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Clandestine Productivity: When Tools and Workers Clash

By now, you’ve probably seen a fair amount of productivity tools, apps, and the like pass through your office. Maybe you’re responsible for bringing them into the mix, or maybe you’re switching trials and beta testing software at the whim of an eager leader. Regardless, steamroll a person with enough options and they’re bound to throw in the towel and revert to the status quo.

It’s known as choice overload, and it’s nothing new. But many organizations fail to realize the impact that attempting to integrate multiple productivity tools actually has on their usefulness — and more importantly, whether or not they’re going to get used at all.

The Fear of Letting Go

The unfortunate truth is that a lot of the time, it really doesn’t matter how truly amazing or innovative a productivity tool is. If a person is fine working the way they’ve always worked, with little to no motivation to change it up, they’re simply not going to adopt new stuff. It’s the ol’ “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke situation,” which more people subscribe to in practice than would ever admit it in the face of a shiny new service.

Take, for example, notebooks. An unnecessary tool by technological standards — why not just type directly into a cloud document, or your favorite task management system, right? — the notebook is still a gold standard in most offices, and is usually accompanied by the very tools that effectively replace it, like laptops and tablets. Despite its relative drawbacks, like potential chicken scratch, susceptibility to liquids, and lack of backup storage or shareability, notebooks remain a favorite and guarded work tool.

I could weed through thousands of self-help blogs to find some shred of scientific evidence pointing to exactly why people have such a hard time letting go of things (like notebooks), but I have a job, you know? Plus, it’s pretty self-evident: humans like comfort and familiarity. It’s that simple. The problem is that, while our team leaders and higher-ups are busy searching for productivity tools that will translate into profitable gains, many of us are unwilling to make use of them at all, let alone to their full potential. And that’s an issue that’s directly related to things like proper training, proven benefits, and demonstration by leadership.

But We’re Still Being Productive (It’s Just Behind Your Backs)

…and on our own terms. According to this piece by CIO, “a new report from Microsoft finds that while executives are wary of social tools, they are what employees want — and are often already using whether IT knows it or not.” It goes on to say that 40 percent of employees don’t think their offices foster collaboration effectively, and social tools like Facebook and Yammer give them a space to communicate with each other in real time.

It’s not that it’s unfounded for execs to be afraid of information leaks and potential productivity loss — I’d bet money that a social platform or two out there banks on the fact that I will click on a sponsored cupcake ad without thinking twice about it, even if I’m mid-email. But if a person is totally comfortable using a tool that the company at large doesn’t specifically encourage, chances are they’re going to use it. According to the report, which gathered information from nearly 10,000 information workers in 32 different countries, “34 percent of respondents say their company underestimates the benefits of social technology, and 37 percent say they could perform their jobs better if management backed the use of social tools.” This isn’t to say you should let people run amok on Pinterest, but weaving social into daily work practices is something companies should embrace — especially since their employees are doing it anyway.

Microsoft’s Adam Pisoni, who heads up the Yammer team, put it eloquently: “You can’t just turn it on and expect a cultural transformation,” he says. “It’s a journey of reinvention that requires a strategy and executive commitment and support.”

The Value of Enterprise Social Networking: It’s About Integration, Baby

Companies are reluctant to adopt ESNs because they present risk, and despite a recent Forrester report that predicts 42% of companies will put an ESN in place in the next three years, there’s still the fear of the unknown. But giving employees an instantaneous way to exchange information, communicate, and brainstorm means that productivity soars and efficiency reigns.

Organizations that adopt ESNs also give employees a space in which they can access the entire company sphere, which will inevitably result in the kind of productive, innovative space that leads to big ideas and even bigger returns.