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Engineering the Engaged Workplace

Peter Coffee presented last week at Nintex InspireX 2017.

We all know what it’s like to be “in the zone.”

It’s the basketball star who makes every shot. It’s the college student who is heads down studying for a big exam. They’re in a mental (and to some degree physical) state in which there is no challenge that they cannot overcome.

Think about how you feel when you’re approached with a task that you have no hesitation taking on. Our knowledge and skills lead to greater confidence and focus in what we’re doing.

It feels good, right?

It likely leads to better results, too. When we’ve successfully completed a task, we feel personally engaged and fulfilled.

Achieving this level of engagement is often difficult. We may lack confidence: it’s a well-demonstrated paradox that the more we know about something, the more we appreciate and even fear the limits of our knowledge. It could be hard to focus: distractions are as close as the phone in your hand, as varied as the notification sounds made by your apps and the subject lines of urgent incoming emails.

Without confidence and focus, we disengage and lose that connection needed to succeed.

This lack of the empowering connection that’s often called “flow” has a real, measurable impact on the way we work.

The Importance of Flow

A recent Gallup poll found 71 percent of Americans are disengaged at work; the average American reports spending a mere five percent of their working time in “flow.” If today’s workplaces could increase this to even just 15 percent, my calculations show overall productivity could increase by up to 43 percent – the equivalent of having 14 productive people for every 10 current employees.

Flow in the workplace isn’t magic; it’s science.

Studies show employees perform optimally when they:

  • Know what to do
  • Know how to do it
  • Know if they’re doing well
  • Are challenged
  • Have high perceived skills
  • Are free from distraction

The consistent theme among these components is connection – to role, intellect and work output.

A connection-poor world is the enemy of the modern worker’s effort to get in, and stay in, the zone. Distractions and fragmented, often redundant processes kill employee engagement and productivity.

For today’s Information Worker, technology plays a foundational role in how employees are encouraged and enabled to connect, engage and optimize their work.

This should be old news – but it’s not.

Twenty years ago, sending an email was a time-intensive act. Computers lived on Local Area Networks and “going online” was an event focused on satisfying a specific need. We accepted lumpy work products (today known as documents) rather than technology-enabled dialogue. Connection-poor enterprise technology gave rise to silos of data and code.

These “technology artifacts” prompted decades of costly, complex and often brittle connection among internal departments and external stakeholders.

The Next Step Forward

To truly enable connection, technology must model conversation.

Antiquated enterprise workflows of document baton-passing and laborious emails are the equivalent of being with your spouse, writing talking points on Post-It notes and passing them back and forth. “Conversation technologies,” mirroring the nuanced, intuitive ways that humans routinely interact, maximize connection to our work and to each other – and at the core of conversations are people, problems and processes.

To visualize our journey from point solutions to comprehensive collaboration platforms, think of a hunting knife.

It’s picked up to solve a particular problem, then put back down – a short term solution. If it’s the only tool you have, moreover, you may find a way to use it for almost anything, from slicing and stabbing to prying or even pounding with the handle. This is the technology equivalent of a spreadsheet, the error-ridden stopgap of collaboration.

The next step forward would be a fixed combination of tools, like a car escape tool that combines a seatbelt-slicing blade (poorly suited to any other purpose) along with a window-breaking hammer. This is the equivalent of many a packaged application, with a combination of capability that reflects a task-specific point of view and with limited customizability or extensibility.

Continuing the evolution would lead to something like an Ultimate Swiss Army Knife, whose claim to fame is the number of things it does but which does nothing exceptionally well. Indeed, its sheer mass is perhaps its greatest defect. In technology, you may know this as the legacy enterprise software stack.

To empower connection, emulate conversation and allow for seamless evolution and iteration, modern engaged workplaces must adopt platform technologies that are designed to empower your business to build the tool you need, when you need it.

Peter Coffee Salesforce

Platforms enable businesses to fix a problem or optimize a business process in a way that meets their unique specifications, rather than search within pre-defined boundaries and limitations of technology artifacts.

Today’s platforms are solution launching pads with fast, secure, simple tools that allow digital businesses to evolve and solve problems quickly, simply and without irrelevant complexity. Integrations among such platforms accelerate productivity, eliminate bottom-line killing distractions and allow modern workers to engage on the work that really matters – making “optimal flow” the ultimate competitive advantage.



Peter Coffee

Peter Coffee is the VP for Strategic Research at Salesforce. He interacts with IT managers, software developers and policymakers in the global community to learn more about their requirements and promote broader understanding of the capabilities of cloud computing in creating and building Customer Companies. Follow him on Twitter @petercoffee.

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