Misuse of Productivity Technology

Thanks to the Ipswitch blog, I came across this research by the NTL Telewest Business division:

A new study from NTL: Telewest shows that misuse of office technology adds almost two hours to the average British working day. About 100 minutes a day are wasted from incompetent, careless or inefficient use of technology. The study shows that e-mail, voicemail and the Internet are far from being tools to improve worker productivity, actually distracting workers more than easing job functions.

Lost time was pegged as follows (emphasis added):

  • Travel not including to and from work: 14 minutes
  • Chasing responses to urgent emails: 42 minutes
  • Responding to voicemails or managing phone calls: 27 minutes
  • Trying to locate colleagues: 12 minutes
  • Meetings that are unnecessarily long: 12 minutes
  • Asking others for files or documents (e.g. version control): 9 minutes
  • Scheduling and rescheduling meetings: 8 minutes
  • Conference calls that could be far shorter: 6 minutes

Here’s my thoughts on two of the examples of misuse that are cited in the study. Firstly, “lost time waiting for an answer to an important email”. The implication is that if it’s urgent and you need an answer “now”, don’t send an email. Call the person, or find someone else who can help.

Secondly, “overreliance on voicemail for returning or making calls”. The implication, again, is that if an urgent response or reaction is needed, don’t use voicemail. Find someone who can help right now, so you can gain that last vital piece of information and drive closure on your current tasks. Additionally, if there is specific information that you need from someone on an ongoing basis, make it a standard part of your day to catch up with that person at a specific time. Within a team situation, hold a 15 minute stand-up meeting at 9am every day so everyone knows what everyone else is working on.

I think that the conclusion in the study doesn’t follow logically from the findings … the correct conclusion is “if you make competent, careful and efficient use of technology, you will improve worker productivity”, not that the technology will make you less productive regardless of how you use it.

As a final observation on the research write-up, it is unclear whether some of the time was lost due to recreational/social use of the technology, or if it was all due to ineffective behaviors in making use of it within the context of real work. I’d like to see the researchers be more clear in their explanations on this one.

Source: NTL, Ipswitch Blog, MSP Alliance
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