enough.
To drive real change, a structured change management plan is also required. This should include clear guidance and governance to ensure employees don’t just know what tools are available but also know how to use them to reap the most reward.
Altering how office workers communicate is no easy feat, especially considering the dominance email continues to have when it comes to contacting colleagues and customers. However, there are real productivity benefits on offer for businesses that empower employees with training, guidance and guidelines on the tools that can help them communicate better, quicker and more efficiently.