The future of work involves doing almost everything online. Those who have successfully adapted to working from home during the pandemic may find that even a standard phone-call seems outdated. However, many companies are new to digital collaboration, and the mass movement to remote working has been a difficult transition. Online workflow management could hold the key to growth in 2021.
Despite vaccination schemes starting in the UK, it is clear that in-office working is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels. With a whole company off location, email is no longer enough to keep us working smoothly. Businesses need to invest in more heavy-duty software: online collaboration and workflow management tools.
Some leaders are unwilling to accept remote working as a key part of the future of work. In this case, paying for external software seems wasteful, as does the time spent training their workforce to use it. But this way of thinking is a trap, and businesses that fail to adapt will fail altogether.
In a webinar entitled ‘Collaboration and the New Future of Work in Europe’ (11/11/20), we heard from market research company, IDC, and workflow management providers, Asana. IDC research shows that, after months of lockdown, just 5% of business leaders still believe employees perform badly while working from home.
Oru Mohiuddin, a research manager at IDC, collated multiple IDC studies to examine how work changed during the pandemic. She showed that to survive and thrive in ‘the next normal’, businesses must embrace a ‘digitally intelligent workspace’. This means using online tools and automation to enable employees to complete tasks from anywhere, at any time.
General Manager at Asana, Simon O’Kane, also presented data from their research into the ROI of Work Management Platforms. He showed that companies using these platforms experience a 50% increase in productivity, spending 26% more time on skilled work, compared to before they adopted the technology. 79% of those asked reported being able to complete more projects.
Setting up to support remote working will ensure business continuity through uncertain situations. With so much left to understand about the long term effects of COVID-19 on our bodies, economy and workplaces, investment in online collaboration and workflow management platforms is a must.
We’re used to hearing about project management, and the many tools you can use for getting your projects from start to finish. So when we say work management or workflow management, what do we mean?
Project management is a system of organising the resources required to complete a project, which has a beginning, middle and end and it’s own goals to achieve.
Workflow management is broader, organising projects, planning and processes, as a step towards the organisation’s overall mission.
Tools which create proformas for projects, such as start and end dates and timelines, have their place. But there are so many other tasks that get missed or swept under the rug when our main To-Do list only includes projects.
Project management often doesn’t include recurring tasks such as time-sheets or analytics. As a result, these weekly or monthly tasks become invisible work. Those who are responsible for this work are less likely to engage meaningfully with the digital tools provided, as their whole to-do list isn’t represented.
To solve this, IDC and Asana suggest centralised, integrated and intelligent tools for workflow management. This means tools which can collate task data into timelines, support rolling tasks and track productivity in the long term. Workflow management is a key factor for 91% of companies when they select team collaboration tools, and those already using it report a 50% increase in productivity.
While most companies began remote working way back in March 2020. Many predict that the social aspect and sense of community will bring some people back to the office. Looking at the changeable nature of the pandemic, no one can predict how long any return to a physical workspace will last, or how often flexibility will be needed.
The smart option for businesses is to make working from home accessible by embracing a hybrid work format. This would allow home and office working to be virtually interchangeable. Changes in policies, physical spaces and workstreams will be necessary disruptions, but worthwhile parts of a transition. Mohiuddin argues that targeted investment in digital collaboration tools will be ‘a major part of any road to recovery.’
Working from home has long had a poor reputation, but adapting to make the most of it will be necessary to survive the projected economic recession. Here are three clear benefits to your business which can easily be gained by adopting online workflow tools.
1.Remote working ensures business continuity when many people are unable to physically attend. Being set up to facilitate remote working with digital collaboration tools such as online timesheets can minimise any slowdown your business might face.
2.With workers out of the business premises, overhead costs of running the building are lowered, or eliminated altogether. This is an easy win for cost optimisation, whereas restructuring processes or finding new suppliers can take time.
3.By implementing structural changes to become more flexible, agile and connected, organisations can keep their experts and maintain business resilience. Giving your employees the tools to work from anywhere is a positive step for supporting their work/life balance and mental health.
However, simply installing a work management platform does not give you, your business or your employees the full benefit. There is a right way to use these tools to provide space for effective collaboration and productivity beyond the office walls.
IDC found that the struggles people faced when using digital platforms mostly involved confusion around where to find information. Digging further into the data, it is clear that the concerns about working from home stemmed from an inability to access data efficiently.
