The Twin Challenges of Collaboration and Productivity

Did you know that over the last 9 years, for the first time, the productivity of the U.S. worker has fallen?  A recent blog post by John Cassidy in the New Yorker called “What Happened to the Internet Productivity Miracle? He cites a U.S. Department of labour graph which shows this (Figure 1). According to the same New Yorker article; since the start of 2005, productivity growth has fallen all the way back to the levels seen before the Web was commercialised, and before smart phones were invented.




Figure 1:  Showing U.S. productivity trailing off since 2004

During the eight years from 2005 to 2012, output per hour expanded at an annual rate of just 1.5 per cent—the same as it grew between 1973 and 1996. More recently, productivity growth has been lower still. In 2011, output per hour rose by a mere 0.6 per cent, according to the latest update from the Labour Department, and last year there was more of the same: an increase of just 0.7 per cent. In the last quarter of 2012, output per hour actually fell, at an annual rate of 1.9 per cent. Americans got less productive—or so the figures said.

Here is my attempt at explaining this phenomenon: I would like to put forth that during 2007-2009 our productivity was at its lowest (1.4%), this may not all be attributed to technology, but rather to the economy. During those years, most companies were not hiring, and through attrition or other means fewer and fewer people had to do more and more work… so no wonder their productivity was down!

The Collaboration Challenge

So how do these productivity challenges fit with collaboration? Some of the data from a recent study, we did on 200 users of social/collaboration tools shows that bringing social tools into the enterprise does not automatically mean they will increase productivity.

Andy Hutchins, director of content and collaboration at Avanade UK had this to say about consumer social media platforms in the enterprise:

“But a key point here is in the capabilities of these technologies,” he said. “Certainly Facebook and Twitter aren’t integrating with wider collaboration activities. They’re not integrating with documents, with organisational data, with the communications and directory services of an organization. So you’re not really connecting to bring an organisation together and connect its people and work with real data2.”

Another recent article by Dr. Charles Law called “Do Collaboration Tools Boost Workplace Communication? He looked at the use of e-mail, IM/chat, video conferencing in the workplace. From his research, he said “

But should organizations continue to rely on text-based, asynchronous communication when research overwhelmingly indicates that there are better options? Clearly, there are better ways to communicate and collaborate if organizations are willing to evolve and adapt, and it is likely that successful organizations will do so9.” 

One idea I would like to put forward is that there is no either or, but that both types of collaboration tools, enterprise oriented and consumer-oriented social and collaboration tools are evolving in parallel. This explains much of the confusion around “what tools should I pick?” that I often run into when working with end-user organizations. I also would like to put forth the idea of productivity is the ability to do work processes better.

How Collaboration is Changing Enterprise Process

In a recent study, we did  in Dec. 2014 we found 44.2% of end-users had social networks implemented in their organisations (as opposed to 10% in 2009, and 40% in 2012).

But this implies the question (which we did not ask in the survey) do they really know what they are getting into? My guess is not. Let’s take a look at this in view of critical processes for the enterprise.

In the 80’s it was about creating processes (often from chaos, or no prior process), in the 90’s it was more about refining and optimising processes (which also included ways to remove people and social from the process). As the internet came into being around 1995 we started to see a focus on content (web pages), but in 2005 we began to see the second order effect kick in (that the Internet has been good for connecting people not just viewing content) which became the rapid rise of consumer social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

As these social consumer products became more popular (Facebook has over a Billion members) they began to exert influence on the enterprise, and we saw the beginning of BYOD and BYOA (Bring Your Own Device and Bring Your Own Application) in the enterprise which happened often over the objections of IT who was still trying to stick to the optimised process model. I think ultimately we will see BYOP (Bring Your Own Process).

Processes in the Enterprise

Figure 2: Parallel of Evolution of Processes in the Enterprise

At this point (2010- 2015) we are seeing the parallel development of social networks moving into the enterprise and the enterprise trying to socialise more of its critical processes. Some of the pressure for this came from the push to bring social networks into the enterprise in a safe and secure manner.

But as these social networks, or communities began to grow and mature in the enterprise some of them became department-oriented, some became best practice-oriented, some learning-oriented, and others began to focus on process. A good example is online communities in the HR dept. with discussions on how to find and hire new talent, and how rapidly that process was changing from resume-based, to interactive problem-based scenarios (in which the candidate when presented with a problem by the interviewer had to show how to solve the problem, or was given time to solve it and then explain).

A Sample Collaboration Process

In the war for talent (as one example of a process in the enterprise that is changing radically and rapidly) hiring can occur from start to finish in a few days rather than weeks or months.  The screening processes by HR are now more social and more rapid, and a short list of available candidates is processed through virtual interactions with the hiring manager and his team.

I recently attended the UTR (Under the Radar) conference in San Francisco last week. There was a session on “Back office” which had three HR people from:  Mashery (just bought by Intel), Target (the big box retailer), and Box as judges, so many of the applications these startups showed were HR-oriented. Entelo,GoodRevu, happiily and, TrueAbility  all of them looked at better ways of making standard enterprise processes with various social twists.

Happiily looked at employee optimization and work/life balance and providing anonymous feedback for meetings, TrueAbility helps companies hire only the best technical talent by assessing a job candidate’s technical skills in a live cloud environment–from anywhere in the world.  GoodRevu helps with the greatly outdated employee performance reports, and Entelo is a software platform that helps companies find high-quality engineers, designers and product specialists. At the heart of Entelo is a patent-pending algorithm that identifies the optimal time to reach out to a candidate based on 70+ variables that are leading indicators of an upcoming career change. So the idea is to spot these critical resources before they even come on the market.

All of these tools made these HR processes more social and more effective.  We see this as the leading edge of a trend that has been going on for the last two years, which many have called “The Social Enterprise” but I think the outcome will be that many of the traditional enterprise processes will be totally subsumed by these new social and more effective processes, and only then will we have the “Socialised Enterprise.”

  1. “What Happened to the Internet Productivity Miracle?  John Cassidy, April 2, 2013 New Yorker
  2. Andy Hutchins, Director of Content and Collaboration at Avande, UK