Oct 23

Embracing digital tools to improve collaboration, productivity and learning at your organisation

Who hates email? Who doesn’t hate email? A lot of us view it as source of endless frustration – as an interruption to ‘real’ work. For many, it signifies stress and unfeasible workloads.

In fact, email has been the primary platform for business communication since the 1970s and until another universally adopted system for business communication manifests itself, we are going to be grumbling about our inboxes for the foreseeable future.

Letters and clay tablets

It’s worth remembering that quills dipped in ink once wrote the letters that propelled business. Just a little further back (3200BCE), the Sumerians pressed cuneiform wedge-shapes into clay tablets in order to record trade, seal deals and supplicate to foreign rulers. Letters and cuneiform tablets are now displayed in museums – think about that next time you write an email! (What does your email say about you, about your organisation and about current business culture? Make a little effort, just in case!)

The problem with email

Nevertheless, we have a right to grumble; there are significant problems with email:

  • Our individual email accounts have become the default repositories for records and knowledge that rightfully belongs to, and should be shared by, our organisation. Yet, few organisations enforce the sort of rigour and training that would be needed to ensure that we all stored and flagged emails in ways that rendered them shareable and easily retrieved.
  • Most of us also work with secondary systems – accounting, customer record management, and inventory, for instance – that require of us the faithful transposition of some of the key information we glean through email. Once again, who amongst us does not know the feeling of hunting through obscure email chains to find the one with the address footer that includes the mobile number that should have been entered in the CRM when the message first arrived?
  • Inboxes get jammed with junk as well as with material we once thought we’d find time to read.
  • If you work in a large organisation, the email address alone won’t tell you where your correspondent works, what they look like, what their role is and when they are available.
  • Then there are the whole of organisation Happy Birthday Rosa emails, with whole of organisation pip pips and replies.

Digital tools for collaboration, productivity and learning

The best answers are, unsurprisingly, all digital. Let us not forget that email took off because we were suddenly able to send a message instantly to more than one person anywhere in the world, and get speedy replies (dial up internet notwithstanding). This was a miraculous acceleration on postal services, let alone getting your cuneiform tablet baked and delivered.

Yet, emailing has lost its thrill. Social media offers a more powerful model for the cultivation of compelling interactions. Thankfully, some of the information-sharing we now do via email can be easily hived off to business applications that have developed around the social media paradigm. Slack , Yammer and Padlet now sit in a crowded market for collaboration platforms. What they make possible for teams is the discussion of ideas, sharing of documents, images and sites in a contained system where progress is easily traceable. As with social media, each participant can include a photo of themselves and an outline of their work. At Worklogic, we use a Slack channel to post each team member’s whereabouts for the day. We have another channel to share holiday snaps, and another for the posting of articles and papers likely to be of interest at some stage.

All this removes traffic from email and puts it in a place which makes intuitive sense, assists with collaboration, stores company information securely and traceably and is in general just a lot more fun!

Digital learning

On-line learning came into its own much later than email. Many companies still do all their training, mandatory fashion, in the basement classroom on the first Friday of the month!

By digital learning, we mean learning experiences which use or are delivered online via:

  • webinars,
  • podcasts,
  • apps,
  • self-paced online learning courses,
  • live e-learning (e.g, virtual classrooms), and
  • recorded or live video.

Worklogic is now offering a digital team-building program called Mooski. In a dramatic break from tired classroom formats, Mooski asks enrolled participants to listen to podcasts, initiate conversations and reflect on what their work means and what means most to them. It aims to engage the heart, soul and reflective brain in ways that can reset daily attitudes.

At Worklogic, we also run free monthly lunchtime webinars on a range of topics to help you resolve workplace complaints and build a positive culture at work. We also make these available to view on-demand post event.

MOOCs and what they’ve taught us

Starting in this millennium, a large volume of very sophisticated education material has been released on platforms developed by leading tertiary institutions; for instance, Coursera is the brainchild of Stanford University academics; edX was first developed by Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and FutureLearn was started by a coalition of UK universities. Collectively known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), their disruption of traditional modes of higher learning are ongoing and the subject of dedicated research. This has meant that the platforms have developed so as to optimise learning outcomes, creating innovative forums for discussions, interactive content, quizzes and peer evaluation. There has been a flow-on to the benefit of all digital education and training enterprises.

Tailor your own training

The low cost and increasing variety of online learning options means that employees can tailor their own learning program to suit their interests, learning style, and daily workflow.

In any given month, you might, for instance, attend an industry webinar in your lunch break, listen to podcasts on your commute, engage in mutual coaching discussions with a colleague in a different area of the business, complete a MOOC at Stanford for free, and attend a conference in-person.

In this way, you can ‘pull’ learning materials in the right depth and at the right pace, when you need it and have time for it, rather than waiting for your employer to ‘push’ training to a group in a closed environment. With the right content and mix, blended learning – including whatever content via whatever mode that suits you best – can be more effective than either traditional learning or e-learning alone.

Blockchain and you

Sitting behind the vaunted and very weird cryptocurrencies we’ve all heard about, is a distributed (just as the internet itself is ‘distributed’), encrypted and amazingly powerful technology called blockchain. It’s coming our way soon and will be liberating, disruptive and inexorable by all reports!

If you work in Human Resources, for instance, these are the daily work functions you can expect to be improved: background and employment-history checks; employee data security and access; smart contracts for contract or temporary employees; compliance and regulations; payment and benefits (including payroll). Don’t believe me – read more about it here.

Digital – be not afraid

There are good reasons to remain optimistic about where digital tools in the workplace may yet take us. Even email remains a productivity miracle – our problems with it are to do with letting it dominate our working life rather than finding ways (many of them digital) to refine and tame it.

Each of us now carries in our pocket technology that opens the whole world for us. Smart phones allow us to literally look up anything the moment a question crosses our mind. Yes, worry about being a slave to your phone, to your email, to technology, but do not forget to be grateful for all they’ve delivered us.

About Rose Scott

As manager of Worklogic’s Integrity Line service and our Digital Product Manager, Rose Scott ensures that people making a workplace complaint are given a calm and secure reception. She also leads Worklogic’s policy development team, helping organisations set the standard for ethical and constructive behaviour at work.

Please contact us for an obligation-free, confidential discussion to review and refresh the policies at your workplace.