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Productivity Is About Optimising The Time Employees Spend At Work Rather Than Clocking More Hours, Says Derek Laney, Slack Technology Evangelist—APAC, Salesforce

AI and automation adoption can unlock substantial time, freeing employees to focus on deep work and higher-value tasks

Productivity Is About Optimising The Time Employees Spend At Work Rather Than Clocking More Hours, Says Derek Laney, Slack Technology Evangelist—APAC, Salesforce
Derek Laney, Slack technology evangelist for APAC at Salesforce
POSTED ON January 15, 2024 9:59 AM

Start-ups have been in the news for two reasons in recent months—trying to navigate the funding winter and layoffs. This has led them to tighten their belts and consciously look at the productivity of their workforce rather than just adding to their headcount. 

In pursuit of profitability, Derek Laney, Slack technology evangelist for APAC at Salesforce, believes that companies have started recognising that measuring productivity involves looking at output and outcomes, not the number of hours an employee sits at a desk. They are focused on empowering their workforce with technology that minimises the barriers to productivity that can emerge, such as clunky processes, repetitive tasks and time-consuming, unnecessary meetings. 

He tells Outlook Start-Up that this not only accelerates decision-making but also ensures that everyone is on the same page and that work gets done as efficiently as possible. Working in this way also encourages asynchronous communication and collaboration, so teammates can catch up and work together seamlessly across their other priorities and time zones at a time that suits them best.

Edited excerpts:

What is the best formula for start-ups to ascertain their productivity?

Constantly updating and refining the way we work together by leaning into individuals' unique strengths can have a transformative effect on productivity. Freeing employees from some of the traditional ways we have measured productivity, such as daily stand-ups, can also give them time to focus on more profound, creative, collaborative work, ultimately resulting in better outcomes.

Within Slack, there are so many ways the platform enables companies to embrace these new ways of working. Teams can centralise their discussions, share files seamlessly, and integrate essential tools by creating channels dedicated to specific projects. 

Slack Clips allows team members to share their inputs via audio or video anytime, right in the channel. Companies can further leverage features like Slack Connect to communicate and collaborate in the same way with external partners, fostering an ecosystem that enhances overall productivity.

In India, Slack asserts that personas like Problem Solvers and Expressionists drive technological transformation at work. Is this phenomenon exclusive to larger enterprises, or is it also prevalent in start-ups?

The workplace personas fuelling digital transformation aren't limited to big corporations—they exist in start-ups, too. Problem Solvers, with their ingenious work hacks, and tech-savvy Expressionists, known for visual communication, are particularly prevalent in India. 

Their blend of creativity, technical prowess and enthusiasm for new technologies mean they are known for being key drivers of tech innovation in companies of all sizes. For example, India stands at the forefront of AI adoption globally, and the study suggests Problem Solvers and Expressionists are driving this trend. Their influence extends throughout India's start-up ecosystem, vital in fueling tech adoption and innovation. 

Narayana Murthy suggested a 70-hour work week for Indians, particularly in the start-up industry. Can extended work hours truly enhance productivity in this sector?

Successful companies understand the need to adapt and change to optimise productivity. Embracing new ways of working is crucial, as revealed in Slack's State of Work 2023 report, where companies saved 4.9 hours per week by automating processes. 

Slack
Slack surveyed 15,000 employees, revealing five work personas: Detective, Road Warrior, Networker, Problem Solver, Expressionist.

AI and automation adoption can unlock substantial time, freeing employees to focus on deep work and higher-value tasks. For start-ups, it's about optimising the time employees are spending at work rather than clocking more hours. The solution for any company should be to use technology to empower employees to use their work hours more productivity, not to expect them to work for longer.

With some companies insisting on a return to the office, does remote work negatively impact productivity? 

The impact of remote work on productivity depends on how well organisations adapt, implement supportive policies, and utilise technology to facilitate communication and collaboration that supports employees regardless of location. Many companies are stuck in old ways of thinking about productivity. Part of the confusion comes from a growing schism between leaders and teams over how to properly define and measure productivity in today's environment. 

What data from India supports this notion?

Sixty per cent of executives are tracking activity metrics (e.g. hours worked, emails sent) among employees as a primary way of measuring productivity. There's a lot more to productivity than inputs alone. 

We need to take a more holistic approach and that includes enabling employees to experiment with tools and technology to drive better results. The State of Work 2023 report highlights the best ways employers in India can drive productivity, one of which is through flexible work schedules. 

It means being clear about the outcomes needed and flexible on how employees adjust how these are achieved. 

Is flexible work responsible for employee distraction, or are choices and weak workplace infrastructure to blame? 

The most productive employees we surveyed in our State of Work 2023 report are far more likely to automate their workflows than their less productive counterparts (65% versus 40%), driving a greater sense of well-being and more impact at work. Automation can handle mundane and repetitive tasks for employees, saving significant time and freeing them to focus on more profound, more complex, value-added work.

How can start-ups with lean teams design workflows to eliminate distractions and optimise employees' workdays?

On Slack, there are many ways to minimise those time-consuming tasks that take time in our workdays. From minimising context switching through app integration on the platform to setting up workflows that trigger actions as requests come in or tickets are raised. 

In terms of minimising distractions, the team culture has a big role to play here. Is there an expectation from management that messages are replied to quickly and that people are always available? Or are they permitting their employees to turn off notifications to carve out some time for focus work with a mutual understanding that they will get back to them a little later? This is the power of embracing asynchronous work—it allows employees the time to do more thoughtful, less reactive work and the space to innovate for the company. 

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