Some companies use multiple platforms such as email, instant messaging, remote file storage and project management software interchangeably. In these cases, employees can find accessing specific data too complex. Searching in several possible locations or waiting for files to load is time-consuming and frustrating. Furthermore, it ultimately damages the business. Mohiuddin suggests that, when remote workers can’t find data quickly, customer service suffers and the business loses out.
Multiple channels also lead to an overload of information, which 27% of businesses found challenging. With so many communication streams, employees can be overwhelmed. Data and task lists become difficult to sort through, making it hard to understand exactly what needs doing, when.
The experts at IDC explain how this leads to poor employee experience, which is unempowering and can reduce loyalty to the company. This in turn leads to a drop in productivity that can cost the company more over time than they would have invested in a quality online collaboration system.
Mohiuddin and O’Kane recommend using centralised systems, where everything is stored on one platform. If you can create and assign tasks that link to one another, schedule recurring meetings and upload files in the same platform, you remove the time your team needs to collate information from every channel. You’ve created an efficiency. Your team will find it much easier to prioritise their task lists and find information quickly because they will see everything together.
A common problem of centralisation is getting external organisations to work with your system. EMEA General Manager of Asana, Simon O’Kane, argues that the secret to this is not the breadth of adoption, but depth. He says when getting to know a workflow management system, ‘use it for everything, religiously’. If all your data and communications are in one system, you naturally find efficiencies that fit your business and those around you will follow.
Fully centralised systems are a key goal for workflow software developers, but they are not always achievable. For this reason, quality workflow management software will make it easy to use your existing apps from within the system. From time-tracking to communications, your workflow management software should be able to integrate across platforms to increase its functionality.
For example, workplace instant messaging app, Slack, offers integration with most online tools, such as Trello, Asana and Monday.com. Users can then create and update tasks from within the messenger. Slack even prompts you to integrate your tools as soon as it understands what system you’re using. This allows you to continue with the smooth communication of Slack, working seamlessly with your workflow management system.
Slack is on top of the integration game, offering businesses the chance to create custom integrations for whatever system they use. You can build your own integrations with this handy guide.
Even if your remote workforce is working well using multiple channels, more intelligent systems offer useful data opportunities. A centralised and integrated system collects a huge volume of information about company workflow. This back-end data is an opportunity for optimisation. Finding efficiencies is paramount for a successful hybrid workforce, as so many people spend time completing complex administrative tasks which do not contribute to the overall business or project goals.
Utilising the back-end data from your workflow management software can create insights, automation and efficiencies in your workflow.
Crono’s time-tracker takes the work out of filling in timesheets, giving your team their time back from the start. But it also collects data, allowing you to see which employees work quickest on a particular type of task. From this, managers can decide work distribution more effectively, and see who needs more support or training.
Centralising data within your work management software builds an intelligent system. Putting as much data into Crono as possible allows automation to take over on data entry tasks, such as invoicing. Crono will generate invoices for all of your projects, collating billable hours and client information into a branded report.
Online collaboration tools are being widely adopted, with companies focussed on helping their business survive longer periods of remote working. Of companies asked, 70% are either continuing their digital transformation programme or accelerating it. 56% of the whole are focusing on improving technological resiliency.
Mohiuddin argues that, when employees face an online workspace composed of utilitarian systems, they can feel unempowered and distanced from their organisation. We must remember that workers are humans first, and create systems which engage on a human level.
She argues that the concept of online collaboration is evolving with changes in workplace dynamics. First, employees were connected with one another online, via email or instant messaging. Then, companies added online documents which can be worked on together. When communication and contribution are integrated into one digital platform, we have collaboration.
Businesses can accelerate the ROI in digitally intelligent, collaborative work by creating a workplace culture of trust, safety, empowerment and participation, says Mohiuddin. Employees do require learning and support to get used to a new interface. However, the investment is worthwhile for a satisfied, engaged and productive workforce.
The Next Normal is looking to be within reach, with vaccinations against coronavirus just beginning. The social aspect of work will draw many back to the office, but the benefits of online collaboration platforms will be felt for years to come. Workflow management can be used in and out of office. Establishing a hybrid workplace gives business the potential for supportive and flexible working practices. You can communicate, delegate and track real productivity through intelligent workflow management systems. Make the transition to save time, support your experts to work remotely and create a resilient business for the future.