An hour and a half every day. That’s how much time remote and digital-first workers are losing to inefficient communication and collaboration.
But what does that look like on an average workday?
- It’s searching through your various team collaboration apps to find the right project status update.
- It’s sitting through another lengthy Zoom call when a short-yet-detailed message would have done the job just fine.
- It’s stopping what you’re doing to check Slack after you get pinged by a couple of teammates.
- It’s checking your email—or any one of your other 20 business apps—based on a notification.
These are the kinds of little distractions and disruptions that pop up throughout the workday. But these and other communication and collaboration inefficiencies quickly add up to a very big problem—and not just for you and your team’s productivity or even your company’s bottom line.
Once you subtract the hours per day these things take up, as well as the time needed to refocus, you aren't left with a lot of quality time to actually…get work done.
There are about 75 million digital workers in North America, which makes this a $1T problem—$3T globally.
So, let’s stop pretending this is how work has to be; let’s start doing something about it.
Here’s how you and your team can pinpoint these inefficiencies, start to make patterns and workflow changes, and get back at least an hour of those 90 minutes you’re losing out on each workday.
After all, we all know how much can be accomplished in an hour a day of deep focus time.
Start looking at your team’s digital work data
No one tries to be inefficient with their time. And most of us actively attempt to be more efficient. But efficiency can be a tough thing to work on.
You could productivity hack your way to a productive workday if you didn't have teammates. But you do. And getting everyone to agree there’s a problem and also make adjustments requires data! You’re not in control because the team has established communication and collaboration norms that you’re somewhat stuck with. And there are two (or more) sides to this story, just like there are two or more sides to every Slack or Teams message.
A digital work analytics tool like Produce8 creates transparency when it comes to your team’s workdays. It enables you to:
- observe how your team is interacting with your communication and collaboration tools, and with each other;
- see how these continual interactions are punctuating the digital workday in real-time and over time; and
- quantify where time is getting lost across your various apps and workflows.
This process shows when and how your team’s focus time gets interrupted and eaten away. And it takes the guesswork out of understanding the scope of your team’s overall communication and collaboration inefficiencies.
Data is invaluable. But of course, only if you do something with it.
Discuss the problems and solutions as a team
Once you understand what the problems are and where they keep cropping up for your team, you can have some important discussions about what that means for your business and the quality of the work experience for your people.
Research has shown digital workers can lose as much as 23 minutes of time every time they get interrupted. And those interruptions can happen often with power-users of apps like Slack sending as many as 1,000 messages per day.
And something else happens when we get interrupted. A study found we try to do the task faster to make up for lost time, which leads to stress, frustration and most likely mistakes.
Lots of people are also adding quiet hours in the morning and evening to get work done. But why can't we get it done during the actual workday?
So when was the last time you and your team talked about how the work is going and how they’re really feeling? More than 50% of people report feeling burnt out these days—a stat that’s closer to 60% for Millenial and Gen-Z workers. And businesses are starting to sit up and listen, which is great. But offering your team more wellness benefits and more paid time off might not be enough to solve the problem alone.
First, we need to solve this digital work problem of over-distraction and over-communication that’s adding to the stress and anxiety of the daily work experience. Talk to your people. Find out what they think the real issues are, and gather opinions on what should be done about it.
Implement some changes and measure the results
“Productivity is about systems that force good behavior,” said business advisor Justin Welsh in an article he penned for his blog.
Having a visualization of what your team’s unique work systems looks like—and hearing straight from them how they feel about it—makes it a whole lot easier to see where your systems are going wrong so you can start to implement some new ones.
For example, Welsh said you should be asking, “what can [we] eliminate?” and “what can [we] simplify”
If you see your team’s time being eaten up by endless blocks of meetings or other communication-related tasks, consider establishing some policies around smarter meeting and collaboration structures. Get more discerning about what requires a meeting and what doesn’t—as well as who should and shouldn’t be included. Only the people who'll contribute should be attending.
- In the U.S., an estimated $37 billion and 24 billion hours are lost to unproductive meetings every year, according to career app Zippia.
- Additionally, 65% of employees said meetings prevent them from completing their work and 45% said they feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attend.
Context switching is another huge issue. Most of us toggle back and forth between our work and our communication and collaboration apps all day long. But too much of this behavior can become stressful and unproductive.
As digital workers, we like to think we’re able to multi-task across all our technology. But the reality is, the human brain isn’t capable of doing two tasks that require high-level brain function at once. Instead, we end up doing a so-so job on both, while simultaneously wasting time refocusing as we move back and forth between the tasks.
If your team has a context-switching problem, encouraging them to focus on one task at a time whenever possible can be a huge game-changer in terms of productivity and work quality. It’s also less taxing on the brain, which can promote less stress and better employee wellbeing.
A few common things teams are trying to increase productivity
- Asychronous work hours—dedicated time when your team members can work without the pressure to respond to messages and notifications
- Scheduled focus hours—create a target per week your people can work toward
- No-meeting Fridays—a great way to get more intentional about meetings while also creating more space for distraction-free work
- Turning off notifications—add more quiet and focus time to the workday
- Flexible work schedules—empower your people to get their best work done when they work best
After you decide on the best changes for your team and you put them into action, it’s time to revisit the data.
- How have your team’s work patterns changed?
- Did the changes made have the desired impact?
- And are further changes or tweaks required to further optimize your team’s digital work processes and experience?
Being able to measure the results of the changes your team makes to their work patterns and processes is the difference between throwing solutions at the wall to see if they stick and working toward real impactful progress.
Make deep focus time a priority
You’ve made some changes and they’re starting to save your team time each day. Great. But make sure you’re using that new-found time wisely.
When our team began auditing our digital work data, we saw clearly how much time we were all devoting to Slack usage each day—not to mention how often it was pulling us back in with messages and notifications. Oh, the context switching!
- In addition to creating clear synchronous and asynchronous work schedules for our team to alleviate the pressure to respond on Slack, we’ve also encouraged everyone to block off time in their calendars for deep focus time.
- Being intentional about locking in that time each day has paid off.
- We’re even in the process of reducing our total work hours to 32-hours a week.
At the beginning of this article, I told you that as digital workers, we’re all losing an hour and a half per day to collaboration and communication inefficiencies. So why did this article only focus on getting two thirds of that time back?
Distractions and interruptions aren’t completely unavoidable in our jobs and daily lives. And in some cases, they’re necessary. Emergencies happen that require a quick response. Things come up with our children or other family members that require our immediate attention.
But working on getting back all those little chunks of time being wasted on efforts that aren’t serving your business, your team or you as an individual makes a difference—both to the work and the talented people leading your business forward. Because extra focus time in the day doesn't have to mean extra work. It could also mean time freed up to spend doing the things we love so we can return to our work with more energy and passion each and every day.