With smartphones and tablets now on hand for everyone, it’s a brave new world—and workplace. For employers, the potential distractions of technology can give rise to headaches and heavy-handed corporate policies. For employees, always being tied to work online creates tension in the whole work-life balance equation.
Fortunately, there is a solution that doesn’t involve banning small screens from the office. Establishing a company culture that infuses technology in just the right ways can make a real difference in overall morale and productivity.
First, it takes rethinking some common assumptions about technology in the workplace, then finding strategies to make it work wonders for focus and connectivity.
A 2014 survey by the tech firm Ricoh Group found that more than 75 percent of employees checked personal email at work, 67 percent sent texts, 61 took personal calls, and 35 percent posted to their social media accounts at least once a week while on the job.
You don’t need a random poll to know that though. This type of distraction is commonplace, and can be a productivity drain, but banning devices doesn’t seem to work either.
Fortune recently reported on a 20-country survey by a network security firm, Fortinet, that showed that more than half of employees between 21 and 31 would find a way around company policies banning the use of personal devices at work or for work purposes.
“These younger employees are willing to take as many shortcuts as they can in order to use the technologies that they’ve spent literally their whole lives embracing,” reports Richard Henderson, a Fortinet security strategist and threat researcher. “So are we really surprised that these young professionals are virtually demanding access to the same technologies 24/7, wherever they go?”
This technology boundary-breaking goes both ways. Employees often bring work home, and keep connected to the office 24/7 to degrees that would have shocked workers of the past.
Stop resisting the onslaught of technology. Embrace it by acknowledging both its challenges and its possibilities, then let employees in on the conversation on how to use it to the best effect. Open communication and goal setting can make the difference. For example, a quick trip to a Facebook account after a long conference call can be an energy boost and a mental shift before moving on to the next task.
Focus is the real key. How do you keep employees on task, while keeping that sense of flexibility inherent in tech devices?
Debunk the myth of multitasking for employees. Then encourage routine, accountability and rewards. Tony Schwartz, the CEO and founder of The Energy Project, wrote in “The Magic of Doing One Thing At a Time” in the Harvard Business Review, “The biggest cost [of juggling too many things at once]—assuming you don’t crash—is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 percent.”
So if multitasking doesn’t really exist, what works at work? Schwartz emphasizes sustained focus with consistent, planned breaks. He recommends structuring a routine by doing the most important thing on that day’s list first, with all tech devices on silent, and with a clear stop and start time of no more than 60 to 90 minutes. Employers can respect this focus by not demanding instant responsiveness. Incessant email checking is a known productivity killer.
By opening up a conversation about the hazards of multitasking and offering up practical tips for focusing and productivity, companies can shift mind frames instead of demand compliance, and create a culture of empowered employee who work smarter, not harder.
Cloud-based time tracking technology can help with the focus factor, while building in accountability and flexibility. Available on apps, mobile sites, desktop widgets, and other formats, employees can clock in and out wherever work takes them, on the devices they already use everyday. By clicking on a job code, an employee instantly zeroes in on their task. Even if they decide to switch it up again in a few minutes, this is an intrinsic way to show employees how they organize their day, and give them a list of task options that matter to the company. For the employee, it just feels flexible and intuitive, and helps them clearly see where work tasks take them.
For employers, online time tracking allows for oversight without the hassle—or the hassling of staff. A Who’s Working option can show managers what employers are working on, and with GPS stamping, even where they’re at while in the field. Overtime and PTO tracking can also be built in so that critical boundaries and break times are clearly respected.
The work world is mobile now, so by moving paper-based systems online, you take care of business everywhere too. Hundreds of web-based project management systems now exist to organize calendars, milestones, to-do lists, and share documents. Research and test drive different options, then decide which one to implement company-wide based on what feels the most intuitive, comprehensive, and useful for as many employees (on as many of their devices) as possible.
The Social Economy, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, found that certain industries could raise productivity by 20 to 25 percent by implementing social technologies too. Frequent and instant interaction between coworkers can help solve business problems faster.
By getting everyone on the same platform—and the same page—you can use technology to everyone’s advantage. Since tech devices are already on hand and on the go no matter what, it’s about time to put them to work in ways that make sense for everyone involved.