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The rapid adoption of remote work in the face of COVID-19 quarantines has made it difficult to know if employees are running into productivity-inhibiting problems, especially as employees are separate from co-workers and help desks may be tied up. Industry observers said user experience management software -- like that offered by Knoa Software -- may help provide a window into worker struggles.
Brian Berns, CEO of Knoa, said companies can use the metrics garnered through user experience management software, which gathers user analytics to find issues, to determine if workers are engaged or facing technical or workflow hassles. This data, he said, is especially useful in the current situation, as IT professionals have been tied up with simply getting remote work up and running.
"All of us are challenged," he said. "What about the people who are really struggling?"
Analysts said experience management products could play a role in ensuring employee effectiveness as they work from home.
"It's more of a first step, and there are other tools to look at this [in the] longer term," Forrester Research analyst Andrew Hewitt said.
Finding and removing obstacles
Berns said his firm's product, the cloud-based Knoa User Experience Management for Enterprise Applications, provides in-depth insight into user actions by tracking such things as idle times, error messages encountered and the efficiency in completing tasks. Traditionally, he said, the focus of this kind of software has been more on performance metrics, like bandwidth, connectivity and server performance.
"Users often are just not the priority," he said. "It's easy to focus on the systems and [their] performance, but what about the human factor?"
Having an understanding of the tasks workers are expected to complete, and measuring the speed and efficiency by which they complete those tasks, can provide employers with valuable information, Berns said.
"[When an employee is] doing a transaction, they're checking inventories, they're looking at a credit report for a customer, they're looking at historical billing, whatever it might be, there are steps that [they] take," he said. "[Say employees] go through a transaction and, after step five, there's a two-minute pause. Why? What happened?"
That two-minute idle period, Berns said, could be something as simple as a bathroom break. But if a large company's many users each stop at the same step in a task, it may indicate there's something wrong with the process.
"Maybe the last time the user clicked [at that step], they got an error message, so they're trying to figure out how to avoid that," he said. "Maybe the user interface isn't intuitive, so they're confused. Maybe they're bored. Maybe they're not engaged."
When a company is aware of such an issue, Berns said, they can take steps to fix it. IT professionals could train employees to better handle the process, redesign what might be a confusing screen or engage with workers to see if they're having trouble coping during a stressful time.
The product, Berns said, does not focus on the individual level, but instead emphasizes trends across the workforce. If, for example, idle time increases by 20% among thousands of workers, a company may be facing a large-scale technical, UI or worker-engagement issue that it should investigate and remedy.
The experience management data, according to Berns, should be used in conjunction with tools like help desk information and regular engagement with workers to find the problems employees might be facing.
An emerging tool
Hewitt said experience management products could be one piece of the puzzle in measuring remote-worker productivity.
Productivity measurement, Hewitt said, is an emerging field, with tools like Microsoft's MyAnalytics coming out in recent years. The Microsoft software measures such things as how much time employees spend in meetings, collaborating with fellow workers or focusing on the task at hand.
Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said companies have not yet adopted productivity-measuring tools en masse.
"[Companies] may have had tools to measure application performance -- application login time, maybe application usage from an asset tracking standpoint -- but it's rare that they had tools in place that look at general employee productivity metrics," he said.
Bowker said the presence of such tools, especially in a remote-work context, might cause employee consternation.
"There's certainly a fine line that companies have not been able to [walk]," he said. "Are you helping employees from a productivity perspective, or are you monitoring how they work?"
"That raises all sorts of privacy concerns ... that I do not think the majority of companies have worked through," he added.