Employees spend just 43% of their work week on the job they were hired to do.
It is impossible for most of us in today’s digital age to envision a world without smartphones, cloud storage, and instant connectivity. Most of us have come to believe that immersing ourselves in technology makes us smarter, better and faster. We can track our steps, monitor health parameters, and follow our near and dear ones at the click of a button. At work, digital workplace tools such as email, IM, and other collaboration solutions have made communication easier for today’s technically astute global workforce. At the same time, these have also increased the pace of work distractions that has been building up slowly over the years. A previous survey by Workfront had found that workers are interrupted by e-mail, instant messages, and other digital distractions nearly 14 times per day on average. That number would be much higher today.
This paper addresses the subject of workplace productivity in the digital age when employees are constantly bombarded by digital disturbances in the form of emails, chats, instant messages, etc. It discusses the impact of such interruptions on the work output as well as on the health and well-being of the employee. The point of view creates a framework for developing minimal interruption workplaces that are conducive to employee productivity and well-being. It also introduces several use cases where technology can be tweaked to enable employees to disconnect, and better manage the widespread digital disturbances around them.
The cost of digital distractions
The health ramifications of being digitally connected at all times have already been the subject of many discussions. A study on the cost of interrupted work, conducted a month back had found that, work interruptions through chat messages. etc, resulted in the test group experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort. Also, we cannot disregard the broader impact of the work done by such distracted employees.
Let us consider the case of a blue-collar worker with the responsibility of inspecting the car build in a global automobile company’s assembly line. The said shop floor employee accesses his emails and chat in front of him on Google Glass, addresses some of these through voice assistance, while simultaneously doing the quality check. Are we ready to pay the price of such digital productivity?
The safety and security consequences of such output may at times be nothing short of devastating. A study by Stanford has shown that heavier media multitaskers are unable to focus on most tasks and perform poorly compared to the other categories.
Creating digitally conducive workplaces- A framework for success
Most workplaces still see a large portion of their workforce dedicating most of their time in low value activities, with both personal and work emails consuming a sizeable portion of their workday. The solution to this digital dilemma is not in ‘eliminating’ technology, but in creating ways and means that empower people to use technology in the right way and for the right reasons. After all, technology in the workplace is an important facet of employee experience and productivity.
1. Re-drafting enterprise communication etiquettes
Emails and instant messaging are important and indispensable office communication media. Listed below are a couple of ways to ensure employee productivity while at the same time avoiding an authoritarian environment which might create more harm than good in terms of employee morale:
- Setting up a window every couple of hours to check their smart phones can help achieve a good balance in the use of smart phones in the workplace.
- Encouraging employees to respond to emails only within a designated email time may also help avoid unnecessary distractions. Managers can take a lead by embodying such practices.
- Enabling prompts (prior to sending emails) that encourages users to deliberate on the need to send the email can go a long way in reducing the total number of mail transactions per employee and business unit (BU) every month. It can also be an indicator (KPI) of individual and BU productivity.
- Getting rid of the outdated and unwanted CC and BCC options in the email compose form can help cut down the email barrage. These are legacy options of a time and age when letters were handwritten / typed. These can be done away with to ensure email sanctity of the digital time.
- Disabling notifications that announce a new message/email can help reduce distraction and improve work focus. We are all aware of disturbance from a phone notification that immediately sets the mind wandering. Extending meeting and conference etiquettes of keeping the phone on silent /off can also help prevent unnecessary distractions during the workday.
2. Enabling interactive lock screens
The usual inactive lock screen on PCs and laptops can be swapped for an active lock screen that prompts employees to move away from their workstations, stand up, stretch and stroll, every 30/45 minutes. IMs can also be re-purposed with a similar objective of reminding employees to take care of their physical and mental health. The lock screen can also be an innovative way to cut down on mail communications, especially enterprise-wide employee mailers. It can be used to convey more humane messages, information on volunteering work etc. that establishes a happier and healthier work ecosystem.
3. Establishing workplace rejuvenation options sans technology
The modern workplace comes equipped with a wealth of technology tools designed for productivity. Introducing ways that can help employees ‘disconnect’ can help multiply those productivity levels. Many organizations already conduct regular yoga sessions, dance classes, games and activities for engaging employees. Simple steps such as providing a reading nook near the coffee/water dispenser can provide the much-needed break at work, and books are definitely a much better use of time than office gossip. In brief, helping employees reduce their active screen time, refreshes the body, clears the mind and enables human intelligence to process information better and smarter, unlike artificial intelligence.
Tweaking technology to tackle the turmoil
Technology has always been viewed as an enabler, but real progress is when technology can motivate employees to switch off and disconnect. Advances in AI and automation have already been embraced by enterprises who comprehend the seriousness of digital disturbances in their employees’ daily lives. Here are a few use-cases:
The play of AI in mail accounts is not new. For long, we have used mail filters to segregate spam and sort mails into different categories (Gmail’s Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, etc). While AI-powered filtering has been used mostly to prevent junk mails from infiltrating the inbox, smart replies helps draft quick short responses to mails. Recent tweaks now enable employees to leverage AI to respond with more complex replies that adopt personal writing styles and behaviors. These and other smart functionalities are now creating mailboxes of the future that allow employees to focus their time and energy on more productive work.
Automation has been used in the past to monitor the health of technology devices and applications, generate alerts and take preventive actions. Modern advances now empower AI based sentiment analysis and reporting that can help identify digital distractions based on employee reactions. There are tools that can record and process digital exhaust and create alerts, prompting employees to take steps, say for example when the number of appointments on calendars reach a threshold level.
Creating a technology environment that encourages focus by reducing distractions also involves promoting integrated work environments that puts a curb on unnecessary switching between applications and multitasking. There are a number of advanced offerings in the market that standardizes data and provides a unified access to SaaS, virtual machines, network drives, clouds, and multiple applications, swiftly and securely.
Delimiting digital perils with workplaces of the future
69% of routine work currently done by managers will be fully automated by 2024, according to Gartner.
Even as automation and AI augment human workforce efforts, we are already experiencing a transformed workplace scenario where human and machines work side by side. With continuous information availability and information sharing, enterprise workers are now expected to take on challenges that require constructive thinking and human decision making, while delegating routine work to robots. The new kids in the digital block are expected to fuel efficiency and bottom line growth like never before. And now, we depend upon these technology advances to eliminate technology disturbances that is hurting our ability to work and lead a productive life. The new-age workplace solutions can help employees focus on the more humane aspects of productivity, empowering them to focus on value generation, meaningful conversations, eliminating work fatigue while establishing a healthy work-life ecosystem.
Interested in knowing more about the AI and automation solutions that can help you create healthy and productive workplaces? Please contact us to schedule a discussion with our experts.