The pandemic has cemented collaboration software as the hub for where work gets done, but the daily operations of a business largely happen in other specialized applications, such as software for financial planning, supply-chain management, and managing customer relationships. This can lead to a lot of “invisible” work for employees to bring data, information, and insights to the spaces where colleagues are making decisions and moving projects forward.
Microsoft’s latest survey on business trends compiles input from 2,700 employees and 1,800 business decision makers in the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan across job functions to uncover the ways technology is — or is not — helping them do their work. We found that, while advancements in workplace technology can accelerate employees’ ability to take on more meaningful work and reduce office churn, it’s only half the equation in improving worker experience.
Employees are looking for tools that enable collaboration seamlessly, automate repetitive work, and guide with insights, and that can be customized for specific business challenges. Here’s how leaders can invest in these areas to realize efficiency gains in day-to-day operations and free up their teams to do more important work.
Make collaboration a hub for all types of work
Today, workers want digital tools that adapt to their unique ways of working. Nearly all surveyed workers (91%) work remotely at least one or two days a week. To best support this new world of work, 85% of employees cited collaboration tools as one of the most critical areas of focus.
Each business department uses different software to manage common tasks specific to their roles — in addition to the usual productivity and collaboration tools like email, video conferencing, and chat. Employees expect to be able to send quick questions via chat, share document links for live editing, and schedule virtual calls easily. But most surveyed employees aren’t getting what they need out of their collaboration tools because they’re not integrated with the data and information they need to do their jobs:
- 59% say their collaboration tools are not aligned with how their teams prefer to work.
- 64% say the tools don’t integrate with their organization’s processes (for example, marketing, finance, and sales software).
- 72% wish their collaboration tools were compatible with one another because it’s difficult to work together across teams.
As a result, people waste time copying data into emails or chats or chasing down numbers from multiple colleagues. At least seven in 10 respondents cite inaccurate data, the inability to access and share decentralized data, and teams working from different sets of data as key challenges their companies need to address. An overwhelming 86% of surveyed workers say their teams would benefit most from solutions that make information (like documents, business data, and customer records) more accessible across the organization.
This fragmentation of where information lives and where it’s shared is highly inefficient. Our survey revealed that these limitations — including departments using a variety of disparate software — create more silos that make it challenging to share information (72% of respondents), while also generating more — not fewer — administrative tasks and redundant, low-value work (74%).
Just by “collabifying” applications — like adding a chat capability to the customer relationship management (CRM) system, or the ability to pull in CRM data to chat — leaders can increase employee satisfaction by reducing time to insights and value within an organization and improving communication.
Customize your business operations with low-code software
Not every problem can be solved with one-size-fits-all enterprise software purchased and deployed across business departments. That’s one reason IT departments are so often overwhelmed by custom software development projects that may not see the light of day, especially when underfunded or added to a stack of other backlogged projects.
Low-code solutions are a great way for business departments to personalize their productivity solutions, bringing together business processes and collaboration. Low-code innovation is on the rise because it gives everyone developer “superpowers,” enabling sales, marketing, and other employees across the business to improve their processes with little to no coding required. Low-code solutions can help automate processes, thereby reducing repetitive tasks, or leverage AI capabilities to surface insights right in the flow of work.
Low-code software tools can empower employees to solve their own problems. In fact, more than three out of four (77%) surveyed workers wish they had more access to low-code tools or platforms to build digital solutions that help them achieve goals.
One example of a low-code, AI-powered solution is creating a custom document-summarization feature. In a legal department, for example, reading and summarizing documents can create hours of busy work for attorneys. Using low-code automation tools, attorneys without any technical expertise can use natural language commands to create an automated process that extracts and summarizes content from large documents. The app can share the document over email or chat to a preset distribution list for further collaboration.
Access to low-code tools has demonstrated an excellent return on investment, with more than 80% of survey respondents saying that low-code tools have empowered them to be self-sufficient on tasks that previously would have required a team of developers to do. It’s a win-win-win for employees who can now take job effectiveness into their own hands, IT teams that are freed up to focus on high-priority projects, and leaders who are looking to cut technology and development costs. In fact, nearly half (46%) of surveyed business decision makers strongly agreed that low-code processes have allowed employees to play a more direct role in the organization’s digital transformation efforts.
Embrace artificial intelligence and automation
Embracing AI-infused business solutions is an essential step in shifting our work culture from time spent “at work” to a focus on quality and effectiveness. Repetitive tasks like data entry, note taking, reporting, and document processing are essential to business operations — but not a fulfilling part of employees’ days.
The value of AI and automation is just starting to come into focus. Nearly nine out of 10 survey respondents using AI and automation at work feel more fulfilled and free to spend more time on work that matters. They also say that when automation capabilities are integrated with collaboration software — for example, the ability to automate the creation and sharing of call notes — they can work more seamlessly across teams.
Consider data entry, which is becoming a large part of employees’ roles across business departments because data is essential to how work gets done. A sales department, for example, could use AI to automatically update the database with essential data about a customer interaction. This would free up employees to do more meaningful work, like writing a business proposal.
AI can also assist employees with problem solving and provide scenario-specific learning opportunities. Take a contact center agent on the phone with a customer, working to resolve an issue. They need a lot of information at their fingertips to deliver a high-quality customer experience: the customer’s name and address, their purchase history, details on the issue they’ve called about, and potential resolution options. AI can help provide guidance to an agent in real time, providing talking points and useful, relevant resources such as product and pricing details and purchase history. Instead of taking notes, the agent can stay focused on the conversation by sharing ideas and resources in the moment. AI can also help bring together experts across the company in a “swarm” chat for real-time problem solving, as well as using sentiment analysis to provide feedback and coaching tools for continuous learning and improvement on the job.
As automation tools become more user friendly and intelligent, this essential capability will remove barriers to information access, accelerate workflows, and improve employee satisfaction by eliminating mundane tasks.
What businesses can do in 2023 to personalize productivity across departments
The research is clear: Employees want more personalized productivity solutions and assistance from technology to automate manual processes and reports that feel like busy work. They expect their business applications to be collaborative and intelligent. Business leaders can start with some of the following steps:
- Get employees involved with digital business investments to empower them to work more effectively, from automating menial processes to tightly integrating collaboration features across organizational software.
- Evaluate digital capabilities across current productivity, CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other business software to integrate AI-powered insights and automation into business processes.
- Take steps to consolidate formerly siloed data on-premises and/or in the cloud, empowering teams to centrally access and share information, gain insights, and drive business action.
- Capitalize on specialized knowledge from non-developers and professional developers by enabling them to collaborate on solutions in real time for continuous innovation and efficiency. Increase organizational developer velocity by enabling non-developers to solve their own technical challenges — driving autonomy and, ultimately, faster innovation.
- Create a forum for employees to develop and share custom-built apps that solve business needs with IT decision makers and leadership.
In today’s economic climate, business leaders want to help their employees feel motivated and essential to the company’s overarching goals — while also maximizing their existing tech investments. Taking these steps to introduce tools that enable collaboration seamlessly, automate repetitive work, and guide with insights can achieve this by allowing employees to focus on work that matters.