Enterprise tech? Don’t forget to make it human

“When people think about productivity, they can forget the human part of the equation," Boomerang co-founder and CEO Aye Moah said in an interview.

Boomerang, Apple, iOS, Mail, Slack, enterprise, productivity
ferrantraite / Getty Images

What if your business tools could help you get things done without getting in the way? That’s a question many tech executives ask these days. I spoke with one of them, Boomerang Co-founder and CEO Aye Moah, to get her perspective.

We know the world of work has undergone deep transformation in the last few years. Existing change trends accelerated with COVID-19, which sent people home and also set workers scurrying to identify tech solutions to help them work smarter and better. Boomerang makes some of these.

What is Boomerang?

Boomerang has been around for 11 years. It's an email automation solution compatible with Gmail, G Suite, Office 365, Microsoft Exchange, and Outlook, but does not support Apple Mail because the Mac maker offers no APIs for this.

“Because of privacy and security, they decided they’d rather control the whole user experience and not have the new innovations third-party developers bring,” Moah told me.

Though the truth is that for business users, this impact is limited because most in business use Microsoft or Google services for email.

As well as being a co-founder, Moah is also an angel investor and productivity consultant. These roles required her to meet with dozens of people on a weekly basis, which led to challenges in scheduling all those meetings — and the development of the Bookable Schedule tool in Boomerang.

The product is easy to use. It lets all parties easily identify and agree on a mutual time to meet. It is also context-savvy, which means that if you’re invited to a meeting in an email sent in March, but don’t see that invite until late April, the meeting slots will automatically update to reflect April’s availability.

That’s a lot harder than it sounds — Moah doesn’t think anyone else is doing it — prompting her to say: “It’s rare for a founder to be surprised by our own product. I felt, you know, this is what scheduling should be and this is where people need to move too. It was way better than I imagined. We think that scheduling should become new and convenient for all sides."

Humans are productive, software isn’t human

She argues that some collaboration solutions are built in such a way that the user experience may be fantastic for the person who paid for the solution, but less satisfying for those on the other end of the interaction.

“I feel like that’s not a good way to think about a messaging system or any communication tools, because they are two parties in the ecosystem and we should make it easy, convenient, and accessible for both sides,” she said.

[Also read: How not to upgrade your enterprise technology]

That’s important also because, when it comes to collaboration, it’s something humans do. “When people think about productivity, they can forget the human part of the equation.”

A productivity tool may help you do more, or work faster, but may forget to make space for an empathic connection or an understanding of work/life balance. So many reports during the pandemic revealed an erosion of the division between work and personal life.

Boomerang’s in-box pause tool and meeting scheduler are both designed to help reverse this. The idea, she suggests, is that these aim to support humans both in what they do, in who they are, and when they are available.

We know different ways to find workplace flexibility are becoming a big deal in the new world of work. Aways-on working culture generates problems balancing work and personal life and isn’t necessarily beneficial in terms of productivity.

Better productivity by being left alone

Interruptions, digital or physical, in-person or remote, also dent achievement. Another of the big lessons from remote working in recent years is the value of being able to put your head down to get work done.

That kind of focus is easily damaged in office environments, in which there are constant interruptions. Yet even when trying to get work done, tasks as simple as scheduling a meeting or checking emails can eat up time.

“We think about what people can do to get more into the workflow, because doing so gives you real progress,” she explains. “Sometimes people like the feeling of being busy [they get when being interrupted], but don’t actually make progress on the strategic and long-term things they need to do.”

In principle, this move to give creative space to connected humans is Moah's core message: “We need to swing it back and see sometimes it's okay to be a little bit less connected. Some of it is something we can help with the tools, so that you can create the space for your mind to be quiet and productive.

“For us, it's like we're not going to Mars," she said. "We're not solving cancer. We're not solving climate change. What we can do to make the world a better place is build tools people can use to do what they do best. If you're an architect and you need to design your masterpiece, what can we do to support you and handle the overhead of email productivity, meeting scheduling and working with people?

"If we make that part super smooth and it takes as little of your time and mental energy as possible, it will free you up to do the real creative work that you need to do. That's our company mission and everybody's aligned around it because that's where we find the most meaning.”

This is also a good way to look at the implications of artifical intelligence (AI) in the workplace. While we’ve worried about machine intelligence threatening everybody’s jobs, as time moves forward, we’re beginning to understand that, at best, AI augments our capability, handling tasks to enable human workers to focus on more challenging/interesting assignments.

Who owns your decisions?

Decision making may be another area Moah’s teams can improve. Knowledge workers increasingly use IM tools, such as Slack, as collaboration and decision-making spaces. In doing so, they may forget to take a record of the reasons for that decision, which means poor decisions can get repeated because they never get reviewed.

For some, Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition exposes another danger in leaving key elements of an enterprise’s business in private hands.  A provider’s ownership may change, the nature of that service may mutate, and valuable company data may suddenly be in the hands of a business competitor.

That should be a serious concern to any business — and remains the big advantage of email, which is “the last open protocol that no one private company owns,” said Moah.

Where next for Boomerang?

When it comes to scheduling, Moah sees Boomerang’s ability to integrate with email and collaboration services such as Zoom as an opportunity to become a “brokerage for meetings."

As it attracts more users, she argues this will provide actionable data insights that may further improve the service. “Is there an ideal range of meeting availability you should include? What time, and what time of day, do people like to book meetings? Are there times when most people choose to hold meetings?”

These simple-sounding questions may expose quietly profound insights to help knowledge workers stay human while navigating external noise.

Because, at best, tech is for humans — even (or perhaps, especially) in the enterprise.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon