Two life hacks to boost business

Two simple life hacks that might apply to all kinds of situations, business, social life, even family life, emerge from a new study published in the International Journal of Organisational Design and Engineering.

The first is:

“Use face-to-face where possible instead of email and in long-distance collaboration use technologies such as desktop video conferencing”

The second is:

“Make each email count, only sending emails when needed and to whom who needs to know”

The life hacks emerge from a study of social networking in a team working in the high-tech industry carried out by Stori Lynn Hybbeneth of Cisco, in Englewood, Colorado, Dirk Brunnberg of Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany and Peter Gloor of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Their study revealed structural holes and bottlenecks, stress among overburdened individuals, and isolation among others. The resulting social networking analysis offers a new perspective on identifying the best network structures to allow people to work more effectively and increase their job satisfaction and is something of a blueprint for SNA-based organizational redesign and optimization, the researchers report.

Social network analysis (SNA) follows a longer tradition in social science and long predates, the modern phenomenon of online social networking with which most people are now familiar. In recent years, it has climbed down from the academic “ivory tower” and become a useful tool improving productivity and staff well-being in the workplace. “Research in the field of organizational science confirms that using teams and work groups as units of analysis for knowledge intensive work leads to profound insights,” Hybbeneth and colleagues say.

The researchers in carrying out an analysis of a month’s worth of communications at a high-tech company first made the assumptions that improved collaboration between teams will increase the ability to scale and improve efficiency as critical information is shared. They also took it as read that improved team collaboration between different teams will improve key metrics. Additionally, different collaboration tools were known to produce different levels of team cohesiveness and that some individuals are more central to the team than others with different types of collaborative ties creating different social networks.

“We found that it is really quality of communication that matters. Just spamming team members with information consumes valuable ‘information processing cycles’,” Hybbeneth and colleagues say. “The people in highest demand need to transfer some of their knowledge into more permanent repositories than email,” the researchers add. “While one can never share enough knowledge, it really matters how it is done, we envision a future where there is much more information pull than push.” However, they also recognize that this will require a paradigm shift in sharing behavior that has been the norm for at least the last two decades. Nevertheless, the researchers are convinced that companies, organizations and other collaborative groups that adopt their two life hacks – less email, more face-to-face – will see efficiency, productivity and well-being improve.

Hybbeneth, S.L., Brunnberg, D. and Gloor, P.A. (2014) ‘Increasing knowledge worker productivity through a ‘virtual mirror’ of the social network’, Int. J. Organisational Design and Engineering, Vol. 3, Nos. 3/4, pp.302–316.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.