Impactful Work Environment Tools
According to most experts, while the right digital tools can boost productivity in the workplace by as much as 20-30%, improper implementation or chasing a "magic bullet" solution can actually damage productivity and sink morale. Ultimately, experts state that technological tools can only enhance an existing framework, not replace solid business practices. What is far more important to a company's productivity and success is the company culture and employee engagement, which can make or break the business's bottom line. Below is a deep dive of our findings.
A NOTE ON OUR SOURCES
It is generally Wonder's procedure to only use sources published within the past two years in order to ensure that we are bringing the most up-to-date information available to the table. However, this request includes a couple of sources that are just a few months older than our nominal limit. These sources are still being quoted in more recent articles and we find no more recent information that contradicts them.
Businesses are constantly seeking the right technology tools for their employees, and for good reason: According to one study, "almost 15% of the employees time is spent in communication with co-workers, 20-25% ... in looking for any business related information and 20% ... in checking messages and mailbox," leaving only about half of the employee's time as truly productive. (Another study suggests that the amount of productive time is as little as 20%.) The same study shows that tools which enable quick and easy access to needed information can indirectly boost one's productivity level by 20-30%.
Employees themselves expect the implementation of digital tools, with 57% of respondents in one survey stating that they "expect to be working in a smart office with cutting-edge business equipment" by 2021. In fact, 42% of Millennials claim they would quit a job that failed to provide adequate technology tools and 82% claim that the tech deployed by a company is a major factor in whether they would accept a job there.
Perhaps the most important tools are those which facilitate clear communication, with one study of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each finding that "inadequate communication" cost an average of $62.4 million per company per year. Second to this are automation tools like Quick Books and Wonderlist, with 25% of businesses surveyed saying that these were key to boosted productivity and another 30% saying that automation has principally resulted in "a reduction in costs." In addition, 79% of marketers say that automation tools "resulted in easier campaign management," and 77% claim that it improved sales.
Tom Garrison, VP and General Manager for Business Client Platforms at Intel, recommends that the first tool a company should implement is one or more "cloud services for their productivity solutions," followed by big data. This is particularly critical for any company that expects to benefit from IoT (Internet of Things) devices, which are expected to generate over "20,000 times the amount of data per day over human-generated data."
THERE IS NO "MAGIC BULLET"
However, simply deploying the latest technological solutions in an ad hoc fashion doesn't lead to more productivity. It's interesting to note that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of productivity improvements grew steadily through 2007, from an average of 1.2% annual improvement from 1973 to 1979 to a peak of 2.7% in the mid-late 2000s. However, after that point, productivity improvements dropped back down to nearly the level of the 70s, with an annual improvement of only 1.3% from 2007 to 2018.
The slowing rate of productivity improvement comes at precisely the time that we see more and more productivity tools and apps hitting the market. One observer remarks that the search for the "magic bullet" to boost productivity often becomes the greatest impediment to achieving it: "The reason this market is growing so astronomically isn’t necessarily because we need more tools. And not because companies are making 'better' tools, either. It’s because we keep giving up on the tools we already have."
AVOIDING PITFALLS IN DIGITAL TOOLS
The key to productivity is less the specific tool and more that management has provided a framework to support the tools and apps that they provide their employees. That framework should be focused on careful scheduling of work periods and deadlines, eliminating non-essential tasks, and focusing on achieving set goals. "The latest tool or app will only enhance what’s already there, which is why you need to create a well-oiled system," one in which tools are chosen to solve specific problems rather than simply on the basis of being the "latest" productivity app.
Poor implementation of a new tool can cause friction and even resentment in the office "even if the tool actually works well." This is because different teams have different priorities when it comes to the tools they use, so choosing a tool that only really works for one team and forcing universal adoption "is a surefire way to frustrate team members and make them believe their work doesn’t matter to management."
Likewise, choosing a tool that is too sophisticated for the company's needs can actually slow down productivity due to the sharper learning curve, as can failing to provide proper training. It's far better to err on the side of ease-of-use: "When the tool becomes too complicated or tricky to manage, employees often have no choice but to return to their old ways."
We attempted to locate quantifiable data in the public domain to prove that how easy a tool is to use is important to a work environment. Despite a thorough search of academic sources like Google's Scholar database and the Harvard Business Review as well as business media sources like Forbes and Business Insider, we were unable to find any statistical sources. We hypothesize that an inability to properly quantify "ease-of-use" would make any such study highly subjective. However, it seems to be taken as axiomatic by business experts across multiple industries that the best tools are also the ones that are easiest to use, with products often recommended with statements like, "Simple and easy."
Other studies agree, showing that many of the best productivity boosters are not software tools, but low-tech office setting details like living plants (a 15% boost to productivity) and keeping the office clean (a 5% boost). In fact, while technology tools are important to productivity, company culture is far more critical. According to Inc. magazine, the eight keys to a healthy company culture are recognizing excellence, creating challenges, delegation, enabling teams "to craft their own definitions of success," openness, building good internal relationships, facilitating "whole person growth," and the authenticity and vulnerability of senior leadership.
Only a third of employees report receiving recognition for their work in the last week. Studies show that employees who don't believe that their work is recognized are twice as likely to leave the company. A toxic company culture also serves to drive good employees out the door, with 58% saying they would leave a job or have already left a job due to negative office politics. Replacing employees lost due to poor culture not only lowers productivity but incurs direct costs to the tune of $15,000 per replacement.
Conversely, a company with a culture that attracts and retains good talent can see as much as 27% higher revenue per employee. Engaged employees have 41% less absenteeism, 17% more productivity, and 24% less turnover. In addition, "81% of employees would be willing to work longer hours if they felt their employer was empathetic" and 39% of employees say they would work harder if they were happy in their current workplace.
While having the right technology tools in place to automate processes, collect and collate data, and facilitate communication is clearly vital to a business, the tools must be carefully chosen to solve specific problems within the company, work within the company's framework, and be easy to use, or else they may do more harm than good. However, the far more important element in determining the company's success and employee's productivity is the culture and environment created by senior management. In the end, the tools must fit the employees and the business, not the other way around.