Three Digital Transformation Pillars Required for an Efficient Remote Workforce

The way we work is changing rapidly. People and devices are craving our attention every moment of our day. If left unchecked this development has the potential to lead to an enormous drop in productivity perpetrated by the very same tools that claim to increase it. Luckily, there are ways to tackle the issues and to make yourself more productive with less stress, and help ensure you have an efficient remote workforce.

Current Working Environment

The current workplace is ever-changing. In 2020, the world was forced to shut itself in, to guard against a pandemic and the new normal of remote working became a reality. Some companies were prepared, and some struggled to make a quick transition. The ones that struggled probably realized they were not as prepared to scale up a flexible workplace as they thought they were. 

Ultimately, a flexible workplace strategy ensures the efficiency and productivity of a team, no matter where they are. Many companies are facing an urgent new reality that requires a flexible working environment. The smart organizations will be prepared. They will learn and then future proof their business by enabling secure access to documents and information while minimizing risk.

At the same time, we are going through this massive change we call Digital Transformation that is supposed to help ensure an efficient remote workforce. But are we doing anything other than adding more systems to the already cluttered workspace?

Digital Transformation

To better understand the challenges we face with transformation, we must first look at what it means to businesses. The term DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION is being used widely to describe the transition from the old way of working to something completely new, but people seem to have very different views on what it entails and where on that journey their company is at the moment. There is also a wide misconception that this transformation is something that is done once and can then be forgotten. In fact, only 7% of companies say they have fully implemented their digital transformations.

On top of these there are Systems of Intelligence and Systems of Innovation, but here we will concentrate on the first three. 

All of them play their own role in transformation, but their effects vary and the advantages they provide are usually quite different. All of these systems need to be flexible to be able to change with the ways we work, they need to be integrated into a plethora of other systems, and they must be so easy to use that a toddler can install them in an afternoon. No wonder a lot of companies are feeling overwhelmed when dealing with the different choices at hand.

Systems Of Record

All data is not created equal. Different data serves different purposes. Some data requires very rigid control throughout its lifecycle but adds complexity and makes work more cumbersome. Some data is only for compiling information for records, or its lifecycle is so short that building massive control over it defeats the purpose and hinders productivity. But that material too does exist and is important, so any system in today’s workplace should deal with both scenarios.

For all the official material that requires process automation and strict access control throughout its lifecycle, we call the place of storage the system of record. This is the ground level or the first tier of the transformation. This has been the first on many companies’ task lists for many reasons.

Systems of record make sure that all the important information gathered has a dedicated, easily identifiable, and proven place where it can be found according to the company’s governance practices.

There are certain legislative reasons, industry regulations and business needs, like audits, that require a company to have a proper system of record for their information. And because there is often a legal requirement, there are very few businesses that have not addressed this issue already. That is not to say that we are all done and dusted here, just that this is the part that is already being addressed by most companies. And if you are not, you better get cracking.

Systems Of Differentiation

The second tier of transformation is described by Gartner as Process Centric Systems. These would include systems that manage things like workflows and people’s ability to access information in the different stages of the document lifecycle. This is the second tier of digital transformation. The second tier is something that aids and sometimes directs the way people interact with information. 

This tier is something that a lot more companies have started to tackle. Whereas people and the ways of working are becoming ever more dynamic, it becomes more important for the systems in place to ensure that certain structural elements are kept in place. This might remind a customer to sign a contract or grant people permissions to an SOP after it is gone through an approval process. Once the systems of record are in place, it is not hard to see the advantages of these additional systems that put process around the chaos normally found in places like people’s inboxes. If, for example, the status of a project, and all the information within it is up to date, easily visible and actionable, this means direct savings and improvements in efficiency for any company. It is easily measurable, it’s visible, and it’s a no-brainer. 

But somebody still must use these systems. A lot of steps are automated nowadays, but nevertheless there is always some level of interaction between the user and the information. For the different ways of interaction and why this truly matters, we should take a remarkably close look at systems of engagement.

Systems Of Engagement & Modes Of Working

For many businesses, all improvements are measured by a financial metric. If you can’t find one, or if the effect is indirect, it is very likely that the project and improvement will not make it past the drawing board and budgets allocated to things that might have a more measurable effect, even if the impact is smaller.

This is not to say that there are no effects in changing the ways we interact with our systems. There are and they should very much be considered. Do I need to switch my focus from application to application, or can I find it in the context that I am already working in? Am I constantly distracted with something or can I focus? Or in the case of collaboration, do I have my entire team at my fingertips, or do I constantly go creating yet another mailing list? The effects, while not possibly direct, will have a big impact on the bottom line after the two prior levels have been optimised.

We live in the age of distraction. Each one of us carries a computer in our pockets and by far the most lucrative thing an app developer can do today is create a mechanism that makes you put everything else on hold to go for that coveted fix of social interaction. The likes, the comments, the attention. We have become so accustomed to it, that when these same patterns emerged in our working lives, we welcomed them with open arms in the name of availability and productivity. This is ironic, since research on the topic suggests that people, especially those who pride themselves on their multitasking abilities, seem to perform worse in cognitive tasks with these distractions present, even in multitasking.3 Notifications from e-mails and phone applications, that one meeting to talk about the next meeting, your colleague tapping on your shoulder to get on that TPS report. Our workplaces have become a recipe for distraction because that is how we built them.

Just like data, all work is not the same and we should embrace that. For convenience, you can divide the different types of work into three categories. Surely there are more when you look deeper, but for now we can use the division of COLLABORATION, DEEP WORK and DEEP COLLABORATION. We’ll take a look at each of these next.

Collaboration

This is the new norm. I mean it is not, but it’s being talked about like we as a species just realized what it means to collaborate. Marketing forces would tell you that the tools in this category have a potential that is almost unlimited if you just implement one of these new applications. Slack and Teams are the two biggest players in this field currently. 

