Cooking Up Tools for How Teams Really Work

worker using phone app while working on white board

The next generation of work tools is going to look a lot more like a cloud-based app store than a traditional desktop.

We know from Gallup's recent meta-analysis of their employment engagement survey, that highly-engaged business units (or teams) have 21% greater profitability. The report highlighted a few key characteristics shared by engaged teams: low turnover, infrequent absenteeism, and a laser focus on customer outcomes.

But engaged teams don't happen by accident or by a once-a-year focus on performance. The Gallup report made it clear that the most engaged teams were found in companies where leadership made it a priority to provide employees – and teams – with the tools and support they need.

While organizations always know their org chart, they may not always understand the "real" teams ― the ones that get the work done. So this can make it difficult for leaders and managers to understand what these teams need to do their work effectively.

Instead of trying to accurately update the org chart, which is going to be fluid no matter what, it makes a lot more sense to offer teams the ability to design their own digital workspaces. That way, they can have whatever tools they need available easily and quickly. The next generation of work tools is going to look a lot more like a cloud-based app store than a traditional desktop.

Until now, our employer picked all our work tools. Software was loaded on our company-issued laptops. And, if someone needed something new to do their work, there was an elaborate approval and procurement process that could take weeks.

Over the past few years, we've seen a lot of tools move to the cloud so employees could access them from any device, anywhere, any time. This made teamwork a lot easier. We could instantly collaborate and communicate, because everyone was on the same page at the same time. No more trading work through email with elaborate version tracking that nobody ever got right.

But we were still limited to the tools our employer chose. Those decisions were big expenses and involved a long-term commitment, which meant everyone was stuck with the program until there was budget, patience and enough revolt to force a change. Moreover, the people who selected those programs often didn't know the details of how the work got done. It's like we were being asked to cook exotic dishes, but only got two pans, 10 ingredients, a little salt and pepper and maybe some vanilla.

What's coming is a bazaar of textures, flavors and spices so we can cook up whatever we want, any time we want it. It will be a profound shift in what's available, who decides what and how easy it is to start using something new.

Here are some of the changes coming in our access to tools and the ways we work as teams.

  • Choices will go beyond a specific vendor. We will have real choices about which tools we work — without being limited to a specific vendor's options or limitations. Many different types of software and apps will be available so we can find what we need and choose the tool we like best. Finally, we'll have a full spice cabinet.
  • All the available tools will work together. There will be a platform with lots of apps to choose from and we will never have to worry if the thing we want will work with the thing we have. It will just work. No more searching for the double boiler; it won't burn.
  • We can change tools without huge interruptions. Don't like your project management tool? (Does anybody?) Change it without having to wait for an implementation team to come. We can use the old one to finish work in progress, while we start projects on the new one. Want pesto instead of marinara for those noodles cooking? Go for it.
  • We can add tools as we need them. Often, when we start a project, we have a general sense of what's going to be needed. But something often comes up and we realize we need something we hadn't thought of. Until now, we needed approvals (especially if we were at or over budget). This required stopping what we were doing to explain what we had done so far, what we needed, why we needed it, and why it would be useful for others for the next five years in order to justify the investment. Now, we will be able to grab what we want from the app store, because it's included on the platform then keep on working. No more interviewing the chef while she's stirring. If she wants a different spoon, it's right there.
  • We can make our own tools. For pretty much the history of program development, only programmers could build tools. If we could imagine it, we still had to find a team of coders to understand what we wanted and then try to make that happen. But with new low-code development, anyone will be able to create an app or customize an existing app with easy-to-understand-and-use guidance. That new custom app will not only work, it will work with other things on the platform and be available to our teammates. Salted caramel brownies for everyone!

These are some of the ways we will be able to design our own digital workspaces for ourselves, our teams and our organizations. It will make it easier to work with each other ― and simply work! Just please hold the nutmeg.

To learn how these ideas apply to HR technology and what ADP is cooking up, read these articles by industry experts following ADP's 2019 Analyst Day: