Are digital tools helping us as much as we claim they are, though?

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Just a quick anecdote to open: a few months ago, I had someone Facebook Messenger me to go on Slack. When I got on Slack, he sent me something from Google Docs to work on. That’s three platforms in the span of about 47 seconds. Theoretically a Google link can be shared in Facebook Messenger, so we could have potentially eliminated one step there.

47 seconds and three steps doesn’t sound like a big deal, no. But over the course of a day, a week, a month, etc… I’d legitimately have to wonder how much time is wasted in offices by people bouncing around between various platforms. I’d assume it’s going to add up.

The №1 reason this happens, of course, is that both individuals and silos (departments) become comfortable with specific workflows and tools. They don’t want to break away from those tools. But sometimes they must do projects with other teams, and those teams prefer different tools. This is usually a 27 car pile-up. At my last full-time job, the tech stack guys/girls used one thing (probably Asana), and the marketing “gals” (referred to as such) used another thing (I think OneNote). Do these programs speak to each other? Sure. But bring human context into it (“Why are we using this, Jim?”) and it gets messy.

If you don’t believe me on people clinging to the tools they know, look at some stats around adoption of tech.

The №2 reason, I’d guess, is that people view themselves as insanely busy. Most of work is about “getting this thing done.” We claim it’s strategic but it’s not often really that. So if you’re super slammed and need to get something done, maybe you’ll message someone across three-four platforms just because it seems relatively natural within how busy you are.

This is the reason group chat apps are not as productive as we think, though.

It seems like this all is pointing in two directions.

Direction 1: Digital got to scale too quickly

There weren’t a lot of “set rules,” and it was impacting different ages at the same time. Easiest conceptualization: your grandmother on Facebook. Another one: how most people use LinkedIn (a complete mess featuring number puzzles and bikini shots and updates about your kid’s soccer game).

Digital getting to scale so quickly and everyone kinda using it in their own way created what we call “digital noise.”

Direction 2: Digital is now officially “more shit to manage”

Think of how many new platforms aiming to “fix a pain point” come out monthly. In each industry, it’s gotta be hundreds if not more.

The real reason is because spinning out a platform isn’t super expensive. If you have the skills and can bring people together on it, you can spin it out, get some clients, and maybe get bought. CHA-CHING. You just set up your life for 20 years because you conned a few people into thinking your software will make their teams more productive. Congrats.

But in an era where work stress is supposedly higher than ever and managers are stretched thinner than male jeans in Portland, aren’t all these platforms becoming more shit to manage? Isn’t that eventually going to counter-set the productivity?

“Well the notes are in Asana and the docs are in Google and we’re updating on Slack but we also have a management board with Trello and we use FB for Work during the day as well as a private LinkedIn group and some mindfulness tools and a few productivity boosters. All software, of course.”

That sounds ridiculous, but I’ve worked at 4–5 places where it’s completely true. To get everything done, you need to check 11 things per day. And people put stuff that relates to other stuff in different places, so it’s kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle to just do your fucking job.

What’s the solution?

I guess the easiest answer here is “focus on simplicity,” but that’s very hard in business. Each silo has their own leaders, check-writers, and personalities. They will buy the stuff that seems to work for them. It becomes a cacophony of competing platforms and confusion, but no one cares — they want to look good and “smart as a buyer” to their bosses.

Mary Barra, who runs GM, once talked about situations where “the simplest task at work becomes impossible.” I think we’re there in a lot of companies, and it’s largely because of the proliferation of digital.

One other answer here would be “have clear priorities and indicate a desire for reduced communication channels to make sure info flows smoothly,” but I mean… LOL that most companies could ever achieve that. Work isn’t about info flowing smoothly. It’s about protecting your perch.

If you read this, though, I’m curious to know: do you see work as a competing mix of platforms? Do you see digital as now just “more shit I need to manage?”

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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