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Three Keys to Working Smarter

Three Keys to Working Smarter

How tech, community, and workspaces lead to success.

Featured in Work

Many of us still think of work as a grind. The 90’s cult phenomenon movie, Office Space, effectively synthesized this drudgery. The iconic image of the boss, Bill Lumbergh in his suspenders, cradling a standard-issue mug and leaning over a cubicle wall dispensing his annoyingly passive-aggressive work assignments made viewers cringe because it hit so close to home. Thankfully, the mundane, nine-to-five drill is becoming a thing of the past in today’s fast-paced, collaborative, technology-enabled, smart work environment.

People in the modern workforce operate within communities of co-workers, customers, industry peers, and even technology systems. This is changing how we work, as job roles blend together and evolve, and new roles are created.

Radical leaps in technology over the past two decades have changed the way we interact with each other socially and thus, the way we do business. “We saw the internet era in the 1990s and into the 2000s,” says Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Catalyst Companies and tech industry analyst. “Then we saw the rise of social media, which leveled the playing field for information sharing and changed the way we communicate in both personal life and the workplace.”

Now, we find ourselves in a collaborative economy where people are getting what they need — physical items, cars, time, talent — from each other. And we sit on the cusp of an autonomous future where, Jeremiah predicts, AI will “free up new tasks for humans to be done that have not been thought of before.”

Since we don’t yet know the trends of tomorrow, the keys to working smarter today are taking full advantage of the latest tech, embracing community, and creating a work environment that improves collaboration and innovation.

Technology as enabler

Gary Kasparov, was once the world’s greatest chess master. Then, AI defeated him. Does this mean that humans can’t compete with technology? The key to working smarter is to combine the best of both worlds — a point underscored by Jeremiah. “Humans can think strategically and have intuition and read body language, and a computer can do advanced computations. When you combine these strengths, that is the superbeing,” he says.

“Technology is being leveraged to automate the parts of collaboration that are error-prone and expensive and yield poor results,” says Shawn Cheris, director of Experience Design at Adobe.

For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning can automate many of the mundane, repetitive tasks involved in producing content, such as creating tags and identifying assets. AI is making it possible to achieve this at unprecedented scale. Meaning, a lot of these tasks can be completed really fast.

And don’t forget about data. Advancing technology, like AI, can process immense volumes more efficiently than a human being ever could. In the world of online commerce, companies get data from a whole slew of disparate platforms. Data can be processed efficiently to do the heavy lifting of creating a unique profile for every customer and delivering a seamless brand experience from start to finish.

As more and more members of the workforce spend the workday operating remotely or on the road, experts are exploring how to best apply technology to enable collaboration and communication across distances. David Parmenter, director of Document Cloud engineering at Adobe, has been researching how AI and voice-based assistive technology can help with document mobility and accessibility.

“Our goal is to work where the customer works,” David says. This means mobile applications that make it possible to receive content no matter where you are, whether at your desktop or at a gym. Add a layer of artificial intelligence and you can deliver summaries so users don’t have to maneuver through specific documents.

“These kinds of advancing technologies are allowing humans to be humans, and work on the things they like doing and are good at — which means they’ll be working smarter overall. This is what we’re striving for,” David says.

A community-centric approach

Technology advancements over the last 10 years allow us to connect with people in ways we never could before. Each of us operates within a variety of communities — at work, at home, and online. As our community thrives, so do we. As enterprises invest in creating and developing more robust communities, their employees and customers are able to collaborate more effectively.

“Many companies have launched intrapreneur programs. Adobe has one called Kickbox, which is a success in terms of employee engagement, activating new ideas, and an increase in measurable patents,” Jeremiah says. Such programs allow employees to pursue their passion projects, which in turn makes them more collaborative and effective team members. Such projects are especially important as organizations grow, helping them keep pace with a larger workforce and keep that workforce happy.

A community-centric collaboration approach is also what drives prototyping and co-creation with customers — like wireframes using Adobe XD for test-driving new user interfaces. Partnering with communities can also have an important side benefit: providing a platform to test new products and ideas. Our partnership with San Francisco’s de Young museum allows us to test drive how different groups — in this case children — create art using new tools and better understand what might provide for a more intuitive creative process.

“We can’t drive creativity as a business — whether that is through design, engineering, marketing, or communications — if we aren’t endlessly challenged to be creative ourselves. And involving the community around us does that by bringing us out of our traditional ‘work’ contexts,” Lisa Temple, community engagement manager at Adobe, says. “Connecting our staff with the little instances of Adobe magic happening in our own backyard, that is how you lead creatively and how you lead in creativity.”

Case in point: The Adobe Studio at 1240 Minnesota Street, which supports San Francisco’s newest arts community, the Minnesota Street Project. “Adobe has basically taken up the role of tenant in the artist studios program on Minnesota Street through our own Adobe studio,” Lisa points out. “This lease of physical space among the working artist community helps ensure affordable and sustainable rents for all artist tenants by providing a subsidy, while also creating a space where our staff and technology can be accessible to all in a uniquely organic manner.”

In the end, such community partnerships are a win-win for all parties involved. Everyone gains insights into how they can improve the quality and proficiency of their work, and walks away with new ideas. “Building something organic in the community that contributes to everyone’s success and makes both the cultural and technological fabric stronger, is hard work,” Lisa says. “You get there through great relationships and a solid understanding of who your community members really are.”

Smarter workplaces

Sometimes the key to smarter work is the physical space itself. “There seems to be a real swing between centralized and distributed work spaces,” Jeremiah says. The traditional distributed model placed employees in their own cubicles separated by high walls. “It felt soulless and people became lost and could not communicate,” he adds. “Then, we saw the rise of open spaces, often in startups, where teams had to punch out multiple versions of software in a day.”

Adobe’s recently remodeled headquarters is a nod to our company culture. “The goal of our spaces is to enable productivity and unleash innovation — whether through increasing casual collisions, providing spaces for both planned and spontaneous collaboration, using color and graphics to energize a space, or providing tools like wall-to-wall whiteboards and state-of-the-art video conferencing to facilitate ideation and problem-solving,” says Jonathan Francom, vice president, employee and workspace solutions at Adobe.

A variety of spaces are scattered all over the campus and include think pods (smaller contained spaces for alone work time) to outdoor patios where conversations can flow freely. 

Of course, work doesn’t always happen in one office anymore. The rise of telecommuting and employees on the move means working smarter should also factor in those who work remotely. It is important to set up collaborative tools and workflows that can be accessed by anybody anywhere and also plan for inclusive meetings. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, even if they’re not all in the same place.

“Great ideas don’t happen in a vacuum,” Jonathan says. “Strong working relationships within and across teams are essential to the work we do. Vibrant communities and informal interactions are essential to engagement and innovation.”

Working smarter delivers

The concept of work continues to evolve. Workflows and processes need to evolve just as quickly to keep pace. Over the next few years, artificial intelligence and innovative technologies will enable us to work in more efficient ways even as where we work and the communities we work in change. With the technologies, communities, and spaces available today and by re-thinking the way we approach these crucial areas of collaboration and innovation, enterprises and employees can work happier, work better, and work smarter.

For additional thoughts about what work means today, read more articles in our Working Smarter collection.

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