Now that we’re all working remote, we depend on our software and digital tools to stay connected. But for most of us, the move to 100% digital wasn’t strategic: it was reactive. We threw together what we could to make things work in the moment. Which means our solutions for data sharing and collaboration were not designed with a long-term game plan in mind.
We’re now facing a potential long-term remote work world. So why not plan for it?
What would your software strategy look like if it was designed with long-term remote work in mind? How can one start to do that? Let’s explore the options.
Not Why We Moved to Remote Work, But How
Most of us come from two pre-pandemic timelines:
Gives companies a chance to explore remote work opportunities and rethink some fundamental business problems, like being only able to hire local top talent or losing good employees due to varying life circumstances.
Often set up without a re-evaluation of business processes. Meaning most people planned their hybrid week like this: 1) tasks that can be done remote 2) tasks that can wait for days in the office.
Processes are built for one scenario and most businesses have decades of literature and advice on how to strategically set up highly effective in-office business workflows.
No preparation for a remote work experience; the company might not only lack the processes to be remote but also the resources to support a remote team, including laptops, cellphones, and monitors.
While each situation presents its own unique set of challenges, both face a key problem: their business processes rely on some form of office presence in order to work.
But now that crutch is gone. And companies must find a way to struggle on.
Understandably, in the early days of lockdown companies focused on speed of implementation: get it up and running, now. Employees and leadership relied on word-of-mouth, hasty Google searches, or their own previous software experiences to find the tools they needed to assemble a new digital workspace.
Companies adopted a host of new tools to survive, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack, Google Suite, DocuSign, and more.
While this scramble made sense at the time (a company that can’t survive immediate challenges won’t be around to worry about the long-term), it comes at a cost if left as is. Because not all tools are equal, and the ones we’ve chosen act like digital junk food: immediately satisfying, but with long-term ramifications if that’s all we rely on. Let’s look at why.
Why Most Pandemic-Driven Remote Work Setups Don’t Cut It
Our remote work transformation saw us adopt more apps to fill in the gaps of in-person communication. But now, with all our work interactions living in the digital sphere, we face a (pre-existing) but more amplified problem: too many applications on which we share data and collaborate.
Too many business applications
Make no mistake: most companies already struggled with “too many apps” prior to going 100% remote. But remote work has multiplied this challenge exponentially. Here are some pre-pandemic numbers to give you a snapshot:
730: The number of cloud applications & services running across most organizations according to a CISCO survey. Most companies’ CIOs estimated 51.
Our remote work transformation saw us adopt more apps on top of these numbers. Which adds to our problems:
- We’re adopting more apps without knowing how many apps we currently have (and if we’re even fully utilizing them)
- By adopting more apps, we’re committing employees to learning even more tools for their job. They’ll also need to figure out how these tools fit into their current workflows. If rules around app usage haven't been established due to the speed of implementation, usage may come down to individual user preference.
For example, a team that starts using Slack needs to quickly figure out what conversations are for Slack and which are for email. Can a spreadsheet with client data be shared via a Slack thread or should it always be sent in an email chain?
Or an even simpler challenge: your boss sticks to email, but the rest of your team is on Slack now. How do you keep everyone in the loop without constantly copy/pasting data between platforms?
- If no plan for these new apps is made, they present security risks. One study found that “85 percent of data came from file sharing apps and 81 percent of data being downloaded within the company took place in an app that didn’t include encryption for data at rest.” For those in California who now need to follow CCPA rules, this jumble of new apps and their data-relationships with each other adds an extra element of challenge for IT teams.
- Constantly adding more apps isn’t a scalable process. The fact is, even before remote work, teams were losing time switching between apps. The average employee switches apps over 1,100 times a day to do their current job. McKinsey & Company found this process of switching, combined with the effort to search and gather information between business applications, takes up roughly 1.8 hours of each business day, or roughly nine hours each week.
For bottom-dollar-minded people, that’s 20% of a given work week, which adds up when you calculate out the per-hour salary for your team members.
With everything being digital, this switching process has only grown in magnitude. In office, people could bypass some of these problems by simply asking the people around them. Quick “have a sec” conversations or impromptu meetings to get the latest information. Now, in a purely digital state, everything must be accessed through an app. And there are more apps than ever for the information to be stored away in.
Your data and conversations around data are more scattered
Conversation that was once in email is now on Zoom chat, Google Hangouts, and Slack. Data that once lived on spreadsheets is now in Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and Dropbox.
Too many apps creates too many places for everything to live. And without thought-out integrations between them, the result is significant data siloing. Some teams try to resolve this problem by creating spreadsheets to aggregate data between platforms, but this process isn’t just inefficient, it’s also dangerous.
