The cases of Fred and Judy.
Consider Fred and Judy – two employees, undertaking similar tasks, in two very different organizations.
Fred works for a company that uses traditional office productivity tools, like email, shared network drives, and USB sticks.
Judy works for a modern, visionary company that uses a newer and more hip technology called social intranet software.
Let’s follow Fred and Judy through a slice of their workday, one with and one without intranet software.
Fred arrives at work at 6 a.m. on Tuesday to complete a few pressing tasks. He fell behind on
Monday because, like many workers, he spent about 28% of his time managing email  and another 37%
in meetings . Normally, he would have worked Monday evening to make up for lost productivity during
“normal” business hours, but his son had a sporting event.
This early in the morning, he settles with minimal distractions. Before beginning productive work,
he checks email. Many of the emails in his inbox are teammates’ responses to one message, but Fred must
open and read each one to ensure he does not miss important information. So, Fred spends several minutes
reading the same email several times. He sees a note from one of his teammates, Barney, which requires
a quick response.
It is 6:15 a.m. now, and with email done, Fred begins productive work. He opens several documents that
are located across his laptop’s hard drive, shared network drives, and email attachments. About five minutes
in, just as he is fully immersing himself productively, his computer ‘dings.’ A small window fades in and then
fades out of the bottom right-hand corner of his computer screen. The window appears long enough for him to see
that it is Barney’s reply to the email he sent just seven minutes before.
Hoping simply to confirm information, Fred finds his email application and opens the message. Like
70% of workers, Fred usually reacts to receiving an email within six seconds . Rather than confirmation,
however, Barney has asked for clarification on an issue. This requires Fred to retrieve a USB drive, insert
it into his laptop in order to open a document, refer to page 54 (or was it 57?), and then to reply to
This process is part of the 17 hours each week on average that workers spend clarifying
communications. For companies with 100 employees, this translates into an annual cost of $528,443 in
lost productivity .
By the time Fred responds to Barney, he has lost focus on his other task. He tries to refocus on productive
work, a process that takes him, like the average worker, about 64 seconds . Fred finally resumes, but then
his computer ‘dings’ again. The window fades in and fades out. A response from Barney. Fred sees that the email’s
first line is merely “ok,” but he does not know if Barney wrote anything else, perhaps additional questions. Now
that Fred is distracted anyway, he might as well open the email. Nothing else from Barney.
Frustrated, Fred walks to the break room for a cup of coffee before resuming. On the way, he encounters
Patti. He smiles, nods, and just when he thinks he is clear, Patti calls him back. Fred stops, turns slowly,
and smiles pleasantly at Patti.
Patti asks Fred if he saw yesterday’s announcement about the change to the
timesheet submission process. Fred acknowledges that he did. Unsolicited, Patti expresses her irritation
about why things have to change. Clearly, like 71% of workers, Patti feels that management has not adequately
communicated and explained the reasons, plan, and goals for the change . “I don’t know,” says Fred, as
he walks back to his desk frustrated.
Coffee in hand, just steps from home base (that is, cubical 73), Fred encounters Wade. Wade, like 70% of
workers, is a disengaged employee . He arrives early not to work longer, but so that he can leave
sooner. Wade, like most actively disengaged employees, has turned the process of wasting an 8-hour workday
into an art form. This art form costs employers an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity
every year . Without even a good morning, Wade asks Fred if he saw the memo about the timesheets. Wade then
leans toward Fred, and in a slight whisper with a tinge of bitterness, confides that this is the last
straw. If they change timesheets, he will quit!
Fred duly expresses concern over this news, which Wade has threatened continuously for the past two
years. If Wade finally did resign in frustration, he would become one of the 23% of disengaged employees
who turn over each year, which could cost the company 213% of Wade’s salary .
Fred excuses himself from Wade. He has 45 minutes of the two hours left now before the unproductive
part of the workday begins. Studying the spreadsheets intently, he sees a column of numbers that appears
to be incorrect. In fact, he knows something is off, because he built a similar financial model just 6
months before. Someone used the wrong formula, but he cannot remember the correct one off the top of his
head. Fine, he will simply find the old document to reference. The folder for the old project is located
on Fred’s computer hard drive and consists of hundreds of documents, including 17 different versions of
the spreadsheet he needs. He does not know whether these are all of the versions created for the project
or which ones were and still are correct.
He remembers that the version he needs was created by… that guy in finance, short guy, red hair… what
was his name? None of the document authors’ names ring a bell, although he thinks Jim is the right
guy. He should find Jim’s contact information, but Fred’s company has no efficient way to do this. There
is no company directory. There is no internal web page for finance. He could use the company’s email
directory, but he winces when estimating that it could take just as long, if not longer, than asking
Wade. Hesitantly, Fred walks to Wade’s cubical. Wade is a disengaged employee, so he is never in his
cubical. Fred finally finds Wade in the copy room, shredding fax spam. He asks if Wade remembers
Jim’s contact information. Wade remembers hardly anything at all about the project, since he
barely worked on it.
