To improve productivity, a people-first IT model is needed

It’s no secret that productive employees are good for business. However, it may be surprising to know just how much a lack thereof can affect a company’s bottom-line. In fact, actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion per year in lost productivity (Source: Gallup). In today’s business cloud environment, it may be hard to believe that the stream of ‘business-friendly’ apps created to make workers’ lives easier are actually a big part of the problem. Essentially, we’re pushing employees to mold themselves to fit into productivity apps’ workflows, when in reality, it should be the other way around.   

The ability to easily implement hundreds of apps within today’s business cloud has created informational siloes that make it challenging for knowledge workers to complete tasks. People are forced to navigate multiple platforms – toggling between programs like Slack, Salesforce, Dropbox, etc. – to find important information. The problem is that when we jump from task to task, we have the illusion of getting more work done, but the exact opposite is true. A Harvard Business Review post found that multitasking leads to as much as a 40 percent drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10 percent drop in IQ. 

While the numbers are alarming, it’s no wonder this is the state of the workforce, considering today’s always-on app culture. Just think – we text while we drive, browse through social media while we watch TV and respond to emails while we lie in bed wondering why we can’t fall asleep. That shift in behavior has translated to the office, too. The app notification distractions are constant, and like Pavlov’s dog we respond at the first buzz, beep or pop-up on our screen. 

The fact of the matter is, app culture isn’t going away, and nor should it. We need many of these business apps to get work done. However, in order to reap the benefits and to prevent fatigue, businesses need to approach IT in a more human-centric way; by implementing people-first tech policies that fit into employees’ natural instincts, thereby making them more effective. 

While most current IT models focus on processes and technologies, a people-first IT model focuses on enabling people to respond to customers, partners, and colleagues to get work done. Fortunately, with the cloud, high-speed networks, and cheap memory and processing power comes the ability to tailor technology solutions to the way the brain works and how people interact. This is valuable because when tech is organized in a way that matches how we think, friction is eliminated and we can focus on the projects that matter most. Not only does this reduce information overload, but its common symptoms: stress and costly errors. 

Some of the world’s most innovative organizations are known for their commitment to ‘start and end with people.’ Companies such as Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and General Electric have achieved this through the implementation of a human-centered enterprise-scale digital design in both their products and work environment. While these tech giants represent the minority of the world’s businesses, it doesn’t mean their people-first approach can’t be replicated.   

To successfully implement a people-first IT model, businesses must first take into account all of the devices and services employees are already using, including those that they are signed up for in the cloud. Today’s enterprise workers use an average of 935 cloud apps to get work done (source: Netskope) – trying to tell them to eliminate some and only use others would just further complicate matters. Additionally, people are typically comfortable with their existing work patterns and introducing a new user interface may cause more headaches during the onboarding process. The best way to approach an IT upgrade is to focus on workers ‘attention anchors,’ or where they spend the most time: email and documents. But how can we bring the human touch to this?   

The short answer: topic computing. This refers to breaking down data silos from business apps by grouping information by topics – the way the human brain synthesizes information – surfacing what’s most important to knowledge workers. The human brain is like a thesaurus, whereby similar concepts and meanings that are associated, trigger similar thoughts or reactions on the neural level. This works because people think most naturally in the form of topics which are associated with one another. Because of this associative way of thinking, it is much easier for our minds to glide from one closely related topic to another—rather than make major leaps. 

Using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), topic computing has the power to extract topics from each app notification and correlate them. This enables workers to sift through notifications from all cloud apps related to the subjects that matter most. This approach can help employees see the big picture and focus on more meaningful projects. AI is a key component to helping businesses implement a people-first IT model, by augmenting how humans work.   

This eliminates the distraction of toggling between apps or reacting to endless notifications, enabling people to focus on a given task for longer periods of time. By delivering workers’ cloud service notifications by topic, right in the place where they spend the most work time – email – there’s no new UX or new apps to install and use, and information is automatically organized by the topics workers are trying to focus on.   

Additionally, topic computing can also help better facilitate intelligent conversation between the hundreds of disparate apps business people are using. This increases efficiency by enabling workers to collaborate via otherwise disconnected apps, seamlessly in one place. This level of cohesion mimics how humans work with one another, making the interaction with technology feel more natural.   

People-first means it’s not all about the technology. It’s about understanding human values and goals, factoring in how people think, and integrating that into the IT design at every stage. When people can accomplish tasks without having to manipulate technology they can focus their attention and increase productivity. Not only does this make for happier, less-stressed employees, it means better business results – a win-win.   

Yaacov Cohen, Co-Founder & CEO, harmon.ie 

Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock