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Meetings aren’t the biggest time waster at work. This thing is

Sure, sitting through endless meetings is a waste of time, but this problem is far more insidious.

Meetings aren’t the biggest time waster at work. This thing is
[Photo: NordWood Themes/Unsplash]

If you’re not getting enough done at work, it can be easy to blame meetings. They often make the top-five list of productivity busters, but there’s something lurking in your workplace that is probably wasting more time than you realize.

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A recent survey by Productiv, an application engagement analytics platform, found that 27% of workers said meetings caused their decrease in productivity. However, 39% said not having access to the right applications decreases their productivity, and 54% named lack of cross-departmental collaboration as the primary barrier.

The typical employee uses 36 different applications during their workday, according to a 2017 report from McAfee. In Productiv’s survey, 83% of working professionals reported that their organizations have two or more redundant applications for these functions, while 57% reported at least three redundant applications.

Tools like Slack, Trello, and Google Docs are meant to foster collaboration and productivity, but departments often aren’t coordinating their usage with the rest of the organization.

“There’s been an explosion in the number of software applications available,” says Jody Shapiro, Productiv founder and former head of Google Analytics. “The struggle is in the organic adoption of these tools. Ten years ago, everybody used Microsoft Office and Adobe tools. Today, SaaS [software as a service] vendors are selling directly to business units, and we are experiencing a sprawl of applications meant to increase productivity. The problem is that different departments are using different tools, and that slows everyone down.”

Shapiro says the biggest challenge is redundancy. “Within a company, the legal team might use Microsoft Word, the engineers are using Google Docs and the marketing team is using Dropbox Paper. If you want to find a document, you may need to check five different tools. This is a massive productivity killer, and it can impact morale.”

So, how do you handle it?

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Pick one

Survey within your organization and pick the application that most are happy with, says Shapiro. “You may have teams with a company using Skype or Zoom, but when you have a meeting, you don’t see people dialing in through separate platforms,” he says. “Find a tool and standardize that. But be careful of a squeaky-wheel personal bias for the executive’s choice; it can be an inefficient way of choosing.”

Shapiro suggests looking at what people are using on a day-to-day basis, how they’re spending their time and energy. “If you don’t have data you might make an arbitrary decision and push people to the wrong tool,” he says.

The question isn’t if products are being logged into; it’s how employees engage with them, says Shapiro. “Where are teams collaborating?” he asks. “What are the systems of work they’re using?”

Andrew Filev, CEO at Wrike, a project management application, agrees: “At some point you have to make a decision,” he says. “If the tool truly brings the productivity benefit, you need to roll it out to all relevant employees. And if the tool doesn’t bring the benefit, some trimming is due.”

If your teams have different preferences, use an objective process to compare and make the singular decision. “That said, if the teams truly have different requirements and use-cases, it’s perfectly fine to go with a vertically focused approach, as long as the next principle is in place,” says Wrike.

Consolidate certain tools

A study by LogMeIn’s GoTo confirms Productiv’s research: Tools meant to improve productivity and boost collaboration in the workplace have actually made employees more distracted.

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For example, 54% of employees have at least five different programs running simultaneously and 56% use at least three different tools to collaborate, says Mark Strassman, senior vice president and general manager of unified communication and collaboration for LogMeIn.

“Workers are losing momentum and wasting time swapping between different solutions for different tasks, rather than being able to maintain focus and handle all of their communications from a single, centralized point,” he says. “That can also lead to distractions and slip-ups; [we found] 57% of respondents saying they’ve sent an email to the wrong person, and embarrassingly, 33% reporting they’ve accidentally sent a chat to someone talking badly about them.”

Address the problem by consolidating communication and collaboration platform technologies. “Not only can this lead to massive cost savings and streamlined IT management, but it significantly uncomplicates things for your employees,” says Strassman.

Pick tools that are similar

Consider “attention residue,” suggests Sal Mistry, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Delaware. “Attention residue research suggests that an employee’s direction, persistence, and intensity on a task is not based solely on the current task they must engage in but rather, the prior task and the way it was experienced,” he says. “This also strongly influences their focus and productivity.”

Assuming that all the apps being used at the company are useful to someone, the best thing a company can do is to make certain that the applications the firm adopts are similar in terms of steps needed to access it, the workflow, and the user interface, says Mistry. “This will not only alleviate the ‘residue’ that arises from thinking about the last task on a SaaS application while the employee is doing work on another SaaS application,” he says.

Use a single sign-on container

Measuring the usage of tools is difficult because each provides its own administrative capabilities, and metrics are limited to the individual tool. The key to resolving this problem is to create a single distribution channel through a “container” concept, says Praveen Kanyadi, co-founder and vice president of products at the productivity tool platforms SpotCues and Groupe.io.

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“A ‘container’ concept enables employees to access all of their work applications from one single place,” he says. “The container additionally supports roles based on restricting access to applications and the employee’s function. All enterprise apps including desktop web, native mobile, and hybrid apps should be made available to employees through this container.”

Containers allow employees single-sign-on access, which streamlines usage. And a container automatically logs and reports metrics on usage across all the applications.

The answer isn’t always killing tools, says Shapiro. “Get ahead of the apps instead of being reactive,” he says. “Organically tools have evolved and some were never cleaned up. Get data, and make better decisions on how you get work done.”

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