by Andre Bourque

Is your company ready for the knowledge worker?

Apr 18, 2017
Artificial IntelligenceIT LeadershipProductivity Software

50% of employee time is devoted to interactions. How do you make interactions more efficient?

boost productivity overworked
Credit: Thinkstock

Is your company ready for the rise of the knowledge worker? Automation continues to change the face of the global workforce by replacing repetitive function jobs and creating new, more sophisticated jobs. Those jobs require critical thinking, intuition and organizational skills. In other words, those jobs require knowledge workers.

We know that these types of jobs demand that employees perform diverse, unstructured work. That makes it hard to maximize their productivity, especially considering that 50% of their time is devoted to interactions. How do you make interactions more efficient?

The answer is a technological one, and it is a trend that is gaining steam: digital transformation. “While technology is certainly a productivity enabler, it’s clear that [small and midsize enterprise] owners and employees are struggling to unleash its full potential,” Graham Long, vice president of enterprise at Samsung UK & Ireland, was quoted as saying in an article in Computer Business Review. “Businesses need technology that is easy [and] secure, and that their workers feel comfortable and familiar using.”

Put a knowledge worker into a digital space that is designed intuitively and watch productivity increase. I connected with a Sean Nolan, a thought leader in digital transformations and the CEO of Blink, to discuss three important aspects of renovating outdated enterprise software.

1. Search is everything

What is a knowledge worker without information? In a word: unproductive. A McKinsey study found that employees can spend as much as 20% of their workweeks looking for internal information or trying to find colleagues who can help with specific tasks.  Taken in aggregate, that is one day a week and almost a whole week out of every month that is wasted.

That is why Nolan says perhaps the most critical component of a digital transformation has to be a search function. “Your smartphone is a search tool for almost anything you want to know in the world, just open Google. But for some reason, when you are in your office, suddenly you have slipped back in time and are digging through file cabinets or calling people to get access to job-critical information. Enterprise technology that does not have a robust search function is the model of inefficiency.”

The Great Work Study by O.C. Tanner, a firm that develops strategic employee recognition and reward solutions, found that 88% of effective employee work begins with searching for information. In other words, every project begins with a discovery phase. The question is how long that phase needs to take, and digital transformation should focus on reducing that time substantially.

2. Communication is key

However useful the search function is, there is no way to remove the need for collaboration between colleagues in the workplace. O.C. Tanner’s Great Work Study also found that 77% of all good work is accomplished as a result of team members working together. But because we are still looking for ways to improve knowledge worker productivity, we have to re-imagine collaboration as well.

Modern working professionals are conditioned to communicate by the technology they use at home. That means texting, video calls and chat. As a result, solely relying on emails and meetings in the office is unnatural for today’s workers. They require agile communication channels that allow them to rapidly ping information to the person or group of people who need to be involved.

“Email response times in the corporate environment typically range between 25 to 45 minutes,” says Nolan. “Chat functions cut that turnaround time down to just minutes. And the benefit is exponential because follow-up questions can be dealt with immediately instead of taking days over email.”

3. Everyone gets an assistant

Automation is creating more knowledge worker jobs and increasing the efficiency of those individuals. Digital transformations should include the use of smartbots, programs that run on artificial intelligence (A.I.) that relieve people of the need to perform tedious functions in the workplace.

A smartbot should be able to answer questions, book appointments, save passwords and generally operate as a second brain for its human partner. By offloading simple tasks, knowledge workers can drastically improve their productivity. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Jordan Cohen and Julian Birkinshaw reported that knowledge workers’ productivity increased by 20% when they delegated or dropped low-value tasks.

Taken together, these digital tools stand to improve efficiency by leaps and bounds. That is why so many companies have put digital transformations on their 2017 to-do lists. We have learned from the last two decades of enterprise software stumbles that the end users matter. Today’s end users have high expectations for the technology they use, and they can be incredibly effective when given the right technology.