The internet's productivity paradox

There's no doubt that technology has been a boon for the workplace but is it also a double edged sword that can wreak havoc on overall workplace productivity?

If you are reading this at work, then you’re more than likely wasting your employer's time. Don’t you have reports to write, calls to make, deals to seal?

Still reading? Well, it just goes to show that just because one has the tools to become more productive at work doesn’t necessarily mean they will always put them to good use.

The internet has provided us with a plethora of distractions, ranging from Facebook to Angry Birds, and everyone of them can take a toll on productivity. So how big a problem is this and how much damage is it doing?

No one wants to admit it...

Unsurprisingly, the first and best place to start dealing with the problem is to admit that it actually exists.

Brennan IT's national marketing manager, Robin Marchant volunteered to talk about to the issue, but he was wary not to be too specific when answering questions on technology distraction in his workplace.

Marchant's reticence is not a surprise given that any company would loath the implication that its staff aren’t as productive as they could be. While Marchant understandably declined to cast any aspersions on his own staff he did admit that distraction is a very real problem.

According to Marchant, Brennan IT has put in place training and “best practice” guidelines to manage the situation. It could be assumed that this is a strategy being implemented in companies across Australia but just how efficient these measures are is anybody's guess.

While corporates may like to keep their cards close to their chests, Deloitte’s National Leader on Technology consulting, Rob Hillard says there’s no need for them to tiptoe around the issue of productivity drain.

According to Hillard, this is a proven and documented phenomenon. One recent example of this comes in the form of a worldwide survey of 170,000 workers by Kelly Services.

According to the survey, around 48 per cent of those interviewed said that social media had a negative impact to their productivity, yet only six per cent said they had told to stop using it at work.

Forget Facebook, email's the real culprit

As far as Hillard is concerned, the most common occurrence of distraction from technology comes from the “email overload” most employees have to grapple on a daily basis.

But as the volume of distractions multiplies, Hillard is keen to reinforce that the same tools have actually greatly bolstered our overall productivity; meaning that a total ban on technology would be a ridiculous answer to this problem.

Hillard says that the solution to this dilemma is twofold. Employers need to both educate staff to effectively manage time and motivating them enough so that they won’t want to be distracted.

On the education front, Hillard said that staff need learn to “understand how they think, when they are most productive and how to segment their time”.

He adds that one of the benefits of technology is that we are able to work at any place and at any time. If an employee is taught how to manage this new capability effectively, it can greatly bolster their productivity.

On the motivation front, Hillard suggests that companies should move into utilising the ideas emerging from the gamification trend to encourage staff to produce more at work. Companies are currently using some of the ideas from gamification - such as ongoing rewards and leaderboards - to encourage customers to engage with a particular service or product. Hillard says that these concepts may have some merit in the workplace.

One point that Hillard does make, is that this problem may not be as tied to technology as some may think.

He says that if an employee isn’t engaged with their work, they’re going to seek out distractions anyway.

Whether it be through useless banter or fiddling with what’s on their desk, without the right management, incentives and motivation all employees will simply find ways to just coast through the day.

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