When Technology Wastes Time

Technology intended to untie the American worker is actually taking a tremendous toll, according to new research from IT analysis firm Basex. The report indicates that technology tools, including e-mail and instant messaging, are the main culprits when it comes to unnecessary interruptions that cost U.S. companies nearly US$600 billion per year.

The research claims the distractive impact of spam, the Web and telephone calls results in 28 billion lost man-hours per year in the United States at a cost of $588 billion.

“Technology promised to make workers more efficient, but it has the potential to cost companies billions unnecessarily,” read a statement from Basex, which just released its report, “The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity.”

A People Problem

But the underlying cause of such costly distraction, Basex CEO and chief analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld, is not actually the technology.

“It’s not only technology, it’s how knowledge workers behave,” Spira said. “Companies have to recognize we’re now dealing with a different type of work force, with significant changes. Quite honestly, there has been a very poor job done educating the business world about managing knowledge workers.”

As an example, Spira reported that, in his firm’s survey of more than 1,000 executives and knowledge workers, more than 60 percent indicated they checked an incoming e-mail immediately or nearly immediately.

“That, I think, is in keeping with curiosity killed the cat,” he added. “We’re our own worst enemy.”

Pursuing Productivity

Basex warned that 28 percent of every knowledge worker’s day could be wasted because of unnecessary interruptions that include instant messaging, spam e-mail, telephone calls and the Web in general.

Spira said the key to cutting into such losses is corporate management of the technologies and effective application of the various communication means.

“The most important thing to understand is that the misuse of technology that has the potential to make us more efficient can be very costly, but we can do something to fix it, and we can end up more efficient in the end,” he said.

Suggestions from Basex included: “Training knowledge workers to prioritize work at hand,” and “Providing them with the discretion to turn off technology or separate themselves from technology to do work.”

Maurene Caplan Grey, principal analyst of Grey Consulting, also told TechNewsWorld that the issues of time wasted on technology, particularly interruptions, are largely human behavior.

“It seems intuitively correct, but most people don’t have an idea of what technology to use, and when to use it,” she said.

Calling the problem “a cultural issue within an organization,” Grey said there is a burgeoning number of professional services focused on increasing productivity and efficiency by curbing the wasted time.

RSS and Other Relief

Grey stressed that all of the communication, regardless of which technology is being used, depends on the sender, and his or her awareness of the recipients’ technology and tastes.

However, the analyst added, some technologies — such as really simple syndication (RSS) services that allow recipients to determine when and how they view sites or updates — can turn the tables on the equation, and promote more efficiency in the process.

“With RSS, we’re talking about a different type of mentality, where the recipient is in charge,” she said. “There, the recipient is subscribing to what he or she wants and looks at when he or she wishes.”

Pointing to successful efforts by the likes of Intel to improve worker efficiency with technology and cultural change programs, Grey said it is important to understand that companies are only interested in productivity gains that translate to profit.

“The only number that matters is that which brings revenue,” she said. “What brings revenue into an organization is a higher level of efficiency across work groups.”

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