Are Your Information Workers Really Working?

| By TMA World

Back in 1999, Peter Drucker said, “The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker.

Back in 1999, Peter Drucker said, “The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker.

The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers.”

Before you read any further, this post isn’t about technologies for checking up on your remote workers.  It’s about the inefficiencies in information/knowledge work that have nothing to do with the motivation or work ethic of your information workers.   

In the March 26, 2015 issue of DesignMind, Timothy Morey and Roberto Veronese say information workers need an industrial revolution. Their basic argument is that “Information workers waste an inordinate amount of time orchestrating work rather than doing work.” Those of us doing information work “spend our time looking for information and people, and then connecting and coordinating them to ensure that good decisions are made, or that other people can do their jobs.” Sad, but true!

Research of software companies like Doodle and Atlassian indicates:

  • Information workers spend about 2 hours a day looking for information
  • An average of 1.5 hours in meetings
  • Just under a hour per day scheduling meetings

According to McKinsey & Co:

  • We spend on average 2 hours a day sending and responding to email

Adding these tasks up comes to about 6.5 hours.

Morey and Veronese suggest – generously – that about half the time spent in meetings results in productive content rather than simply alignment.  This means that 50-60 percent of an information worker’s day is spent orchestrating work. 

Here are two areas of innovation that will drive us to the next level of information worker productivity?

Orchestrating Software

A primary job for the information worker is content-creation.  This typically involves connecting information in different forms, but we have to work within the constraints of specific software applications.  That can mean leaping from application to application to create or recreate content.  Instead, what the information worker needs is for “programs originally packaged in different applications [to] emerge into the content creation process . . . at the precise moment they are needed.” Microsoft enabled users to integrate a spreadsheet into PowerPoint and to work on it without switching to Excel.  Tiles in Windows somewhat reduces the need to jump from application to application.  With iOS8, Apple supported the integration of different functionalities from different applications into one application.

Knowledge Multipliers

Imagine this – a communication and collaboration tool that analyzes content and communication patterns to suggest who else in the firm is working on similar challenges. “Conference calls are transcribed and made searchable, together with shared documents, allowing the system to recognize patterns across the organization and offer insights.”  The company, Unify, has recently released Circuit with two knowledge multipliers: Thought Trails and Intelligent Spaces.  Such a tool will not just streamline the process of gathering and making sense of information, but will amplify the intellectual capacities of information workers in creating new content at speed and with high quality.

And so, the answer to the question “Are your information workers really working?” is “Probably not!” Most likely they are searching for information or orchestrating work, and it’s not their fault!