The 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity: Chapter 13 – The 6 Factors and Workplace Technology

So we’ve talked about how space could support the 6 factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity. In this chapter we’re going to take a look at the way we can use workplace technology to support your knowledge workers.

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Increasingly, workplace technology is freeing us to make new choices about where, when and how we perform tasks. It allows us to work wherever we and our organisations choose to, both as individuals and as teams and communities… in slow time and in real time across cultures, geographies and time zones. Whilst workplace technology can’t replace the fully immersive experience of face to face communication between individuals and groups it can go a long way in supporting teams working away from each other, for example those who utilise flexible working.

We’ll talk about the technology later, but first I’d like to start this discussion a different place…with the people! If we’re going to get maximum value from investments in IT, particularly in relation to the 6 Factors of workplace productivity, we can only do it when everyone (and I mean everyone) in an organisation feels confident and highly competent to use the evolving set of workplace tools that are increasingly available. I make this point at the outset because from our vantage point on organisations it is very clear that IT functions don’t spend anything like the amount of time they should in making sure users become confident in using the IT tools they provide. In fact I’d go further and say it’s not in their DNA and that has to change!
With younger generation workers this MAY be justified to some degree because of their natural competence and comfort with IT, however what about senior leaders who perhaps have never really got on with technology, do they need executive IT coaching? Further, rarely do IT departments spend the time needed with leaders to help them to see how new tools and technologies could help them solve business problems, streamline operations and enhance team performance. In my view it’s IT’s role is to bring new tools to the table, make sure all leaders and users understand what they can do and then manage the technical, skill and sometimes behavioural changes that help the organisation get the maximum bang from its buck from its IT investments.

How can workplace technology be deployed to support the 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity?

Social Cohesion & Supervisory Support

Let’s take Social Cohesion first. Physical mobility is a key plank. By proactively encouraging people to sit alongside different colleagues every day in the team, community or from other departments/divisions we get more people to know each other as people. Consequently physical mobility (however it is afforded) is an important base function. This sort of mobility can also be useful in re-enforcing Supervisory Support by giving leaders the freedom to sit with different members of their teams or communities providing coaching or simply allowing leaders to gain an insight into the challenges team members are facing and being able (where appropriate) to empathise or intervene.

Physical mobility in the office can be provided through a number of different mechanisms. The most obvious is by providing users with tablets or lap tops and network connectivity (wireless or wired) so that they can lift themselves up and work in other parts of the office. Mobile phones or ‘IP’ roaming telephony can be used to enable voice calls can be received and made from any desk is a baseline for physical mobility. Some IT departments are reluctant to give workers laptops because they are generally more expensive than desktops, are challenging to administer and support and provide a potential information security risk if lost. Often IT departments preferring a ‘virtualised’ desktop solution where applications are ‘virtualised’ (hosted on the organisation servers in data centres) and workers use thin (or increasingly) ‘thick’ client devices (dumbish terminals) that allow workers to sit anywhere and quickly log on and access all their applications, data and their own personalised desktop. This virtualised arrangement is also accessible from laptops and (with the right security tools) home desk tops giving people complete freedom to roam and work with the people they want to be with.

Occasionally (and thankfully less frequent now) IT departments deploy ‘roving profiles’ which allow users to log on to PC’s each time drawing down their own specific desktop profile from a central server which sits on the PC. This arrangements is cumbersome and slow….Mobility outside the office can be provided by laptops which can use 3G, 4G or coming soon 5G or public wireless networks or home broadband services to connect to central systems. So these are the basics.

Of course in today’s world, teams are not always physically together in the office and so new ‘social’ tools should be used to enable people to feel and work together when they are not together. Workplace technology tools like ‘Skype for business’ (previously ‘Lync’) or Microsoft Teams, known generally of ‘unified communications’ (UC) provide a number of capabilities that support Social Cohesion. The first is ‘Instant messaging’. Users have a series of small picture ‘Icons’ of each person they have dealings with permanently visible. This provides a persistent reminder that their team members are with them, this is critical in order to maxmise social cohesion when distance working. You can drop in a quick message or inquiry with a team member. From a supervisory support standpoint this allows the leader to be visible and available for a quick input.

