A CIO's Guide to Increasing Workplace Productivity

Rohit Kilam, CTO, Aditya Birla Finance Aditya Birla Finance, an Aditya Birla Capital Company is a diversified financial services company in Mumbai offering end-to-end lending, financing and wealth management solutions to a diversified range of customers across the country.

All of us have too much to do and too little time to do it. As a CIO, I've often thought about ways, software, systems and processes that would help improve collective productivity of a team, and hence, an enterprise. I've been asked a lot about how I see this ‘improving workplace productivity’ problem and I thought this article would be a great way for me to put down a structure that can be followed by teams. In today’s world, it’s not just important to manage your own workload but to manage the collective one. To do that, it’s important to first understand the problem.

Problem 1: Collaboration is not normal. For the first quarter of our lives, we work upon tasks that are individualistic. Academics, applying for a job and many others are basically, almost anything of any consequence in our early years is individual centric tasks. Teamwork and collaboration are something that we are never prepared for in our formative years and so it doesn’t come naturally to us.

Problem 2: We expect teams to perform from the get-go. Our work lives are built upon a dynamic flow of endless interactions that are woven together via conversations and communication. Everyone has a fundamentally different way of communicating and any team, newly formed, needs some time to understand each other's expectations and context behind what’s being said.

Problem 3: Expectations are not clear. The last thing you want is for someone to start their day wondering what should they do first. The second last is making them guess the quality of work that is expected from them. Setting clear expectations has to be imbibed into the culture of your organisation and everyone; starting from the CEO to the new intern has to be party to it.

Problem 4: An office is not enough. Start-ups as well as large enterprises dedicate enormous amount of time on designing a great office/workplace. All of this forms a part of what I call ‘the Workplace Interface’. The location, view, furniture, availability of food; all of this is a part of ‘the Workplace Interface’. It’s important; but has no meaning in absence of ‘the Workplace Experience’. Experience is about the degree of automation and integrations you have in your systems. It is about the availability of relevant information and about enabling the people within your organisation with the right kind of arsenal (read tools) to take down their targets. As an example, ‘Workplace Experience’is ‘How easy is it for a person in doubt to find an answer?’ or, ‘How simple is it for a person to get context on a customer if he/she is joining in the middle?’ If we accept the above four problems, we can add the requisite buffer in our unreasonable expectations and allow for teams to perform under meaningful leadership. These are some
profound problems; and solutions to these problems vary vastly depending on the size and the industry of an organisation. Having said that, I believe answering following questions may help in building an actionable path to solution to these problems.

Teamwork and collaboration are something that we are never prepared for in our formative years and so it doesn’t come naturally to us

Question 1: When was the last time, as an organisation, you changed the way you communicate internally?
Significant bits of the first two problems can be traced to answering this question. It is known that a team or an organisation needs to overhaul the way they internally communicate when their team size hits a multiple of 3 and 10. It’s called the 3 and 10 rule. When you are alone, you know what you are doing, and why, but when you become 3, you have to share ideas, communicate and discuss. When you become 10, you need to add a layer to your communication and instead of setting expectations, you need to set time-lines and targets. When you become 30, you need additional set of processes to go alongside the communication because not everyone meets everybody else anymore and then 100, 300, 1000, bring their own challenges; so on and so forth. Everything in existence breaks roughly at the 3rd and 10th multiple including your accounting practices, payroll systems and everything else. Given this, it is meaningful to ask yourself, when was the last time you changed your internal communication. If you are 100 and still communicating like when you were 30, it’s basically like saying you are playing Ranji with the protection gear you had when you were playing on the bride's team at your sister’s wedding!

Question 2: How much is your team dependent on email?
Answering this question will give you insight on problems one three and four. A team is as good as the tools they use. If people in your organisation are using email to find relevant information or, are writing one line responses or, use it to keep everyone updated; it’s a sign. Let’s be honest, no-one likes emails, not even you. In my two-and-a-half decade long career, I’ve never come across a person who exclaimed, “Boy, this email thing is a life-saver!” An average person spends about 28 man-hours/month on find relevant information on email or trying to get updates on things he/she is working on. That’s three to four working days just looking for things that should’ve been readily available. To solve this precise issue, I signed up for this platform called Gridle. They bring together all forms of communication possible on internet today in one cloud based environment. They enable communication through tasks, files, chats and audio-video calls; within teams, around projects and on-the-go. I receive relevant updates through notifications and with a couple of taps, I can know where my teams are stuck. It also brings in the sense of accountability, clarity and makes sure every thing relevant is available at fingertips.

Question 3: Have you replaced the replaceable? Rather, how often do you do long-form meetings?
This question will help you figure out the ‘Workplace Experience’ for your teams at your organisation. Are all the internal systems you use integrated within themselves, so important updates can trigger relevant notifications? As an example, do your employees mail their reporting officers asking for leaves or there is a flow set-up in your HRMS that automates the process? Are your employees standing outside your cabin for your comments on a presentation they prepared, or, can they read those as comments on their desk itself in real-time? Do you set up meetings for updates that go-on for more than an hour? Do you have an assistant who sets up your calendar for you? Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Automation are important for your organisation since they take care of these menial jobs that take up productive hours from you and your employees. A way of finding the correct solution to replacing your menial jobs is to identify such workflows, make a list and look for an integral platform that can accommodate or facilitate those flows.

Concluding, if you make sure that people on your team stay on the same page, enable them to access the relevant information, automate the menial jobs and unify your communication; you will emerge as a change agent for the better. These things are hard to implement and even harder to follow. I’ve been doing the same for the past two years at my organisation and have been able to achieve 11-13 percent increased productivity. May not seem like a lot, but in context of over 1000 people, it has resulted in great savings as well as peace of mind.