How to fix silent time leaks you didn't know you had
Despite the availability and adoption of all sorts of gadgets, productivity techniques, and other types of time management strategies, companies are still finding it hard to get their work done.
At Dime Software, we are privileged to have hundreds of customers all around the world in the most diverse industries who allow us to take a peek inside and scan their business processes, technology usage, and so on. And while we're involved in just a few key business areas, you would not believe how different people and organizations conduct their business. Even within the same industry, companies can have totally different approaches. What baffles us most, however, is how little technology has changed some companies. Could it be that technology hasn't been as disruptive as many claim?
For example, when we take a look at run-of-the-mill scheduling processes, we find that many organizations rely on primitive methods such as sticky notes or spreadsheets. For fundamental business practices such as scheduling, you can imagine how the other business processes and the technological landscape (or lack thereof) will look like.
The average employee tends to waste 2.09 hours in every 8-hour workday.
It gets worse when we quantify the issue of time management because it is estimated that the average American employee tends to waste 2.09 hours in every 8-hour workday, and an average amount of $39.98 is wasted per employee every day. The logical follow-up question to that staggering statistic is what non-work-related activities people like to do most during working hours.
Identifying time leaks
As is usual with matters such as this, there are several factors that ought to be considered to explain time leaks.
According to a survey that was carried out in 2014, 89% of the workers admitted to wasting time at work. Some of the most common activities and excuses include socializing with co-workers (23.4%), browsing the internet (44.7%), and zoning out (3.9%).
Even when people are actually doing the job they are supposed to do, they spend a surprising amount of time at frivolous activities. Excessive status meetings immediately spring to mind, and everybody can relate to workplace distractions such as incoming phone calls, emails, noisy and slow office equipment, chatty co-workers, and more. Being distracted for just a fraction of a second may have devastating consequences because it takes up to 15 minutes to gather your thoughts and pick up where you left off. In addition, the evidence seems to suggest that multitasking doesn't really work, which only exacerbates the issue of lost company time.
89% of the workers admitted to wasting time at work.
And not to forget, organizational flaws are also a major contributor to the problem. Millions of clicks are lost every day and countless trees had to be cut down so administrative assistants could print out emails ending with the commonly used "please consider the environment before printing this email" verse before burying it deep into the bowels of the storage room.
This isn't shocking news and nobody can be expected to be productive all the time. However, when you tot up the numbers, the amount of company time lost in a single day can be astounding. The impact is profound and as such, it is necessary to develop a plan to tackle the issue and one that goes beyond quick fixes like banning certain aspects of technology usage and adopting new company policies.
There is bound to be resistance with every attempt to address the time management issue and no single measure has a certain outcome. Therefore, one must tread lightly and be diligent with every effort to fix time leaks. For instance, it might be okay to tolerate socializing in the office to stimulate team spirit and boost morale. On the other hand, many employees have admitted to wasting office time to apply for other jobs, which is generally considered as morally objectionable.
How organizations try to deal with time leaks
In order to deal with time leaks, many companies have come up with (illegal) solutions such as screen and network monitoring, banning the use of social media on the company's network, setting lunch and break times, quiet work zones, fewer meetings, and others.
However, this is a temporary strategy that does not help in eradicating the issue completely. Many employees still manage to cross boundaries that cannot be controlled. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a quick fix, and even the most elaborate programs to boost the morale and productivity of workers will never be able to use their workforce's capacity to the fullest. This is not to say that one shouldn't at least try to make their people content, and consequently, more productive.
On the other hand, organizations can control their business processes and policies, and for a good amount of years now, optimizing those processes is often associated with business automation. Some of the subtle time leaks can be addressed by adopting productivity software and automation tools.
For example, by providing a full but realistic work schedule and follow-up system, many employees would be able to make good - and more - use of their capabilities. Mapping and visualizing business processes can help detect flaws in their design, and it provides an opportunity to eliminate time-consuming and dreadful tasks so people can do the work they like (and do) best.
Adaptive work schedules
Another way to keep employees from wasting time is to keep them content by giving them an adaptive work schedule and a job that gives them purpose. Many - but far too few - companies have moved away from traditional 9 to 5 jobs to a more flexible work strategy. For example, it is estimated that 44% of the companies around the world (before COVID-19) do not allow remote work at all. Old habits die hard it seems because it has been reported that 89% of the companies report better retention rates because of flexible work options.
It has been reported that 89% of the companies report better retention rates because of flexible work options.
Market giants such as Apple and Google have also drifted away from conventional working hours towards the adaptive approach, and they have reported higher production rates. The time schedule of employees is designed in such a way that they do not feel burned out and can keep to the schedule. It is because of strategies such as these that they top the list as some of the world's best companies to work for.
Many companies also attempt to motivate employees by offering bonuses for meeting targets and deadlines. While this may work in the short term, in the long run it is likely to lead to problematic situations like burnout and work-family life conflicts.
While measures such as adaptive work schedules and bonuses may help, a comprehensive strategy is required to have a lasting impact that will actually work for the employees. This is highly risky and it may cause embarrassment for the leadership of the company. The question then is whether it's possible to resolve these issues at all? Is there a way to design schedules and morale-boosting programs for the employees without draining the company’s revenues? When even 91% of the executives are unsatisfied with their own time management, something has to change.
Technology can help fix time leaks
As always, there is no single solution or set of solutions that can ever solve such complex and ever-evolving challenges. But one should at least try and fortunately, there are many ways to boost the morale of the workforce and optimize business processes. We already covered productivity-boosting programs and business process management. A third and equally crucial element is technology.
Many troubles related to time-wasting could be resolved with software, without breaking the bank. Even relatively small investments and measures such as a centralized calendar, a CRM system, a basic digital task list, time trackers, and perhaps even a lightweight ERP solution, can have a profound impact on any organization. Heck, even putting your phone in "Do Not Disturb" mode can do wonders.
In addition, automation tools can tie the pieces together to enforce business processes. This results in higher output, fewer mistakes, reduced throughput times, and more; all contributing to higher profits, up to 30% according to research. It gets better because the people involved in the process will need less time to do their work and as such will be able to do more of it, and they will feel less stressed and more inspired.
It is clear that technology plays a vital role in time management. It can unclog an array of issues that runs through a company. There is bound to be resistance, but it will be much less than some of the other ways to reduce time-wasting. And maybe it could even pave the way to the next phase of the (digital) transformation of the organization.
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Salary.com. (2014, March 19). 2014 wasting time at work survey. Retrieved from https://www.salary.com/chronicles/2014-wasting-time-at-work/
Zuckerman, A. (2020, May 8). 45-essential-flexible-working-statistics-2020-market-share-data-analysis. Retrieved from https://comparecamp.com/flexible-working-statistics
Oxford University. (2019, October 24). Happy workers are 13% more productive. Retrieved from https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2019-10-24-happy-workers-are-13-more-productive
McKinsey Quarterly Review. (2013, January 1). Making time management the organization’s priority. Retrieved from http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Making_time_management_the_organizations_priority_3048
Forbes Online. (2014, October 8). Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/?sh=5eec3da356eeBack to news
Hendrik Bulens is Managing Partner at Dime Software and leads the Dime.Scheduler product team. His many years of experience as a consultant and passion for business and technology have helped shape Dime.Scheduler into what it is today and define where it is headed.