Economists and government organizations all agree that productivity in the United States has shown only slight increases in recent years, inconsistent with the increase in available technology. This has led the echelons of upper management to wonder, with all of the technology that we have available today, why are people less productive? It does seem that technology should be making work easier, not hindering it.
There are many reasons that technology has not increased productivity as much as we might have hoped. Part of the problem lies in the use of the technology itself, while part of the problem lies with how businesses are run. There are many opportunities for your company to increase productivity with and without technology.
Problems with Technology
The primary reason that productivity hasn’t seen a significant increase in recent years is that new technology is not being introduced. Even though we now have a new world of smartphones and applications, few companies are employing this technology. According to Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwest University, the vast majority of large companies have been using the same technology for the last decade, with no plans to upgrade. Even though advances are made in the industry, companies are not taking advantage of what’s out there.
At the same time, some companies are employing technology that takes more time to operate. Some companies use technology based on its ability to save the company money or increase profits. However, if that same technology causes tasks to take longer than without it, the cost of lost productivity outweighs any benefit of the technology. Companies should look closely at technologies that only affect the bottom line and detract from productivity.
Often technology is adapted to work around behaviors or processes that are ineffective. Rather than adding unnecessary technology and tasks to an employee’s work day, consider changing these policies and practices so that the technology isn’t necessary. Your organization will run more smoothly, and employees will be more productive. Additional training to eliminate bad behaviors or to put new processes in place costs much less than lost productive hours.
Another problem with the use of technology is a lack of training. Most companies have a training period for new employees, but many of those employees feel the training is inadequate to allow them to perform their job duties productively. According to a study by Udemy released this year, 70 percent of respondents claimed that they needed additional training to manage their time more wisely.
When employees are not given sufficient training, they may be spending valuable time merely trying to learn on the job how to perform their duties, rather than performing them. Much of the technology in place today is only beneficial if you know how to use it efficiently. With proper training, technology can be leveraged more productively by all employees.
Part of the problem in large organizations is also too much reliance on technology. With email and office chat applications, the number of interactions an employee views or responds to has increased dramatically. It is estimated that the average office employee spends thirteen hours each week just reading and responding to email. Only 13 percent of that email is considered spam. While the purpose of these interactions is to keep a network of employees informed, the result is that much time is wasted on unnecessary communications.
The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study of office workers and managers to see what makes them less productive. Of the respondents, 96 percent of the workers said that unnecessary emails waste their time. They are making it company policy to limit the number of emails sent each day can significantly improve productivity. It can also be helpful to bring back into play short daily team meetings in which many points can be brought up to the employees as a group. This will keep employees informed while taking less time overall than a barrage of emails throughout the day.
Of course, there is also the problem of personal use of technology while on the job. According to the Udemy study, 69 percent of employees admitted to being distracted at work, with 59 percent of those agreeing that they cannot avoid social media throughout their workday. Keeping employees engaged and on task while limiting access to technology for personal use could dramatically increase productivity. If smartphones are not needed for job duties, make it a policy to have them out of sight and turned off during work hours. Make use of technology to block personal and social media sites from work computers as well to cut down on workplace distractions.
Another time waster for many employees is business chat applications. The idea behind Skype for business or other business chat applications is to make it easier for employees to collaborate on projects. It also gives the supervisor a way to communicate with employees without having to make rounds of cubicles and desks. However, it is impossible to limit the use of these chat applications for these purposes. Many employees end up using the chat applications to talk to other employees about non-work-related items. This is a significant contributor to workplace distraction. If not necessary to the performance of the job duties assigned, consider eliminating business chat applications.
Many organizational downfalls are also to blame for the lack of productivity found in most companies. How a business is run and how they engage their employees makes a big difference in productivity and success. A simple shift in management practices can provide additional productive hours to every employee’s work week.
Organizational drag is one of the biggest wastes of employee time. This is the red tape, the paperwork, tangible or digital, that you require of your employees beyond their regular job duties. The more policies an organization has in place that the employee must follow, the less time they will have for their primary responsibilities.
For example, if you have strict requirements on reporting and tracking of information that is not necessary for the success of the business, you have employees spending valuable time doing those tasks rather than focusing on their primary duties. A study published in Harvard Business Review showed that organizational drag costs the economy overall approximately three trillion dollars in lost productivity. Netflix is an excellent example of eliminating corporate drag. They trust their employees to do the right thing and perform job duties efficiently, and as a result, their employees spend more time doing actual work rather than paperwork.
