Much has been made of the business benefits of Unified Communications (UC) such as increasing collaboration, optimising workflows and increasing productivity. At the core of any UC solution lies Rich Presence Technology and Real Time Communication which form the basis for almost all modern business phone systems. Features such as presence, instant messaging, location information, and customer status messages etc., have become standard features as SIP & UC adoption continues to gain momentum. As these platforms are focused on real time communications, presence information has become essential to business communications.
But is there a downside to having access to all this presence related functionality? And if so, just how much of a downside is it? In other words, just how distracting can the very tools that promote collaboration, productivity etc actually be?
Thankfully, a recent survey conducted over in the United States by telecoms review website software advice covers exactly this topic and they have been kind enough to share their findings with us and to save you reading through all 13 pages of the survey results and analysis, we have done our best to summarise the key points for you here.
In order to put the survey results into context, the survey was conducted randomly and independently of any telecoms equipment or software vendor. Moreover, when investigating the pros and cons of Presence Tech, the benchmark was for employees with a presence status set to “available” in order to eliminate status as an influencing factor.
Effect of Presence Technology on Productivity Levels
First and foremost, the key findings in the report serve to further illustrate that the presence and chat features that are core to any UC strategy do serve to not only maintain but also increase productivity levels. 47 % of the respondents stated that they have enjoyed either “moderate” or “significant” increases compared to a total of only twenty one percent experiencing any form of decrease in productivity levels , with a meagre 5 % experiencing either moderate and significant decreases while the remainder of the survey reportedly experienced no change.
Impact of Presence on Distraction Levels
Considering that the technology in question often involves notifications in graphical pop up form and / or alert sounds, it is hardly surprising that a fifty one percent majority reported that they find instant messaging tools “minimally distracting”. But isn’t that sort of the point of real time communications? What good would instant messaging be without such notifications making users aware that they have received a new message? Or as Bern Elliot, research vice president at Gartner puts it:
Collaboration is interruption: If you didn’t have to work with others, you could get right down to work, but part of work is coordinating with others, and it takes extra effort and time for that coordination to take place.
More interesting is that almost one third (30%) of the survey responded that they do not find using presence tools in any way distracting, leaving 19 percent reporting that they find the technology distracting of which only one percentage reported that the tools are very distracting.
How can Presence be Distracting?
As 19 % of the survey reported that presence can be distracting it is important to understand how and why presence could be distracting. While the report does not specifically quote any direct causes, it does highlight a few potential areas where distractions could possibly stem from.
Incorrect or infrequent use of Presence Status.
Not updating your status frequently enough or turning it off completely will of course impact productivity.
Inappropriate use of chat technologies.
Without proper guidelines in place, people may misuse the technology
Not paying enough consideration to message content
Remember with IMs once its sent it is difficult to edit due to the real time nature of the communication channel
Receiving messages unrelated to work.
This is a risk of using a free Over-The-Top (OTT) instant messaging / communications platform.
As with most technologies, when they are being used inside any business environment, it is always good practice to implement and follow certain guidelines in order to enjoy maximum benefit. How you come upon those guidelines will invariably be determine by which aspects of presence information will yield the maximum gain in terms of operational benefits, which will be the subject of a future post.
By following these guidelines, most of these distractions can be avoided or at least kept to an absolute minimum. In doing so, businesses will be able to use presence technologies to really deliver productivity boosts - and here’s some examples of how.
How Presence Technology Increases Productivity
Moving on to the real purpose of the report, software advice delve deeper into what Presence Technology can actually deliver in terms of productivity benefits. It is important to remember here that these results are based on only those users with an “available” presence status so as to exclude any other influencing variables. Top of the list is that fact that using an “available” presence status resulted in employees receiving fewer e-mails and phone calls allowing them to focus on their work. This is of course great if you are not a member of a team or are a very independent worker as this will drastically improve productivity levels.
However, in today’s modern business environment companies are becoming increasingly reliant on team work and collaboration. Therefore, the fact that by using presence information companies can achieve significant benefits in terms of boosting working in teams, greatly speeding up answer times and facilitating more spur of the moment on the fly collaboration further demonstrates that companies can benefit greatly.
Another hot topic currently affecting the modern business environment is telecommuting / remote working. Once again, using presence can help here too. In fact, 57% of the survey respondents mentioned that improving remote communication would be their top productivity increasing benefit of using presence technology.
By adopting presence technologies and adhering to a set of best practices, businesses can and do leverage the technology to their advantage and gain considerable productivity benefits. What’s more is that by implementing and sticking to these best practices, distractions can be kept to an absolute minimum and collaboration given a significant boost which in turn serves to greatly improve a business' operational performance.