The advent of new technologies has revolutionised the workplace and business processes. Microsoft has built a successful business on pushing out productivity software and targeted hardware for professionals. Other tech vendors have followed suit. Communication with colleagues and other business stakeholders, even those on the other side of the world, is at our fingertips. Organising meetings is as simple as sending a calendar invite and popping yourself in front of a video conferencing set-up. But does using technology in the workplace really translate to productivity gains? Or have these newfangled tools surreptitiously introduced inefficiencies that hinders progress in the office? Let's find out.
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When you compare the modern workplace to one from two decades ago, one of the most noticeable changes you'll find is that communications technology has fundamentally altered the way people interact with each other inside and outside the office. Pair that with cloud sharing tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, remote working is now a normal thing. You don't even have to be in the same room to have a meeting anymore; video calls through Google Hangouts or Skype are standard practices for many organisations.
When you look at all the conveniences afforded to us by the introduction of new office technologies, you'd think we'd be more productive than ever. But are we really? How many of us, despite having efficient email clients, to-do list managers and collaboration software still feel like we're not making the most of our time?
Take email for example. It's irrefutably the most impactful technology introduced into the workplace and, in many instances, one email can be more effective than a phone call. But it's often something that gets abused as well. Colleagues who send four disjointed emails when they could have been rolled up into one message, company-wide emails that often feel like spam that don't directly concern you and getting a torrent of emails from overseas teams while you're sleeping; pretty soon your inbox is filled to the brim. You might be so overwhelmed that you feel compelled to check emails in your personal time.
Then there are meetings. It used to be difficult to line up a meeting as it's a challenge to find a time that fits into everybody's schedules, so this kind of gathering was reserved for serious business. Now, flicking a meeting invite to a group is simple enough. I used to work in an office where I'd get back-to-back meetings scheduled in as calendar invites fly around throughout the day. Most of those meetings either didn't eventuate, even though I had allocated time for them, or were simply a waste of time.
Collaboration tools, which are meant to help us all work better together regardless of location, can also become a hindrance. According to a study by best practice insight and technology company CEB:
"Everyone who has ever been one of more than 10 people copied on an email knows that the ease of collaboration has a dark side. And the rise of collaborative tools — along with an increasing reliance on peers rather than direct supervisors (a holdover from management culls during the recession) — has created an environment in which 60% of employees must consult with at least 10 colleagues each day just to get their jobs done. Scarier, half of that 60% need to engage more than 20 to do their work, based on responses from a CEB workplace survey of over 23,000 employees."
So even with all this technology at our fingertips, the human factor is holding us back from truly realising the productivity potentials these tools can bring. This is why it's so important to put in place processes and guidelines on how technology should be used in the workplace so it doesn't get in the way of doing work.
According to Harvard Business Review, organisations need to consider two factors in assessing their technology investments:
- "What impact will the new technology have on organisational time? Will the technology actually enable people to do more in less time, or does it merely make work and collaboration easier? Investments that reduce the cost of interactions but do not themselves save time should be viewed sceptically. Unless an organisation is highly disciplined in its management of time, the dark side of Metcalfe’s Law will trample whatever benefits the new technology might promise.
- Could better rules eliminate the need for further investment? Today, many investments in new technology are essentially workarounds for bad behaviours or poor procedures for sharing information. Were customer, financial and operational information readily available to all, for instance, the need for crowd-sourcing or reconciling data sets would be reduced significantly. Leaders should carefully assess whether to accept a bad behaviour as given and invest in new technology to cope with it, or instead change the dysfunctional behaviour."
Are the technology tools you're using for your work today making you more or less productive? Let us know in the comments.