There are more than 2 billion people using smartphones today, these marvelous pieces of technology that are so small that fit into people’s pockets, but can make them feel naked when they don’t have them on their person.
Then the iPad came along in 2010, followed by a whole range of other tablets. Users have a plethora of applications now for these devices, which constantly feed people information and connect everyone together. They’ve become an extension of the human.
Organisations identified the potential of this phenomenon and set out to enable employees to work from everywhere, anytime. Systems, platforms, workflows, policies… everything was reviewed and adapted to support this goal. Even bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives were conceptualised and rolled-out to allow employees to use their own personal devices.
People now have – literally in our hands – awesome technology they love and don’t want to miss. It gives employees flexibility in their work, and enables them to be more productive and satisfied on the job. It seems as if society has reached corporate nirvana, with productivity and engagement rising to unprecedented levels. Or so it was thought…
The data, however, tells a different story. In 1987, the economist Robert Solow observed that “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics “.
30 years later (and 10 years after the iPhone was launched) the spirit of this statement still lingers. According to Bersin’s latest Predictions for 2017 report, productivity gains have slowed since the widespread adoption of smartphones. At the same time, analysis of Glassdoor data shows that overall employee engagement has not improved over the last decade.
How can this be? Here are some possible explanations.
First, new technologies may not completely replace an older one. Consequently, there may be increased complexity due to the additional choices innovators need to make and manage. Think of people coming to a meeting with laptop, tablet and smartphone, but who end up making notes on paper, just to (maybe) digitalise these afterwards.
Second, wide adoption does not guarantee the proper use of the technology, failing to materialise its potential. This is often the case when old habits are transferred to a new technology. Think of someone who uses a word document to write a to-do list, instead of using a tool that is synchronised across all devices, allows re-sorting and is easy to tick-off.
Third, just because something is technically possible, it doesn’t mean it should be done all the time. Yes, people could work anytime and everywhere, but should they? Research on optimal human performance and employee satisfaction has consistently shown the importance of disconnecting to rest and recover, and this is definitely at odds with the “always-on“ trend of today.
Multi-level approach to put engagement and productivity back on track
Tackling the negative consequences of technology penetration and organisational adoption is a complex endeavour, so measures are most likely to be effective if initiated on organisational, team and individual levels. Here are some first ideas to start with.
Organisational level: Lean portfolio and robust enablement
The IT and HR organisations can have a significantly positive impact and support higher levels of productivity, well-being and employee engagement.
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IT departments should focus on keeping a lean technology portfolio, which is relevant for the employee, as well as fully compatible with and integrated into other solutions.
At the same time, change management activities, including roll-out, communication and enablement should be carefully planned and executed to reduce workforce confusion and frustration.
HR departments should define strategies to promote well-being and optimal human performance to enable employees to play at their best. A good place to start is by getting insights from employee surveys around business health culture and engagement.
How employees use technology, manage their schedule or deal with time pressure are partially learn’t skills, so enhancing the training portfolio in these areas may be a first consequence.
Team level: setting clear rules
Teams and leaders should not avoid discussions around internal team rules when it comes to availability and the management of interruptions.
These conversations should not only clarify when general reachability is expected (e.g. in a typical day, or during critical project phases), but also when a team member is not expected to respond or to be available. Not everybody wants to (and sustainably can) be “always-on“, and this will neither increase productivity or engagement across the organisation.
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In addition, teams are well advised to define rules for non-interruption to protect each other’s productivity. As there are more and more advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, routine tasks performed by employees will diminish.
Employees will increasingly perform complex tasks such as abstraction, conceptualisation, strategy or leadership – all of which require concentration and focus during uninterrupted slots of time.
Individual level: defining individual boundaries and self-management
Employee well-being and productivity is inherently tied to each individual. Consequently, individuals play a significant role in the equation, and their power is often more significant than assumed.
Employees should clarify and embrace their relationship with technology. This implies not only deciding on devices, apps and platforms used, but also on the level of intrusiveness one wants to implement.
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Multiple communication technologies require a higher level of self-management. Email, text message, chat, whatsapp or even a good old phone call, they can all be and feel very intrusive.
Even if – as suggested above – teams do define interruption rules, the individuals reaching out probably won’t know if the person they want to communicate with would prefer not to be interrupted. So, it’s wise to make good use of silent modes, “do not disturb“ status and other similar settings.
Finally, go for the single most effective productivity tool: the to-do list. Feeling constantly busy, but no feelings of accomplishment at the end of the day? Chances are, you started the day without a to-do list, and/or you’ve had a day full of interruptions.
So, let’s go and get productive. It will also make people feel better.
Sourced by Alejandro Aichele, global head of talent and organisational insight at SAP
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