Published on August 13th, 2020 📆 | 7965 Views ⚑0
The 3 Keys To People-Friendly Work Technology
How to stop working the way your software wants, and start working the way you want.
Over the last few months, I’ve done something I haven’t done in years. I’ve slept in my own bed every single night. And it’s been…nice. Very nice.
Before COVID-19, constant business travel was my modus operandi. And while all this globetrotting this may seem exciting, truth be told, it’s the exact opposite. For me, the chance to spend uninterrupted time at home with my family has been a bright side of the pandemic.
I hope my family enjoys my company, as I doubt I’ll be jetting off again anytime soon. As we navigate a safe return to the office, business travel will remain paused and people will continue to work from home. This has interesting implications (beyond my personal happiness).
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for the consumerization of the enterprise, meaning that employees are coming to expect more consumer-like experiences in the workplace. Especially interesting are emerging consumer technologies and how they can extend enterprise consumerization beyond a great mobile experience.
Mobile remains valuable
For years, consumerization has rallied around mobile capabilities alone.
And make no mistake—mobile will continue to be enormously important. Even something as small as approving expenses while queuing at the airport saves time for tasks that require greater mental focus. There’s also the productivity gains mobile devices bring to the factory floor or field services.
Yet, while mobile is a lifeline for an on-the-go workforce, it loses some appeal with business travel paused and remote work a permanent feature of our post-pandemic world. Right now, I may send a few emails during a walk around the block, but by and large, I’m static. I work on a laptop at my desk, not on my cellphone in an Uber.
Consumerization still has a lot to offer. It just requires we think beyond mobile.
Remote work makes simplicity key
The consumer experience calling card is simplicity. One swipe, one touch, and boom—you get what you need.
This is how people live. And increasingly it’s how people expect to work. The problem is that, in many cases, enterprises cannot fit simple user interfaces over existing, hard-to-replace enterprise technology stacks. Thus, the divide between excellent consumer experiences and awkward enterprise tools grows increasingly stark each day.
Our new work-from-home reality has only exacerbated this expectation gap. Without workflows in place to help people get knowledge work done remotely, people get bogged down. It’s hard to access institutional knowledge when you can’t pop over to the expert in the office next door.
Integrated workflows eliminate complexity
Enterprise consumerization demands a workflow behind every desired outcome.
Uber isn’t successful because of an amazing UI or seamless mobile client. Rather, it has achieved legendary simplicity through the powerful marriage of automated backend workflow with accessible design.
While this may seem unrealistic in an enterprise context—there’s a lot more inherent complexity in running a global organization than hailing a ride—when you break it down workflow by workflow, it’s absolutely achievable.
Workflows streamline processes by enabling a simple UI that integrates information from disparate systems. As one example, a major partner I worked with was able to collate discrete tasks within its project approvals process into one single app. This unified and simplified an activity that previously involved multiple systems and employees.
There are two takeaways here: First, integrated workflows are critical. Second, user experience and interface are equally important. The latter requires understanding how people interact with systems, where confusion sets in, and at what point they ultimately abandon a process.
Consumerization means choice
Choice is the great differentiator of the consumer market—no matter your preference, there is always a product to match. That’s why I believe the freedom to choose how we work will become the gold standard of enterprise consumerization.
One indicator of a bad experience is being stripped of choice. People will push back, or simply drop out, when presented with a one-size-fits-all situation. And yet, for many enterprise tools, choice is non-existent. We work the way the system works, not the way our mind wants.
When we talk about choice, it’s akin to discussing learning styles, rather than enterprise policies like “bring your own device.” Just as some are auditory learners and others visual, we all prefer different layouts and interfaces.
Choice means enabling employees to work how they want, no matter what preferences their colleagues might have. To that end, forward-looking companies are exploring dynamic UX designs that enable users to choose their layout—e.g. a dashboard view as opposed to lists or portals.
This is the next step in consumerization. Mobile is important, simplicity even more so, but true consumerization is about choice. It’s about providing employees the freedom to work how they want, when they want, and where they want.
In that sense, COVID-19 has already had a lasting impact. The challenge is extending this newfound freedom of schedule—remote work, flexible hours—to freedom of technology as well.
Sure, it’s nice to sleep at home. But once the pandemic passes, a consumer-like enterprise technology experience will be the next best thing.