Opinion

Improving Business Communications by Learning From Food Delivery Systems

Can food delivery systems inspire a paradigm shift to improve efficiencies in business communication?

Americans order over 20 million restaurant deliveries every single day. Ninety percent are delivered in cars, even though more than half of the orders that are placed are within walking distance of the purchaser.

“For the sake of convenience and because of America’s reliance on cars, deliveries get moved around by two-ton vehicles 20 million times each day”, says Ali Kashani, designer and AI specialist working on autonomous delivery robots for Postmates.

Kashani goes on to point out that: “We’ve designed our cities around our cars - because we drive whether we're going 2 or 200 miles, alone or with our whole family. We get into the same SUV to go and buy coffee, or a coffee table. We need to rethink how we are using cars.”

Donald Shoup, UCLA transportation scholar and founding father of parking economics backs that up in his book: Parking and the City. According to Shoup, the United States has as many as two billion parking spots for about 250 million cars, making the “parking area per car” in the United States larger than the “area of housing per human.”

Finding a way to get those 20 million a day restaurant deliveries off the road could reduce the need for as many as 1.5 million automobiles - the equivalent of twice the number of cars in a city the size of San Francisco. Multiply that scenario around the world and consider the impact - cleaner air, less road congestion, fewer accidents, and more parks and social space for people.

Breaking The Paradigm

That’s where any number of autonomous robots might come in: order a self-driving e-bike using your cell phone and pick-up your delivery yourself, or call a drone service to have your meal dropped off.

At Postmates they’ve been working on small, self-driving robots that navigate quiet alleys/sidewalks at a walking pace, and that have secured cargo space to deliver food and supplies. They hope to shake-up the food industry and change the current delivery model.

So what does all this have to do with efficiencies in business communication?

Replace:

“food” with “communication”

“cars” with “emails & video meetings”

and “parking spaces & roads” with “time”.

In parallel to food delivery, businesses have evolved inefficient communication delivery systems. Ease of use (convenience) has hijacked efficiency, productivity, and getting important things done.

Clogged Inboxes and Stressed Employees

According to a McKinsey Global Institute 2016 report, an average employee spent 13 hours a week reading & responding to email - by far the most-time consuming work activity - taking up 28% of a worker’s time. They equated that to 650 hours a year spent on completely reactive, low-value work.

Mark Richer, CEO, at StarLeaf explains: “Video conferencing has played an integral role in the move to remote working, providing business continuity and helping people to work with colleagues and customers wherever they are, and this is supported by the significant growth of video meetings we’ve seen across the US. We predict that when lockdown restrictions begin to ease and US businesses start looking to the future, video for collaboration will remain a core and vital part of an organization’s way of working.

As more workers transition to remote work, we can anticipate that less “in-person” interaction will increase reliance on email use. Nadjia Yousif, Managing Director and partner of Boston consulting Group’s London office anticipates fewer meetings overall, as workers move to a more agile way of working and communicating. “More meetings will become emails, and more emails will become instant messages”.

Deep Work

Cal Newport, Computer Science Professor at Georgetown University and author of “Deep Work - Rules for focused success in a distracted world” describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. He asserts that most people have lost their ability to go deep, instead responding to a frantic and interminable onslaught of email, text messages, and social media.

Evidence shows up in a scientific paper by professor Dr. Sophie Leroy on attention residue. According to this effect, when you switch from one task to another, some of your attention remains stuck with the original activity. This residue has a negative impact on subsequent performance.

Newport continues: “Even when people think that they are single tasking, they are still just checking their inbox or phone every 5 or 10 minutes. It feels like single tasking, it feels like they are predominantly working on one thing, but even those very brief checks that switch your context even briefly, can have a massive negative impact on cognitive performance. It’s the switch itself that hurts, not how long you actually switch.”

A Call To Action

As businesses move from a “pre-covid” to a “post-covid” workplace reality, and before practices become fully entrenched, now is the time to consider taking a cue from the food delivery sector to make a paradigm shift. There’s a lot of time to be reclaimed.

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