Collaboration Tools for Remote Workers Are No Longer Enough
If the last two years have taught organizations anything, it’s that business can continue even if workers no longer come into the office. And with pandemic-related restrictions now lifting and more workers coming into the office again, the majority of organizations plan to continue to make remote work available to at least some portion of their workforce (we estimate that 50%-65% of enterprises will do so).
Further, while not all users will be operating from a remote location full-time as has been the norm over the past couple of years, we estimate that organizations that expect to have their employees return to the office will still offer the majority of their employees remote work capability for at least some portion of the time (e.g., one to two days per week). Indeed, the ability to work remotely at least part-time is now a job requirement for a majority of knowledge workers, with some even switching jobs if it’s not part of their work environment. As a result, remote work will remain a major corporate requirement for the foreseeable future.
Changes in the Collaboration Tool Market
While the majority of organizations have seen no visible drop in worker productivity due to their reliance on remote work, there's a growing concern that the lack of division when working from home between work time and personal time has caused some negative effects for a significant portion of the workforce. Minimizing the negative effects of such a situation is mission critical to maintain worker productivity. For this reason, we are seeing a new emphasis on not only making collaboration tools better and easier to use, such as with better user interfaces, easy integration with other apps, cross-collaboration tool integration (since most users need to access more than one collaboration suite, e.g., Zoom, Webex, Teams), and importantly additional security enhancements that were lacking in the early days when everyone scrambled to get online. All of the above are valuable, but they are no longer sufficient.
Over the next one to two years we expect to see a new emphasis placed on collaboration suites that include not only the customary collaborations tools (e.g., video, audio, screen sharing, etc.), but also analytics capabilities that monitor and analyze worker use and extrapolate productivity and wellness information.
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To this end, collaboration systems are starting to offer enhancements that provide this functionality. One example, Cisco Webex, offers a personal insights capability that analyzes how well people are engaged, what interactions users have and which interactions are most productive, as well as how teams are interacting and more. The key component of such a system is the analytics it can produce and the interpretation of what that analysis generates. Because Cisco can track and trace a full complement of network interactions and associate them with individuals, it can provide a fairly complete picture of the activities taken during a normal work period. Cisco is not alone in this. Microsoft offers its VIVA platform with many of the same goals, while also emphasizing online working training enhancements and integrating into the large base of Windows 365 installations. Other workspace enablement players like Google, Citrix and VMware have their own collaboration enhancement initiatives underway. It is important to note that these tools can be switched off to protect worker privacy if so desired and/or required.
Enterprises that are only concentrating on traditional collaboration capability like video, audio and screen sharing are missing a major opportunity to make sure their workers stay engaged and productive while also ensuring remote work remains attractive. To that end, these tools can remind workers to take a break after several unbroken hours of activity, or suggest they quit work when logged in late at night. While every worker has their own working preferences, the reminder can still serve a purpose.
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We estimate that having a less than optimum remote work experience impairs worker productivity by 10% to 15% or more. And while for many companies this is an invisible situation since workers still get their jobs done, it adds both an increased worker burden as well as a significant “shadow cost” to the organization. If less than optimum tools cause a 10% negative productivity affect, then that means an enterprise needs to add one additional worker for every 10 employed to get the same amount of work done. Put another way, it causes a $10,000 lost productivity cost to each $100,000 of employee compensation.
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A Method of Enhancing Productivity and Lowering Employee Stress
We recommend all organizations that continue with remote work options evaluate the potential for including wellness and productivity monitoring capability components in their toolkits. This isn't to monitor and penalize individual workers. Indeed any work along this path should be fully communicated and transparent to the workers with emphasis on maintaining individual privacy. Rather, this is an important step to insure that companies can fully assess which components of their remote worker strategy are effective and which need to be changed/improved. This must be done to both remain productive and to minimize the levels of stress on any employees working remotely. Indeed, the more percentage of their time that workers spend working remotely, the more acute the need to add such analysis capability.
While adding tools to analyze employee wellness certainly involves a cost, it is likely a small percentage of the potential recovered costs from the insights the analytics tools can provide into where productivity has been negatively affected and the subsequent improvements made in that area. We recommend organizations move quickly to add these capabilities by working with their preferred collaboration and/or workplace suppliers to deploy their tools into the installed collaboration suite, or find compatible tools that can be added to existing installations.
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