Management can be another hindrance to productivity. In a study done by the Society for Human Resource Management, it was found that 55 percent of employees believe poor management is responsible for their lack of productivity. When you have one team or department that is underperforming consistently, it is essential to evaluate the managers in charge. If they are not managing effectively and consistently, it could be decreasing productivity in the workers.
For example, a poor manager is not consistent in their requirements for employees. They may change goals or change focus on a daily or weekly basis. When this happens, employees become confused as to where their priorities should lie. They may be performing one task while simultaneously being told to perform other tasks. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking lowers productivity as employees lose focus jumping from one task to the next.
Another problem with today’s business world is the “Individual versus Team” approach to productivity and performance. Most businesses focus on individual talent and performance. However, it has been proven by companies like Google and Apple that a team approach inspires more creativity and productivity.
When a business follows the team approach, each is cooperating with others, spreading out the workload and relying on one another. This allows individuals to use their talents while others handle the tasks with which they are not as familiar or productive. The combined effort of the team will ultimately be more productive and outperform a department of individuals.
According to a study by Gallup, employees who can use their strengths are eight percent more productive in the workplace. When you create a team of individuals with different strengths, they can work together to accomplish much more together than they would apart.
A team approach also helps eliminate stress from the workplace. When you properly engage employees and leverage their talents, they can avoid the feeling of being overloaded with work. They are also better able to meet deadlines without stress. A study done by Tower Watson showed that 57 percent of employees who were stressed felt less productive. This is backed up by a study done by Gallup, which found that work overload decreases productivity by up to 68 percent.
The best example of this approach is Apple. They used a team approach and developed iOS 10 in less than two years with a team of 600 employees. Meanwhile, Microsoft used an individual approach and took more than five years to develop, launch and eventually retract Vista, with a team of over 10,000. This is a perfect example of how teams can accomplish more than individuals.
To shift to a team mentality, organize departments with a mix of talent and diversity. Use team building exercises as well as employee engagement techniques to get employees to work together rather than separately. Diverse teams bring different skills, talents, and backgrounds to the table, and it should be encouraged to share these with the team. Encourage supervisors and managers to address the team as a whole on performance and project status, rather than to focus on individual performance. When the team succeeds together, they will be more productive and engaged overall.
One of the most important things you can do to increase productivity in your company is to emphasize employee engagement. According to a study published by Gallup, engaged employees are 21 percent more productive than their counterparts. Engaged employees also lead to higher performance rankings, including customer retention and company profits.
There are a lot of things you can do to create engaged employees, but the gist of it is that engaged employees genuinely care about their job. They feel like they are part of the organization, not just another cog in a machine. And, they are proud to be part of the organization.
To develop engaged employees, you must have a vision for your company and include employees on fulfilling that vision. You have to give them a mission, a purpose. You also have to allow them to help you fulfill that mission by allowing them input on how the business is run, the performance of managers, and how tasks are performed.
When employees are engaged, they care more about what they are doing. It eliminates procrastination and also develops a sense of urgency to get tasks completed promptly. Engaged employees also tend to have fewer workplace distractions, because for employees to be engaged, they must be completely immersed in the culture of the workplace.
The Bottom Line
Productivity isn’t all about using technology to make jobs easier. It’s about finding the best ways to complete tasks and utilize time wisely. Sometimes this means an increase or change in technology, but much more frequently it requires a change in business practices. Sometimes limiting the use of technology, such as having short ten-minute meetings in the place of several emails, can make your employees more productive.
One of the best things you can do to increase productivity in your company is to conduct an anonymous survey of your employees. Find out from the source if training is sufficient, if they are engaged, what workplace distractions are present, and how they feel their time is mostly wasted. When you conduct these surveys anonymously, you will discover that you get much more accurate and informative answers. Your employees are the ones who are suffering from low productivity, and chances are they know why. Getting the answers from the source will better prepare you to make lasting changes in the company that will increase productivity across the board.
Finally, take a close look at the technology your company employs. Is it outdated? Does it save time? You may want to consider adding new technology to your processes to cut down on the time it takes to complete tasks. When you do introduce new technology, make sure that you are providing adequate training to your employees so that technology helps them perform their duties more efficiently, rather than wasting their time with unknown processes. Overall, technology can significantly improve productivity, when correctly leveraged. Combine new technology, new processes, and training to get the most out of your technology dollars.