A study published in the Journal of End User’s Computing found 88% of spreadsheets contain errors that affect a business’ bottom line. For a company with thousands of employees and a diverse body of data, errors may have a lower impact on the outcome, but for smaller businesses with few data samples to go around, a mistake can mean the difference between staying in business or not.
A Gartner report estimated that poor-quality data costs organizations an average of $14.2 million annually, with each loss or disruption costing an approximately $914,000.
The bottom line is, shifting to a 100 digital workspace without accounting for the tools we already have, as well as having a plan for the tools we’ve recently adopted, can create unnecessary risk, complications, and snags in our ability to perform effectively.
How do we mitigate these potential pitfalls? By planning for them.
Creating A Better Remote Work Experience: A Checklist
If you want to improve your remote work experience, here are five steps to start with:
ID the tools you currently use
There are tools out there your team (and other teams) are using that are probably not approved by IT and may be relatively unknown to other members of your company (say marketing uses Slack, but Engineering uses Discord).
Find them. Start asking people to list out every way they talk and share information with everyone they interact with: clients, vendors, coworkers, management. Document them, then document what tools your company currently has. Odds are, there are many “hidden” processes people use to make it easier to get their work done.
Once you’ve done that, identify the account holder for each application. Sometimes companies continue to pay for software subscriptions they don’t use long after their account holder has left the company.
Outline what purposes each tool serves
Just because a tool has features doesn’t mean people are 1) using them and 2) using them the way they’re intended to be used. It’s important to look and see how people are using the tools in real life. Using that knowledge, build a list of “features” you can cross reference tools against.
It’s also equally as important to recognize not just what features/how your team uses tools, but what features those tools actually have (regardless of how often they’re used). By building out a list, you’ll begin to see where overlap exists. One tool might be able to replace three if all of its features are utilized rather than some of them.
Identify the frustrations the current tools cause
It’s not too early to find out where your old and new tools are causing problems. A solution that might have temporarily worked in the early months of lockdown may be causing more headaches for a team than if they’d never had it at all.
For example: perhaps your team now uses Google spreadsheets to track data but still need Excel spreadsheets to design the graphs they need for reports. These visual reports are then loaded into PowerPoint for management to present, which is also where notes from company leadership are added. After the meeting, management directly messages the note-riddled PowerPoint back to the employee via Slack, who must then download the file and upload the changes back to the Google spreadsheet to start the process over.
Sound like a headache?
Yet hundreds of thousands of people around the United States are engaged in these frustrating acts of redundancy each day—because no one took the time to examine the process.
Figure out how all these tools are fitting into the workflows of your team
Once you’ve identified all the parts of your process, it’s time to figure out how they fit together. Start mapping out workflows. You may find that if your workflows haven’t been formalized, individuals may do the same process differently, or processes change a little each time they’re executed. Using the example from the previous point, the PowerPoint might be returned as a PDF instead, or the manager submits the feedback to the employee in Slack but sends a visual copy of it via email.
This is a good phase at which to identify a number of metrics you’ll want to use as benchmarks when improving your workflows. They can include:
- The amount of time a given workflow takes
- The number of steps a workflow has
- The number of clicks a workflow has
- The number of people who touch the process
- The number of approval/verification points required
- The number of departments involved in the process
It helps to use a value-stream map to analyze the current state of your workflows/tools, as well as design a future state for what you want. In other words, don’t just use a map to show what is—show what you also ideally want your workflows to look like when all is said and done.
See how your workflows can be streamlined
Once you’ve laid out your processes, begin looking for ways to improve them. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t start trying to work on everything at once. Figure out what you want to fix first, then identify where you want to go next once your first phase is complete.
If you break your work down into phases/scopes, you’ll struggle less with feeling overwhelmed by the amount of potential overhaul you face.
Here are some good guidelines to keep in mind:
- Don’t lock yourself into just trying to “fix” a process—be willing to can it completely when necessary
- Look for repeated steps throughout the process can can be eliminated
- Count your clicks, and focus on reducing that number
- Check how many times the same data is entered throughout the workflow (these are usually good places to automate the process)
The road to less software doesn’t have to be painful. And it doesn’t require you to sacrifice any of the specialization most single-purpose software tools offer.
There are better options available. Learn what they are in our free webinar, How to Build a Better Remote Work Experience With Less Software, where we explore what options to consider when cutting back on software bloat.
You can also explore our free eBook, The 20-Year Rewind On Business Apps: Why This Decade You'll Use Less Business Software, Not More. This eBook explores at length the challenges too much software creates, and why it’s imperative for companies to rethink their software strategies if they want to stay competitive in the next decade.
About the Author
Michelle is the Content Marketing Specialist at Kintone. She is a content marketing expert with several years in content marketing. She moved to San Francisco in 2015 and has experience working in small businesses, non-profits, and video production firms. She graduated in 2012 with a dual degree in Film and English.