The applications themselves are certainly useful. The way we’re implementing them, however, is not. Since many of these tools are free or inexpensive to use, and the way we use them is familiar to the people who are used to a plethora of messaging applications, they are put into use in corporations around the world with very little thought into how they are being implemented. 

The issue is also that these types of tools are more of a platform than a single purpose tool that only have a single way of using them. So, you have numerous ways of configuring them. Do you arrange everything by department, project, customer, or function? Or do you let people create channels and teams as they wish and hope that nature finds a way. What this usually leads to is a mixed bag of discussions that create similar information silos we were used to in the age of file folders. So even with more free form tools, it is especially important that things are done in a consistent way throughout the company for optimized collaboration.

For collaboration work, your tools should allow you to have everything at hand. Your discussions, your meetings, your data — all should be context-aware so that when people decide to spend time on the same task, at the same time, they are able to utilize all the information available to them in the same space while focusing attention on the task at hand — with fewer distractions in finding documents, trying to locate project information or the people in your team.

Deep Work

Deep work is what knowledge workers used to do all the time. Deep work, or as I like to call it, work. You know, the things you get to do between meetings that move your business forward and create revenue.

For this deep work, your information management application and other software needs to support you in a way that lets you focus on a single thing for at least 45 minutes without constantly reminding you that you’re not contributing to someone’s discussion thread or virtual drawing board. 

The current state of deep work is sad for two reasons. We know what distractions do to us. The effect is not only the time it takes us to complete the other task. It is also the interruption lag it takes us to start doing the secondary task, and the resumption lag of resuming to the first task. Also, it seems that the amount of errors increases the faster you try to resume to the original task from the distraction. So sometimes it really is better to have no distractions at all.

The actual need for deep work has not gone anywhere, but the time dedicated to that has shrunk into a fraction of what it used to be.

Deep Collaboration

There is one more form of work, that from our standpoint, can be seen almost as a subsection of deep work. This form of work means working tightly together with people but in a manner that allows people to control the pace and intensity by themselves. There are several ways of working that could be categorized here, but by far the biggest one is email.

Email has been the standard way we communicate in business for decades. It is an amazing tool for two reasons. It allows us to work remotely and still send messages all over the world in a matter of seconds. And it allows us to contribute at the pace we want, however much we want. We can prepare our documents and materials to get the best out of them and review our message as many times as we wish before hitting send. We are in control. 

There is a disturbing trend though. Most email applications would very much like you to receive desktop notifications on all incoming messages. This sort of a blanket rule that displays a message for each email always distracts you from what you are doing and stops your train of thought. Why is it that I cannot receive notifications from specific senders, or messages of certain importance, or threads that I select to follow? I understand that for certain job descriptions this feature is a must-have, but for many workers I would wholeheartedly suggest switching it off. 

I know this makes me sound like an old man yelling at progress. But all in all, business has really mastered the art of email in a way that we are only learning to do with instant messaging. With time, I am sure we will get there with the modern collaboration tools as well.

Information Management For An Efficient Remote Workforce

Here at M-Files, our objective has always been to be the best at what we do and let other software do the parts they excel at. There’s little advantage for us to start developing our own spreadsheet application for example. This way we can concentrate on giving people the information they need when they need it. M-Files makes sure that you are supported throughout your Digital Transformation journey, no matter what phase you are in currently. 

ON THE FIRST LEVEL, for your Systems of Record, M-Files makes sure that all the data you have in different repositories is managed the way you want it to be. If it just needs to be searchable, just add your network folders as an external repository and let the M-Files’ search engine index the documents, allowing you to find them instantly. For more process-oriented data, you can either create documents or store existing ones in M-Files. Or you can simply add metadata to the documents in your external repositories. This gives you access to the many other features the M-Files platform provides your organization for the second step of the transformation.

FOR THE SECOND STEP, M-Files provides a huge amount of functionality for any organization to organize and process their data. Starting from the very core features such as permission control that ensures people in certain positions only gain access intended for them. Or features that are used to drive the business, like workflows that make sure the correct people are notified when actions are required from them. eSignatures, reporting and integrations to CRM’s are just a small example of how you can start to get more out of the investment. The system can be expanded through our APIs to integrate with other solutions and bring additional connectivity to those systems to make sure that no information is siloed, and all is available in your decision-making processes.

The different modes of working can all be supported through different end-user applications and integrations to meet the user where they currently need to be, rather than forcing the user to switch locations and search for the same information in a new context. 

IN A COLLABORATIVE SETTING, M-Files offers the M-Files for Microsoft Teams add-in. The ability to access information directly from the context of the channels you’re in, keeps you in the collaborative mindset while you instantly access documentation without having to open another application or go do yet another search query. If your life revolves around Outlook and it’s all about well thought out replies, email chains, and attachments from your systems of record, the Advanced Outlook Integration allows you to manage all your information without even leaving Outlook. Live inside Outlook but still gain access to all the information you need in an instant. Save your discussions into M-Files as records for audits and make sure you never send an outdated version of a document as an attachment. For deep work, take advantage of the full feature set of the M-Files desktop application. Connect to your data from wherever you are, and fully dive into the task at hand and immerse yourself in productive work with absolutely no distractions from the outside world. For more information on how we can help your organisation achieve an efficient remote workforce please email: peter@documentmanagementsoftware.com.au or visit www.documentmanagementsoftware.com.au


Peter Ellyard

Having spent over 20 years immersed in the document management software industry I have found that by offering a simple to use, highly effective electronic document management solution (knowledge management software) we increase productivity dramatically. Typically by an hour per person, per day! This is not rocket science, just a simple way to streamline your day to day information needs.