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Application overload kills productivity and you can fix it

Have you thought about the number of applications your employees need to go through each day? It’s probably more than you expected.

It’s easy to fall under the impression that applications can solve your company’s productivity problems. They facilitate communication, help manage complex tasks, and perform niche operations for your enterprise.

For communication alone, employees are inundated with multiple applications. With email, Slack, Zoom, Atlassian, Facebook Workplace, and other communication applications competing for attention, just interacting with coworkers has become its own unruly beast.

As users are starting to find out, there is a downside to optimizing every process with digital applications.

Application overload

It may seem like your employees don't deal with too many applications, but the numbers can be surprising. A study by Pega Systems found that workers toggle through as many as 35  applications per shift. As a result, the users studied switched applications 1,100 times each day.

This has deep ramifications on productivity.

Employees who use 30 applications or more have a 28 percent higher error rate than those who use fewer, according to the study.

If an error is caught, it will take time for the employee to go back and fix it. If not, the quality of work is diminished.

Other studies have found even more troublesome effects from application switching. Workplace communication company RingCentral found that 69 percent of workers waste up to 60 minutes a day switching between applications. That adds up to 32 days per year.

Part of the problem is that these applications create more workflows and options for employees to navigate. Emails need to be organized, Slack notifications have to be checked, data must be updated.

And don’t forget notifications. Each application sends users messages that fight for their attention. Employees must process and prioritize each of these in the midst of the tasks they are already trying to get done.

Workers have so many apps at their fingertips that the pressure to address each of their needs pushes employees into a multitasking mindset. Most people spend an average of 1 minute 15 seconds on a task before they’re interrupted. Then it takes another 25 minutes to return to the same task.

Multitaskers take 50% longer to complete a single task, make up to 50% more errors, and lose 40% in overall productivity.

But innovative applications that solve daily problems aren’t all bad. There are ways to harness their power to work for you.

Fight the “Productivity Paradox”

People have noticed that the technology transformations of the last 40 years, while changing the world around us, have not improved productivity as past innovative revolutions have.

Microsoft, itself a leader in workplace productivity, conducted a study that found digital applications are making employees at some companies less productive. In these companies, 21 percent of employees reported feeling unproductive while only 12 percent reported feeling highly productive.

However, employees at other companies have reported contrary different results. Only 5 percent reported feeling unproductive while 22 percent said they felt highly productive.

There is a key difference between companies with the positive productivity results and those with negative outcomes: digital culture.

The companies with more employees that felt highly productive had a strong digital culture. These are companies that give employees training in new technology and access to information, promote the adoption of new technology, and have executives who can give a clear explanation of how the technology fits into the company’s vision.

So the answer to application overload isn’t to get rid of all applications or to adopt new ones, but to take a proactive approach to technology that takes into consideration the needs of your company and employees.

We’ll be discussing some strategies on how to foster a strong digital culture in a future post. What are some tips you think we should include?

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