Defeated, Fred walks to the finance department on the second floor. He finally finds Jim, gets
the information he needs, and returns to his cubical to find a voicemail. He listens to the
voicemail, which is from a new customer, and forwards it to the appropriate person.
Just as he opens Jim’s reference spreadsheet that he spent 30 minutes locating so that he
can fix a simple error, his computer ‘dings.’ A pop-up window reminds him that the team meeting
to clarify the timesheet process will begin in 15 minutes.
Judy arrives at work at 9 a.m., organic
carrot juice in hand. She boots her laptop
and settles into the workday. Her first task
is to review the day’s agenda and check on any updates to each of her three
projects. Her company eliminated email a year ago and replaced it with
social intranet software. So rather than opening two or three different
applications, she simply signs in to one via a web browser.
Judy’s home page on the intranet is customized to her preferences. In
addition to an activity stream, she can view her calendar, events, and contacts.
Her task list and files are just a click away. All updates from each of her three
workgroups are displayed on a single page that looks like an uncluttered
Facebook activity feed.
Rather than seeing five emails in her inbox on a schedule change for one group,
she sees a top-level post announcing the change and then four responses from
teammates nested neatly beneath it. She knows she has not missed any
critical information around this update. To acknowledge the change, Judy
simply clicks the “Like” button, which signifies to the entire team that she has
seen the updated schedule and has no issues. She answers a question from
one of her teammates by typing a sentence inside a blank box and then hitting
“Enter” on her keyboard. Now everyone in the workgroup can see her answer in
their activity feed, when they next check it.
She also notices a new corporate announcement on a change to the timesheet process. She opens the announcement, reads it, and can see some employees
found parts of the announcement vague or confusing. So they replied directly
to the announcement, like you would respond to someone’s status update on
LinkedIn. The department manager and a corporate communications specialist
then replied directly to each employee’s questions in the same thread. Now
other employees who have the same questions can see the answers. Someone
suggested a slight tweak to the process, which will make it even more efficient.
The manager replied that the recommendation will be considered.
In just a few minutes and using only one application, Judy is fully updated
on each workgroup, informed about the timesheet process, and has
efficiently communicated to everyone in one of her workgroups.
She is ready to start productive work. Her first task is to review a financial model
in a spreadsheet. She goes to the workgroup’s page on the intranet. The most
recent version of the spreadsheet, like all of the team’s collaborative documents,
is posted there. She opens the spreadsheet and begins reviewing. She notices
that numbers in one of the columns are not right and realizes that this is due to
an incorrect formula. She encountered a similar problem on a different project
13 months ago.
So she goes back to the old project’s site to reference the spreadsheet. The
old project site is easy for her find, as are all 17 versions of the spreadsheet
associated with it. She cannot remember which version was correct, but she
remembers that a guy from finance created the correct version. She cannot
remember his name. No worries: She easily identifies all teammates from
finance using the workgroup’s team member list. Ah, yes, James, the brown
haired, blue eyed guy. She identifies him first by his picture and then gets his
contact information from right below his avatar.
Judy calls James on the phone and asks which version of the spreadsheet is
correct. James cannot remember off the top of his head, but he knows he can
find the answer quickly. So he stays on the phone with Judy as he navigates
to the workgroup site and finds the three versions he posted. He tells Judy that it appears to be version 12. Judy opens version 12 on her computer, confirms
the correct formula is there, and then hangs up with James. She corrects the
formula, completing her review, and posts an updated version to the workgroup
site. Immediately, every other team member in the workgroup can see that
Judy has completed the task.
The next task on Judy’s list is to prepare a tutorial for a new employee starting
tomorrow. The team has created a site that consists of useful documentation
for all new hires. Such a site saves everyone time. However, Judy forgets exactly
which tasks she needs to update. She glances at her contacts list on her home
page and sees that Caroline is signed on to instant messenger, but she is in
a meeting. So Judy pings Caroline to ask for clarification. Caroline sees Judy’s
question immediately. Several minutes later, when the call digresses off topic in
response to a question, Caroline replies to Judy via IM, and Judy is back to work.
After Judy finishes and posts the tutorial to the new hire site, she returns to her
home page. She sees that one of her new customers posted a question while
she was working on the tutorial. The customer signed in to the company’s
intranet from outside of the organization and posted the question in
a customer workgroup. One of Judy’s teammates saw the question while
checking his activity feed and posted an answer. Judy adds a concise comment
under her teammate’s reply, inviting the customer to contact them with any
It is 10:30 a.m., and Judy is on to her fourth task of the day.