As we come close to rounding out the first two decades of the 21st century, there’s a lot to like about how technology has impacted modern business culture. Automation is leveling the playing field among organizations big and small, giving everyone access to affordable and cutting-edge marketing, sales, supply chain, and strategy tools (to name just a few).
However, these innovations also come at a cost. “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify efficiency,” Microsoft’s Bill Gates once said. “The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
With that in mind, let’s explore how some technological advances, creative approaches to office environments, and collaborative communication concepts may sound like great ideas, but could in fact be hindering our professional time-management efforts. Read on for a short list of this century’s top productivity zappers. And while there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, you might consider making some course corrections in the following areas to help your team hit the upcoming 2020s in their stride.
Meetings make a lot of sense on paper. Gathering people with a shared work goal together, and creating a plan to manage workflow, share ideas, and get stuff done — what’s not to like? But, in practice, meetings too often devolve into major time sucks, no matter what your industry.
The kicker? We’ve known this to be the case for quite some time. Studies show that there are approximately 11 million meetings a year in America, and that a whopping $37 billion is wasted every year due to unproductive ones. Popular business books proclaim meetings as places where productivity goes to die, and countless tech tools have sprung up to offer options for remote meetings to reduce the logistical stress of getting everyone in the same physical room.
Unfortunately, the long, rambling meeting still seems like the default mode for many workplaces. So why not make next year the one you put your foot down and vow to kick aside some of the “deadly sins” of laggy meetings? For starters, work to keep meetings short and to the point. Consider opting for several “standing meetings“ instead of the dreaded weekly sit-down. Next, come prepared to meetings, and set the expectation that your team should do so as well. Encourage staff members to gather all the data before they gather all the people, and things should feel much more productive. Finally, be sure to always establish a clear action plan before closing any meeting.
2. OPEN OFFICE FLOOR PLANS
Raise your hand if you’re struggling to focus due to your office’s open floor plan. Er… wait, maybe don’t; you might distract a colleague.
While open floor plans increase the appearance of transparency and egalitarianism in the workplace, there’s ample proof at this point that they’re productivity nightmares. Research makes clear that workers prefer privacy and focus while at work (okay, only 95 percent of those surveyed valued working privately), and that the structure of open offices makes interruption the norm, not the exception.
Luckily, there’s a quick fix: just the act of setting up physical dividers as makeshift cubicles can help reduce the whopping 86 minutes of productivity lost each day to the distraction of open offices. Your team can also try explicit methods of time management to emphasize focus, like the Pomodoro technique. This rigorous approach to staying on task encourages employees to politely let their interrupting coworkers know that they are at work on a task, and will get back to them later.
3. MESSAGING APPS
Successful employee collaboration boosts both morale and productivity, making apps like Slack seem like the magic bullet for fun and purposeful workplace interaction. After all, the use of office-friendly messaging tools is a fantastic way to source quick answers and engage in other forms of rapid communication.
However, the use of apps like HipChat and Google Chat can quickly go off the rails, turning into distractions at best, and productivity inhibitors and sources of employee anxiety at worst. The negative aspect of messaging tools rears its ugly head when users feel obligated to continually monitor them. Fearful of missing important discussions or decisions, they constantly flutter between the priority at hand and their messaging screen. So what, you ask? So, studies show that “participants interrupted during a cognitive task [experienced] two times the number of errors, two times the feeling of anxiety, and [needed] three to 27 percent more time to complete the tasks.
Here’s a key piece of advice from someone who admittedly loves a good cat meme: encourage your team to only use messenger apps for real time, deadline-focused projects needing an immediate response, and save other forms of workplace communication for email — or the water cooler.
4. USE OF PERSONAL TECH AT WORK
Let’s face it, the unofficial slogan of the 21st century workplace might as well be “A Smartphone in Every Hand.” And, for the most part, the use of personal technology has been a boon for employees and employers looking to embrace more mobility and flexibility in the office. But with greater technology comes greater responsibility, and poorly managed tech offerings can end up eating away at worker morale, productivity, and even security.
In fact, according to one survey cited by Business News Daily, only 40% of employees surveyed said that their personal devices were properly integrated with their work technology. The problem: when employees start taking ad hoc approaches to using their personal phones for work purposes, the result is often a distracting mix of alerts, calls, and emails into their daily workflow (not to mention potentially compromised business data).
The takeaway? Examine your current protocols for personal technology in the office, then consider whether you have the budget to equip everyone with work-only devices to better realize a force of truly mobile, focused workers.
5. CONVOLUTED WORKPLACE RULES
This last productivity destroyer may come as a surprise, but some HR professionals have found that the use of too many rules in the workplace actually inhibits employee engagement and efficiency. Why? Experts argue that the overuse of company regulations leads to staff time wasted on navigating complex processes and protocols, instead of boosting the bottom line.
Let’s be clear, keeping employees safe and in compliance will never go out of style, so think twice before chucking the rule book out the window. Instead, prioritize streamlined systems for reporting workplace injury and harassment, as well as procedures for maintaining customer confidentiality. Then take a good look at rules that veer into micromanagement territory, and consider embracing policies that value trust and independence over the need to memorize section 45/paragraph 2 of the employee handbook.