Not so long ago, before the ubiquity of smartphones and the endless stream of mobile apps, an interruption in the office likely came from a knock at the door. Today, workers have to contend with a constant barrage of emails, text messages, social media updates, and online promotions that impact their productivity.
Undeniably, many of these modern technologies have boosted productivity to levels unheard of just a mere three decades ago. The evolution of computer design and its accompanying software have significantly increased output and decreased productivity costs in almost every sector. Yet, there is another side to the coin. Despite their usefulness, computers, smartphones, other personal gadgets and their associated software can be incredibly addictive, to the point where they negatively affect productivity. In some cases, it might be considered a cruel irony that these devices have given rise to the creation of the word “multitasking”.
In a 2010 article ‘Office technology: Productivity boost or time sink?’, Tim Stansfield, president of the Ohio-based IET Inc., estimates that only 50 percent of the tasks office workers spend their time on are unrelated to their job descriptions. In the same article, Dave Crenshaw, author of the book The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done, posits that multitasking hardly benefits worker productivity.
“The majority of people are caught in a constant round of task-switching, going from site to site, e-mail to e-mail, conversation to conversation. At the end of the day they’ll say they were really busy all day long, but if you ask what they did they can’t think of anything,” Crenshaw states.
The problem is that human multitasking involves interrupting one task with another, writes the article’s author Lamont Wood. In fact, chief analyst at New York research firm, Basex Inc, Jonathan Spira estimates that about 28% of an office worker’s time is lost to interruptions and recovery time, which cost the U.S. about $900 billion per year. The article also notes a 2008 survey by PEP Productivity Solutions which found that office workers spend a total of 27.3 hours per person per week devoted to non-essential tasks, including “inefficient” meetings.
Emerging technologies for the office
Of course, this is not to say technology is the only culprit interrupting productivity. Some of these interruptions are in the workers’ control, meaning they can simply turn off the devices or be disciplined about how they use them. But in many cases, an employee cannot ignore an email from the boss, or brush off a text from an important client in the middle of a completing a task.
Still, there is no doubt that computers, smartphones, the Internet and all its trappings have advanced productivity in the last 30 years. But how will these technologies impact productivity in the office of the future?
As Natasha Baker writes in Forbes Magazine, advances in Internet connection speeds and mobile phone networks are expected to lead to an increase in telecommuting by 2020. This could mean remote workers using robots to complete some tasks in the office, controlling the robot’s movements and using microphones and cameras to keep them in the loop. Baker says that in addition to wearable enhanced reality to store and process data, businesses of the future will rely heavily on voice and facial recognition sensors to replace passwords and provide real time translation of meetings for context and important reminders.
Design considerations for integrating technology
In the article 10 Trends in Office Design, the author notes that future workstation designs will take into account that one size does not fit all. Flexibility in design will consider for example, the space for someone who sits at the desk all take answering phone calls from customers versus the worker who is not tied to a desk to help the company be more efficient.
Technologies have removed the need for the worker to be in one place all the time in order to be productive. Therefore, it may be more practical and cost effective for workers to be more mobile. However, when these workers come into the office, the design should incorporate a touchdown spot which supports basic activities such as checking e-mail and basic filing, with added Ergonomics that help reduce stress and encourage worker productivity. Finally, technologies will be incorporated in building design itself – the walls, floors, even the furniture – to bring together the whole concept of collaboration and efficiency.
The office of the future will also place great importance on collaboration – a good reason management should rethink technologies to make spaces more user friendly for employees. Increasingly, a collaborative work environment is the goal of many organizations as they seek to improve creativity and productivity. The open office layout will facilitate teamwork and make it easier to get input on projects and communicate on group activity.
“People aren’t chained to their desks the way they were even five years ago. As a modern, mobile workforce, we’re shedding the desktop and clunky software for systems and tools that give us the freedom to work with anyone,” Oudi Antebi, senior vice president of products at social business software provider Jive notes in a Business News Daily article What the Workplace of the Future Will Look Like.
Cultural changes and advances in technology are helping to fuel the growth of these types of office systems for the next generation of office workers who will benefit from more efficient work spaces in a team-oriented environment. All this is ensure that businesses and employees make the most efficient use of the technologies at their disposal and continue to boost productivity.