The answer to searching for answers

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As work-from-home arrangements and hybrid schedules persist, many new employees have never met their coworkers, or even their bosses, in person—and there may not be many opportunities for those valuable in-person interactions anytime soon. Under these conditions, simply understanding a company’s values, history, and past accomplishments can be a challenge, let alone trying to figure out how to start contributing results. This is especially true for the employees sitting at home, staring at their computers or webcams, wondering who to message or email so they can move forward. 

The pandemic accelerated the move to remote working, but the transition has been happening for quite some time. And while innovative technologies have made remote work possible, they haven’t necessarily made it easy or efficient. In fact, the average company has approximately 300 different apps, each of which is used to store information. This is an overwhelming number of apps, software programs, and interfaces, and workers have to use all of them to find necessary information about benefits, sales, marketing, engineering, or support issues. Knowing where to find information has become an increasingly difficult task for employees who already have a lot on their plates.

The “SaaS revolution” has created new ways to get work done, but it’s also made the search and discovery process even more difficult. You can’t just search your email client or local computer for reference materials. Most of your company’s knowledge and experience is captured in the cloud, scattered across dozens of applications or on the other side of a VPN connection. But this challenge also points to an opportunity to utilize SaaS APIs to link these different apps and give employees a unified view of timely information and background context.  

We’ve seen many advances in search for publicly available information over the years, but relatively little has been done to advance search of internal data in the workplace. Microsoft, Google, and many startups have bravely taken this on, but the amount of data and the number of different formats, security protocols, and governance protocols have made this too complicated in the past. Part of the problem is that earlier approaches couldn’t support the intelligence needed to know that one person searching for “quarterly goals” and another searching for “Q1 areas of focus” are probably looking for the same presentation. 

Many organizations have given up on the idea that a digital work assistant could help employees search for and discover what they need, but with digital acceleration, a work assistant is going to become an essential tool for the future modern workplace. The ability for people to connect different types of information and make new associations will be essential going forward. But this won’t work if people can’t find the information they need.

Wasted time and added stress

Organizations and managers often worry about the efficiency of employees who work from home—without realizing that both remote and in-office employees are dragged down by the same modern disarray of organizational information. McKinsey published a study that revealed that knowledge workers waste more than 20 percent of their time looking for information to complete their daily tasks. Reclaiming that time would go a long way towards making a four-day workweek happen.

If that isn’t enough to make managers cringe, consider that Asana also published a study highlighting that six hours a week are wasted on employees duplicating work already done by others. In sum, nearly a full day every week is wasted on searching for information or completing redundant work tasks. So much wasted time is spent searching because the native search functions on each app are often vastly different from one another and usually ineffective. As a result, workers desperately need a better way to search for and discover information across different apps. Many of us have dealt with these problems, but we often see it as a necessary tradeoff to enjoy the other benefits that come with the sprawl of SaaS tools we use today.

The need for an intuitive work assistant that can help with search and discovery goes beyond pure productivity, however. Today, trying to work quickly can be an exercise in frustration. A notification flashes by while you’re eating lunch… but was it in your chat software? Your project manager? Your CRM? An email? The Asana study found that workers switch between dozens of apps nearly 30 times a day, which means they are dealing with interruptions and changing context every 3 to 11 minutes. 

These constant disruptions sap energy and often lead to a backlog of work, eventually culminating in an overload of stress and employee burnout. For example: someone may spend 10 minutes trying to find a report before they finally succumb to frustration and send a message to a colleague, who then has to stop and locate the missing document before they can proceed with their own tasks. In this scenario, disruption is affecting both of the workers’ focus, productivity, and state of mind. It’s not just one person being inefficient; it’s two people looking for a solution to the same problem. 

Boosting two metrics with intuitive search: productivity and morale

Organizations need to evaluate and deploy search and discovery technologies that can prevent these seemingly mundane, but highly impactful, interactions that slow everybody down. Making search easier is more important than ever, given the innumerable daily distractions and vast information swaths workers must wade through to complete their tasks. In the era of “The Great Resignation,” labor is an increasingly valuable commodity, and the psychological impact and delays these disruptions have on the workforce must be taken seriously. 

To support employees, companies should look for an intuitive work assistant that can help their employees find what they need and discover the things they should know. This can drastically reduce employee stress—and give back that 20 percent of wasted time—while increasing the amount of meaningful, high-value work a person can complete on the job. 

If you’re a manager surveying your team and you notice everyone struggling with productivity delays and low team morale, then you need to ask them if they have the information they need to do their jobs, if they know who the subject matter experts are who can help them achieve their goals, and if they’re spending time searching instead of working. 

Then ask yourself this: would you invest in technology that can improve productivity today AND give your employees back an entire day of their workweek?

Yeah, you probably would.

Arvind Jain, CEO, Glean


Arvind helped found Glean to make it easy for people to find the information they need to be more productive and happier at work. Prior to Glean, Arvind co-founded and led R&D at Rubrik, one the fastest growing companies in cloud data management, and worked at Google, where he spent over a decade leading various teams in Search, Maps, and YouTube.