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How Unified Communications Drive Productivity
Not so very long ago, business communications were much simpler. Phone messages were recorded on one machine, and hard-copy documents sat nicely in a physical inbox, awaiting review and filing. It was simple; it was also devastatingly slow.
It's no small wonder that the business world leaped for joy when email came onto the scene. After that, mobile phones made life even easier; then instant messaging; then video conferencing; then texting; then Twitter.
But with all of this communications innovation came a new challenge: These myriad systems may help messages instantaneously reach recipients any time and in any place, but each communication thread is then hidden within multiple email chains, text logs or voicemails. Rifling through them for needed information can suck up significant amounts of time.
That puts humans into a role not unlike middleware software, taking each piece of communication from one platform and translating it, filing it, or cobbling it together with another. Talk about inefficiency. A 2012�McKinsey Global Institute study�found the average knowledge worker already spends nearly a third of their time on emails alone -- or�73 days every year.
"Time is the most valuable commodity in business," said Howard Lichtman, communications consultant and founder of the�Human Productivity Lab. "The only way you can buy time is to make your employees more efficient and productive."
All communication in one place
Companies are finding an answer to the efficiency issue though unified communications-that is, platforms that integrate all communication methods, as well as documents and other data, into one interface.
"It's not that anything will cease to exist; they just get pulled into the same stream," said Rob Halsey, senior vice president at Unify. "The promise of unified communications is that it will pull the systems together so you can work the way you like to work."
This means all the conversations that pass between two people are easier to find, and that knowledge is therefore easier to retain. For workers trying to reach someone using unified communications, connecting is easier, as well.
"If my colleague is out of the office, I have the ability to reach him from a single number," said Lichtman. "His office phone is his home phone, which is his mobile. I'm going to be able to reach him wherever he is."
And if Lichtman were to reach that colleague via phone and decide the conversation would be better face-to-face or with a screen share, unified communications platforms allow for that, too. "All I have to do is click," he said.
Benefits of unified platforms
How do employers benefit when their employees can extricate themselves from the gaps between their communications technologies?
First, there are the cumulative gains made by many more efficient employees.
"The difference between someone getting an answer in five minutes versus two or three days can mean a difference between winning and losing a deal, or finishing a project or a production run," said Lichtman.
Simplicity is also a benefit of having all communications housed in one platform. The ease of having one unified communications vendor takes a burden off technology management. And with just one system to learn, employee on-boarding is also streamlined.
The future of unified communications
While today's unified communications technology has provided significant benefits for businesses on a global level, it's just the first iteration of new communications technologies, said Halsey. Next up: a more finely tuned generation of unified communications platforms geared toward user experience.
"Very few people have realized the value of unified communications, and I think we're at the cusp of that realization," he said. "This will be the next step."
On a deeper level, it's not just communications tools that will be overhauled by the unified communications of today and tomorrow, but also, Halsey said, the very way we think about work.
"I've got employees who think that work is [measured in] how many emails they sent out," he said. "This will help shift the feeling of accomplishment from being centered on these micro-transactions to measuring ourselves other ways. It's going to force us all to re-evaluate what work actually is."
The possibility of such a future means unified communications has the potential to do even more than remove people from the "middleware" role that has so many workers still shuttling information from one system to the next. It could also remove them from the role of busy-worker and into the full-time job of idea developer -- a role most companies would agree is far more valuable than sifting through emails 73 days a year.
A former downtown development professional, Natalie Burg is a freelancer who writes about growth, entrepreneurialism and innovation.
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