A brief guide to the intelligent workplace

Tamer Elhamy, regional director, collaboration and information security solutions, Microsoft Gulf says business survival lies in doing more with less.

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A brief guide to the intelligent workplace Elhamy: There is some evidence that meetings can be more of a drain than a driver when it comes to productivity.
By  Tamer Elhamy Published  December 19, 2017

Epiphanies emerge from crises. In the years following September 2008, countless millions of businesses and people worldwide found themselves in the throes of the worst financial crisis in a century. To survive, everyone knew that wasteful practices had to be consigned to the bin of history. Success, regardless of scale or industry, now lay in doing more with less.

Efficient use of resources has, of course, always been mentioned in corporate meetings at every level. But its importance has never been more sharply defined. And the most precious of all resources is time. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do – for the CEO, middle-management and everyone else, there are only so many hours in the day.

It may seem like a trivial point, but I can assure you, companies of all sizes, all over the world are thinking about it. As far back as 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute found that only 39% of employees’ time was spent on role-specific tasks. Some 28% of their most precious resource was spent reading and answering emails, a further 19% on research (gathering the information needed to do their job) and the remaining 14% frittered away on meetings and other internal communications.

Meetings abound

While “frittered” may seem a rather flippant way to refer to vital team collaboration, there is some evidence that meetings can be more of a drain than a driver, when it comes to productivity. A Bain & Co survey, published in the 2014 Harvard Business Review, reveals that senior executives spend an average of two days per week in internal meetings; and more than half of these executives rated those meetings as some degree of "ineffective".

So you can see how, since 2008, businesses have turned their attention to productivity. But the issue cannot be resolved merely by the imposition of cumbersome KPIs, and so the technology industry has also turned its attention to the problem. The advent of the intelligent cloud and the escalation of data-generation has allowed business application vendors to create the means of time-usage optimisation.

One of the four pillars of digital transformation is the empowerment of employees. That is why companies such as Microsoft (through products like Delve, Microsoft Graph, Office Analytics and Workplace Analytics) endeavour to deliver analytics tools that allow multiple dashboard-style views of the workforce – for the individual, their line manager and any other stakeholder.

A 2015, CareerBuilder-sponsored Harris Poll survey showed the top productivity-killers in the modern workplace. Respondents cited email (31%), impromptu chats with co-workers (27%) and meetings (26%). The consequences of those distractions were identified as compromised work quality (45%), missed deadlines (42%) and losses in revenue (21%).

Best-practice havens

It is therefore not difficult to visualise the impact a smart workplace can bring to an employee’s daily work life, and their productivity. The right office analytics combines data on activity with that of business outcomes, to establish best practices, predictive models and benchmarks. Change initiatives can be monitored and enhanced through continual assessment cycles. This is what employee empowerment is all about.

Consider the daily life of an average employee within your organisation. They arrive at work and start catching up on those emails. Monitored. They attend some meetings. Monitored. They chat to some colleagues and then attend to some mission-critical tasks. All monitored.

When the intelligent cloud analyses these activities it sends feedback to the individual, and management, on all of them. The impact of emails can be measured in terms of open rates, much as a bulk-emailing campaign would be assessed. The effectiveness of meetings is calculated against customised metrics, such as duration and time of day. The amount of time spent doing productive things is also weighed. Time’s usage and wastage is thus made transparent, and decision-makers can set new goals, and dispatch organisation-wide advisories, to optimise time management.

Bringing balance

The goal here is better work habits – an evolution of the entire workplace: a digital transformation. Actionable insights allow employees to enhance their own productivity without the need for irksome micromanagement from above, but the intelligent cloud keeps managers informed, so they can apply the reins if needed. Monitoring working hours, including the times of day at which meetings are held, can expose threats to work-life balance, which most prudent managers acknowledge is vital to overall productivity.

So digital transformation, in the empowerment of the employee, is the horse that pulls the productivity cart. You do more with less, while invigorating the workforce and making more time for innovation. The road in front of you, less fraught with micromanagement, leads to success.

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