How Productivity Tools Can Lead to a Loss of Productivity

In this column published on LinkedIn Pulse in February 2018, Bluescape CEO Peter Jackson shares insights on how the various applications and productivity tools designed to help employees increase their productivity can instead have the opposite effect. Jackson offers several suggestions for companies and employees on how to be productive in a digital world that aims for productivity but often misses the mark.


Throughout my career, I have worked with high performing teams whose efforts positively contributed to the company’s bottom line. More recently, I’ve noticed how employees are working on more devices and more applications, and as a result, are taking multitasking to extremes. We have become a hyper-intensive workforce, overworked and dependent on our digital devices and applications that were designed to serve as productivity tools.


A recent Microsoft survey brought to light the “productivity paradox.” The increased adoption of digital technologies and productivity tools has not delivered those big gains in average worker productivity that everyone expected. In fact, technology, even in the case of so-called “productivity tools,” sometimes leads workers into further distractions and makes businesses less productive, and that loss of productivity negatively impacts company revenue and growth.


So, have the advances of technology improved or harmed our productivity, and at what cost?


Multitasking has risen to new forms with context switching as workers jump from one task to another unrelated task, before the first task is completed. It may be hours before the first task is addressed, which indicates problems for time management. Research supports that individuals spend an average of just 1 minute and 15 seconds on a task before being interrupted and that it takes an average of 25 minutes to resume a task after being interrupted. As a result, it takes 50% longer to accomplish a single task, and potential error rates may increase by up to 50%.


The impact on productivity and lost time add up. White collar workers can lose up to 40% or 16 hours per week of productivity due to multitasking on projects and switching between multiple software applications, resulting in a cumulative corporate loss of $450 billion per year.


Tool management is another lost time concern. In addition to switching between tools and applications, workers further waste time using multiple tools that accomplish the same task. A Hubspot Research survey found that 82% of respondents said they lose up to an hour a day managing tools, for a total of five hours per week of lost productivity.


The biggest productivity challenge workers and executives face is finding information quickly and easily across applications, folders and emails. With the deluge of incoming digital data, processing and managing this data increases in complexity, especially across multiple devices.


IDC research found that knowledge workers spend an average of 2.5 hours per day, or roughly 30% of the workday, searching through apps and tools to find the information they need to move forward on projects and perform their other job functions. Searching for emails and managing inboxes results in another critical hit to productivity and time management. White collar workers spend up to 3.2 hours per day on work-related emails. Knowledge workers, those individuals immersed in data, can lose up to 5.7 hours per day or 71% productivity throughout the week on finding information, multitasking, and responding to work emails.


Though many companies are striving to better learn how to be more productive, our productivity levels have fallen rather than increased with new technologies and work productivity tools. Lost time is spent switching between applications, managing emails, and searching for information. Costs are incurred from the individual’s lost hours. Add in the lost hours of your entire workforce, and companies begin to realize the impact to their business.


However, there is a hope for a highly effective workplace. Companies looking to boost average worker productivity will need to focus on their employees, understand their behaviors, and provide them with the tools and training they need to be more productive. In the future, work environments are ever changing; over half of a company’s workforce will be remote and heavily dependent on their mobile devices. People will embrace other ways of communicating beyond email, which can pose a new problem in how to avoid a loss of productivity.


Employers will have to embrace greater use of content and workstream collaboration technologies that integrate today’s multitude of “productivity” tools and applications into a new, common experience layer that may well become the “new desktop” for improved productivity, efficiencies and time/cost savings.


Peter Jackson


A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn by Peter Jackson.

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