Let's take a quick journey back to the 1980s - the decade that looked to the future, so much so that an iconic film was built around just that. There was excitement and speculation over how technology could improve work and home life. The 80s paved the way for today's innovations, mobile phones became popular, personal computers entered the mainstream consumer market and the cassette player and walkman were in their heyday. Fast forward to the noughties and were now fully immersed in all things tech-related. Society has moved offline to online; we are living in a digital world. Has technology improved the workplaces as predicted or has the digitalisation in fact caused your workforce's productivity to drop?
The work/life blurring
Research carried out by manufacturer Fellowes Brands revealed that UK office workers are on average distracted every 35 minutes when at work, costing businesses around £3 billion a year. With an estimated 21 million unproductive working days a month, technology is one of the main culprits for such high levels of distraction. As a manager it is difficult to monitor your employees' productivity, to micromanage their time would cause more harm than good and can you say that you haven't had a 5 minute browse through your Facebook feed or replied to a WhatsApp while at your desk? We're all guilty of doing so.
The amount of time at work that is not productive could be counteracted by the fact the lines between work and home life have been blurred. With access to work emails on our phones and documents through VPN access, the hours your employees may lose whilst in work they make up for in the evenings and over weekends when at home with their family and friends. The culture of connection has taken its toll on us both professionally and personally.
How do you solve a problem like technology?
Online project management application Trello is an interactive way of keeping track of your team's tasks and projects. You can share each task board with your members to increase work collaboration, idea creation and work productivity nobody wants to the one letting the team down finishing a project because they're the last to complete their task.
Microsoft's Skype for Business, formally known as Lync, works the same way as Skype does but for organisational purposes. Employees can instant message one another, connect with other departments without the need for lengthy emails that can be ignored, create discussion groups across the organisation as well as being able to phone and video call clients or yourself when out of the office.
Facebook's entry into the business sphere in 2016 allows employees to use social in a productive work environment. The platform allows colleagues to keep informed about the latest business wide and departmental news. It also has the ability for companies to communicate with others and lets employees automate their everyday tasks. The standardised Facebook applications are available too so you can share information amongst selected groups and instant message to your connected network. As with Facebook, Facebook Workplace is available as an app too so you can always be connected. Time will tell whether this will fall victim to the same fate as Microsoft's Yammer.
Is technology the distraction scapegoat?
As a manager you can overcome digital distraction by incorporating technology into everyday work tasks, but it's imperative to find out why your employees are getting distracted; are they not being challenged enough? Not enjoying their role? Having too much fun with fellow colleagues? Personal issues? The reason for a reduction in productivity could run a little deeper than the latest headlines and trending hash tags you catch them scrolling through. Technology can be blamed for workplace distractions however is it just an enabler for unhappy employees who would have the same issues if you were managing them 30 years ago?
It'd be easy to look back and romanticise about days gone by when employees would not have been distracted by devices, apps and the internet. Do not forget the flip side of this, the inability to produce a higher level of work in the efficient manner that you now expect. In any workplace distractions occur, whether it be on the computer, mobiles or your team's own workmates it's inevitable but as Alex Soojung-Kim Pang simply states in his book The Distraction Addiction, connection is inevitable. Distraction is a choice.
Don't keep looking back over your shoulder
We are now in the age of the digital workforce. We can work, communicate, find love and order tonight's dinner all online and it's inescapable. To forgo technology in business is impossible if you want to succeed and with the UK being the largest investor of technological innovation in Europe it's inevitable it will continue to grow and thus be even more immersed into our work and home life. This does not mean that it is acceptable for your workers to send round memes and YouTube clips during working hours, but by making sure that your employees are happy, working to capacity and understanding what is expected of them, distractions of all types can be reduced and a happier workforce be produced simultaneously.
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