Collaboration and the modern desktop

With 300 workstations and 200 acres of family-owned greenhouses, Nature Fresh Farms knows the importance of giving employees the technologies they need to do a good job. Automated packing lines and robotic case-stackers are obvious requirements for one of the largest independent greenhouse produce growers in Canada. The need for a modern desktop is less apparent, yet it’s the critical piece in maximizing productivity through improved collaboration.

“Collaboration is a big part of our corporation,” says Keith Bradley, IT Manager for Nature Fresh Farms. “With our head office in Leamington, Ontario, and a facility in Delta, Ohio, there’s a constant need for communication. It’s important to make people feel they’re all on the same team, even if they’re exchanging information with a colleague who is hundreds of kilometres away.”

Only two years ago, achieving that team spirit was hindered by workstations equipped with a variety of dated versions of Microsoft Office. People couldn’t communicate by text because not everyone had a company cell phone, sharing information was difficult, and group emails were problematic — especially when critical individuals were overlooked in a long chain of email addresses.

“When you’re emailing 18 or 20 people, it’s easy to make a mistake and leave someone off the list,” says Bradley.

Using Technology to Transform Teamwork
Today, with the switch to Microsoft 365, all key users have smartphones and Microsoft Teams brings people together in a shared workspace where it’s seamlessly easy to meet, chat and share files.

Keith Bradley
“Our midnight shift used to complain about missing out on important information,” recalls Bradley. “Now they arrive at work to find everything they need, all in one place. The onset of Microsoft Teams has allowed us to break down the barriers to communication. We’ve seen a real improvement in the time it takes to get information out to the edge of our company and then back to the core.”

Saving Time and Money
According to a recent Forrester report, there are significant savings of both time and money associated with improved collaboration offered through the modern desktop. With Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 Apps, users can collaborate on projects, and create and edit documents as seamlessly from their PCs as from their mobile devices. Sharing and coauthoring is simplified. Online meetings reduce the complexities of communicating across multiple time zones and cuts down on the costs associated with travel. OneDrive assures the latest features for file storage and sharing.

Based on surveys and interviews with users in workplaces that have adopted Microsoft’s modern desktop, Forrester found that all employees felt empowered to productively and innovatively do their jobs. Specifically, information workers saved 100 minutes per week due to improved collaboration and information sharing.

“The tightly integrated Microsoft 365 solutions enable these information workers to effectively and efficiently collaborate in real time, saving more than $6.3 million over the three years analyzed,” says the report. As well, first-line workers saved 140 minutes per week from better teamwork, communications and management of daily activities.

Additional savings result from the modern desktop’s self-service functionality. By managing their own password resets and application provisioning, and customizing their own work environments, employees can play an instrumental role in reducing calls to the help desk. Even more important from a collaboration standpoint, self- serve options keep everyone current and afford the best possible environment for working together.

Better Ways to Work Together
“Digital tools are driving the ways we do business,” says Mike Hicks, Chief Marketing Officer for Igloo, a Canadian SaaS company that recently partnered with Microsoft to offer out-of-the-box integrations with Microsoft 365 Apps. “Employees want access to all of their productivity tools in one secure place and they value collaboration-friendly platforms such as SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, and Teams.”

Igloo’s 2018 State of the Digital Workplace report demonstrates the extent to which workers prioritize unified communications. Gen Zers, in particular, are increasingly dissatisfied with company-provided communication tools and have no patience for time-consuming spreadsheet reports and antiquated approaches to task completion.

Like their millennial counterparts, Gen Zers are also very concerned with working remotely — a trend that, according to FlexJobs, has grown by 90 per cent in the past 10 years. “Work flexibility is one of the hallmarks of the digitally transformed workplace, but we’re not there yet,” notes Hicks. “There’s a problem when more than half the remote workers surveyed say they have missed important information because it was communicated in person at on-site meetings.”

Shifting to a cloud-enabled delivery model that increases the automation of IT processes is a critical step in satisfying modern worker requirements and bridging the gap between on-premise and remote workplaces. Improved access to collaborative technologies such as screen sharing, file sharing, video calling and virtual whiteboards further optimizes the virtual office experience. Smart task management applications and AI solutions promote communication and simplify collaboration by allowing all members of a team to work on the same files in real time, to see what others contribute, and to maintain version control. Shared virtual task lists keep everyone up to date on group projects, even when working across multiple time zones.

The modern desktop provides a unified user experience, yet there’s nothing unified about the way organizations go about implementing and deploying new technologies — a process that takes about 10 months according to a Gartner article tracing the top 10 digital technologies transforming how work gets done.

Some businesses leap right into digital transformation, motivated by the need for a reliable collaboration platform. Others delay, citing a variety of reasons for postponing the adoption of new technologies. Common concerns are that it will wipe out the current way of doing things, that retraining workers will eat up profits, and that the resulting headaches will outweigh the positive results. The pro side, of course, is that automating existing processes will streamline operations, save time and enhance collaboration, thereby improving worker satisfaction and boosting the bottom line. It will also encourage employees to work together by providing a new line of defence for cyber security.

“Businesses using outdated technology are sitting ducks,” says Microsoft’s Sean Kosticin, Product Marketing Manager, Modern Desktop & Threat Protection. “And when they have no reliable back-ups and no system to protect devices and data, employees are reluctant to share sensitive information using that insecure technology.”

According to Kosticin, something as simple and easy as upgrading the operating system on PCs can help improve an organization’s security posture and encourage collaboration. “Not only does Windows 10 help to address many of the issues that plague business owners across the country, but it also offers advanced security features such as Device Guard, which can lock down managed PCs so they only run trusted applications,” says Kosticin. “By providing this critical protection from ransomware and other viral threats, Windows 10 allows employees to work together, free from the fear of security vulnerabilities.

Next Generation Collaboration
Collaborative workspaces have come a long way since employees did their chatting around a water cooler. Although physical perks like espresso machines and ping-pong tables remain pillars of the connected millennial workplace, the greater attraction today, when it comes to working together, is the modern desktop.

Already a major fan of modern information technology, Keith Bradley saw the power of intuitive, cloud-based resources during a recent visit to Florida’s Epcot Centre with two of his sons. When a phone call from Nature Fresh Farms required a timely response, Bradley and his boys took a gentle boat tour called Living With the Land. While his sons learned about the future of farming, he worked from his phone with the same security, agility and access to files that he has on his laptop.

“That’s a wonderful example of just what’s possible with updated technologies,” says Kosticin. “Given the skills gap and the rapid pace of disruption, it’s especially important to give people the tools they require to work together, regardless of physical distance or type of device. For one thing, they’re more productive. For another, they’re happier. Make no mistake: moving to the modern desktop is as critical a journey as our earlier transition from the typewriter.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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