You can quickly and easily convene a meeting among team members to discuss an issue or challenge or share an update. This could be a pure voice call or audio conference. But greater cohesion and understanding is generated through the use of video and data sharing applications (where all parties can see each other’s screen (e.g. a spreadsheets, presentations or even websites and the whites of each other’s eyes!)). You can even record these on-line discussions for colleagues who were unavailable to catch up. This easy to set up group communication gives a sense of virtual closeness and helps with a feeling of social cohesion.

Trust

Then there’s ‘Trust’. It seems that in order to maintain our trust in colleagues, we humans do need some cue’s that help us confirm that we can continue to trust them. Trust in virtual communities is associated with a sense that people are where they should be, doing what they should be doing and that they, and the information about them, can be relied upon. Workplace technology can also allow for the visibility of each other’s calendars, even more so, UC technologies allows people’s status to be known to each other (free, off line, in a meeting etc.) providing an open-ness and basis for trust in the business culture. This may be a particularly important ‘crutch’ initially for leaders moving to a virtual management model, who need regular re-assurance that the team are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

One of the things that destroys trust quickly with teams that don’t work together in the same physical space is the sense that people are not where they should be or doing what you think they should be doing. If this pattern persists, trust can be lost quite quickly and workplace productivity will be hindered.

Information Sharing

Information Sharing is another important capability that is supported by workplace technology. Tools like Sharepoint enable sharing of team information, including files, updates, social and business bulletins. We talked about the idea of Transactive Memory Systems earlier in an earlier chapter..…meaning that everyone knows what everyone knows. This is possible to achieve when the team is small and everyone knows each other well, but how do you know what other people know or what their interests are when they are not all together in the same location? Personal web pages can be used to detail a person’s experience, interests and knowledge. Each individual takes responsibility for keeping their page up to date almost as part of their ‘shop window’.

These pages can be browsed and searched by colleagues from across the organisation and where there is value in having a constant visibility of another colleagues developments, they can be ‘followed’, meaning that you are automatically updated about their latest work and updates. Workplace technology products like Yammer and Jive also allow team members to seek help or inputs from others in their work community too by posting questions or queries that the whole community can see and respond to.

There are also one or two interesting apps such as Spark Collaboration which help you make new connections in the office, proactively introducing people to each other and facilitating them in meeting for lunch or for coffee. Making friends outside of the day to day transactions of work is an important dimension of knowledge sharing.

We shouldn’t also loose site of meeting room technology either to aid easy knowledge sharing when the team is physically and virtually together. Network connectivity should be provided either wirelessly or at the desktop through a wired connection. Easy to access power supplies at desk top. The use of smart boards and ‘easy to connect to’ plazma screens, decent sound systems and camera’s all help to provide a seamless and fault free experience that makes knowledge sharing  easy and therefore more likely in the workplace.

Vision and Goal Clarity

Vision and Goal Clarity can be supported by tools like Sharepoint. Visions are often best delivered as video footage with leaders talking honestly and openly about their aspirations for the future. These need to be accessible and persistent so that people are continually reminded of them.

Team and personal goals can also be made visible virtually using team pages in Sharepoint where each team makes clear its goals, the goals and tasks of its team and articulates how they relate to the vision for the enterprise.

External Communication

External Communication (communication and connectedness) with people outside the team is again supportable with IT tools like Yammer, Jive and Sharepoint and exposure to external communities and stimuli can be gained in using tools like Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest and Youtube.

So workplace technology and technology competence is a really important part of creating the infrastructure for support of the 6 factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity, particularly in an increasingly ‘virtual’ world in which people are working as part of teams and communities across different geographies, cultures and time zones.

In the next blog, we will be discussing how to use the 6 factor of Knowledge Worker Productivity to make a difference.

For a more defined workplace strategy that will enable the appropriate management of workplace technology, call an AWA workplace consultant on +44 207 743 7110. Alternatively, you can email info@advanced-workplace.com with your inquiry. Advanced Workplace Associates are based in London, United Kingdom but now work internationally across the United States of America, Asia and Europe.