The disconnect between the digital tools we use at home and the ones we use at work is getting smaller all the time. And that’s a good thing.
In this post, we explore why new digital tools for businesses are taking their cue from an increasingly sophisticated consumer market and what that means for the future of work.
Enterprise tools have been ineffective in the past
The way people communicate in their personal lives has changed but the tools they use at work are still stuck in the past. People use WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook every day to talk to friends, share information and organize their lives. Yet some of the companies they work for are still using LotusNotes and fax machines. Worse, they’re still putting paper in ‘out’ trays.
“The way people communicate in their personal lives has changed. But the tools they use at work are still stuck in the past”
It boils down to an ongoing disconnect between the digital experience people have in their personal lives and the one they get at work. And this includes all of the tools we take for granted – like email, a way of communicating that’s rooted in a 19th-century technology.
But the prognosis isn’t all bad. Expectations are changing as people and businesses recognize the efficiencies new tools bring. What’s exciting is the potential for these smarter ways of communicating to influence what happens in the office, at the warehouse or in the field.
The move to mobile
What’s driving the change? First up, the huge shift to mobile. The stats don’t lie: 61% of online time in the UK happens on a mobile device (increasing to 71% in the US and topping out at 91% in Indonesia). In fact, you’re probably reading this on your phone right now.
This shift has fundamentally altered the way people interact with each other. And it means that in the future of work, people will no longer be tied to their desks or their workshops. They’ll be tied to their phones. Organizations will need to provide mobile-first tools that reflect the new paradigm and if they don’t, the consequences could be serious.
Organizations are playing catch up
40% of the Fortune 500 companies listed on the S&P 500 won’t even exist by 2025. That’s a code-red extinction event for enterprise and it’s just around the corner. Being able to adopt new technologies could be the difference between success and failure.
In a world where instant communication is a thing – messaging apps are now bigger than social networks – organizations are playing catch up. The future of work will see an ever-increasing convergence in how we communicate in our personal and work lives. And it’s a future workplace that will be more personable and more social by default.
A GIF is worth a thousand emails
There’s a new workforce in town. Millennial workers will account for over 50% of the working population by 2020. They are a new generation that has grown up with Facebook and WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. Their default setting is mobile, not PC. And they respond instinctively to the new way of communicating: video, emojis, Reactions, and GIFs.
Any attempt to plan for the future of work will need to take the needs and expectations of the younger generation into account. And those demands will be borne of the tools they already know and love.
“Smart organizations will embrace the new communications tools that empower people to work more effectively”
As we talk to our customers we see attitudes changing. The days where organizations see messages with emojis or a GIF as being somehow less intelligent or less professional are fast disappearing. They’ll have to. We’ve heard an example of students on an MBA course receiving coaching on how to write emails. Not because writing an email is hard, but because the informal, prosaic, and dry nature of email is so alien to students.
Organizations can adapt or die. The smart ones will embrace the new communications tools that empower people to work more effectively.
New platforms enable 2-way conversations with staff
Companies aren’t set up to listen to their people. They can spend too much time obsessing over the same age-old distractions of budgets and hierarchies. They think that “it’s the way we’ve always done things” is a genuine strategy for the future. But they’re not focusing on the huge competitive advantage right under their nose: the untapped potential of their own employees’ ideas and innovations.
“Successful companies in the future of work will listen first and dictate…. never”
Successful companies in the future of work will listen first and dictate… never. And it’s the same tools that give billions of people a voice in their personal lives that will do the same in the workplace. Organizations that don’t put open and 2-way communications at the heart of their business could find themselves at a severe disadvantage. They might equally find their expensive talent wandering off to find a place that actually values their opinion.
Control is an illusion
Some businesses think that being truly open means they lose control. The companies we talk to tell us they worry about giving people the right to reply. What if people are unhappy? What if they spread messages of discontent and post their grievances live and on air?
There’s a compelling counter to that argument, of course. Why wouldn’t you want to know what everyone thinks? To take the pulse of your organization and work out what’s going well and understand what isn’t. Better to know, than for leadership teams to bury their collective heads.
At Facebook, we’ve worked hard to build a culture of openness. On any given day through our own Workplace Groups and feeds, we have many people voicing opposition or debating internally about proposals, projects and the direction of travel. Mark Zuckerberg uses Workplace to host live Q&A sessions and answers questions from anyone in the company. We’ve baked openness into our culture and it makes us stronger, not weaker.
Shadow IT is happening. And it’s a security risk
The reality is that businesses are not as in control as they might think. You only need to look at the issue of shadow IT – the use of consumer tools for work purposes. People are using WhatsApp or Facebook groups to get things done because the organization doesn’t provide the right tools in the first place.
“It’s better to use tools that take inspiration from the consumer space, but which are built specifically for collaboration and communication in the enterprise”
Have you tried it? Run some searches about your own organization on social media. What activities are taking place using shadow IT? Are conversations that you have no visibility and no control over a good thing for your business?
The implications are significant. Shadow IT means using consumer tools that don’t contain the security designs you need to contain your confidential information or your IP. And if these people leave your company, they still remain members of unsanctioned groups. They stay part of the conversation. Your conversation. One that you have zero control over.
Better, we think, to use tools that take inspiration from the consumer space, but which are built specifically for collaboration and communication in the enterprise.
2 instant benefits
1. Innovation: Open communication encourages people to be themselves. It reduces the gap between personal and professional personas and that enables people to more freely express opinions. Which is why you hired them in the first place.
2. Productivity: People spend too many hours looking for information and sending emails. As much as 6.5 hours a week according to McKinsey. So save them time by giving them familiar tools to help them get stuff done.
As the distance between consumer and business tools closes, organizations continue to explore which platforms are right for them. In the end, whichever choice you make, it will be these factors that lead to a positive ROI on your investment. And it’s how well you recognize and respond to these factors that will help plot your course toward a more successful future.
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 John Olin School of Business, Washington University