Managing The Connectivity Conundrum

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Since workers aren’t robots, 100% productivity (whatever that means) is impossible. But what can companies realistically expect of their employees? Well, plenty of distractions, according to an online survey of more than 1,000 employed adults in the U.S. conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Ricoh.

Three out of four workers (76%) check personal e-mail, three out of five (61%) take personal calls, and two out of three (67%) text using a mobile phone at least once a week while on the job, according to the survey. Approximately one in three (35%) employees post to their social media accounts and even play games (34%) on a weekly basis.

Although few would propose a blanket ban on personal e-mail and phone calls, given that some messages can be urgent, the numbers suggest workers are spending some amount of time … well, not working.

Ricoh survey: The technology that empowers us may also sap our productivity.
Ricoh survey: The technology that empowers us may also sap our productivity (Photo: PRNewsFoto/Ricoh Americas Corporation.)

“We’re facing a Connectivity Conundrum,” says Terrie Campbell, Vice President, Strategic Marketing at Ricoh Americas Corporation. “We need to be connected to electronic resources for our work, which gives us a tremendous ability to achieve great things. But the flipside is we’re a click away from alluring distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Hollywood gossip, and Angry Birds.”

What’s The Right Balance?

The Connectivity Conundrum threatens to undermine information mobility, a state where the precise business information employees need is instantly accessible wherever and whenever it’s required to conquer the challenge at hand. Unproductive time breeds information gridlock, enabling competitors to seize an advantage.

The Connectivity Conundrum is especially acute for digital natives new to the workforce. Workers ages 18-34 are nearly twice as likely to post to social media account(s) as those ages 35-64 (49% vs. 28%, respectively) and play games (50% vs. 25%) at least weekly.

Indulging in distractions is yet another symptom of the disappearing boundary between work and “life.” Rightly or wrongly, we’re seeing a collective rebalancing to offset work demanded of us on nights, weekends, and vacations.

“Not so long ago, most workers assiduously avoided taking personal calls during work hours unless it was during their lunch hour and away from their desk,” says Campbell. “But times have clearly changed. If you’re expected to be ‘on call’ during your personal time, it’s not outrageous to take a call from a friend or family member during work hours. The firewall between work and life has crumbled, so it’s understandable that personal affairs have seeped into work time just as work affairs have seeped into personal time. From a productivity standpoint, you could think of gaming at work as the evil twin of working on your vacation.”

Other Explanations

Or perhaps it’s just gotten easier to yield to temptation. A PC and smartphone can be considered work devices to be sure, but when you’re tapping away on them no one really knows if you’re switching between writing a winning sales letter or checking the picture you were just tagged in.

Another factor is the movement of both parents into the workforce. When all family adults are working, someone’s got to deal with the myriad details of children and aging parents. In general, these responsibilities can no longer be handled at home.

“Embracing distractions might also be an attempt to recharge mental batteries throughout the day,” says Campbell. “For instance, you may be on a lengthy conference call and check Facebook mainly to keep yourself awake. But games on the job? That stat was something of a surprise.”

Addressing The Problem

Below are some suggested approaches companies can take to contend with the Connectivity Conundrum:

  • Don’t pretend it’s not happening – Begin an open dialogue on distractions by at least acknowledging their existence and the challenge of staying focused.
  • Set expectations – Workers look for guidelines; clarify your performance expectations while defining your understanding of the work/life balance.
  • Measure results – Rather than focusing on rooting out distractions and measuring compliance, configure workers’ goals around results. If they’re expected to assemble 500 widgets a day and they reach that goal, it may not matter how they allocate their time.
  • Improve your culture – Create a working culture as appealing as the distractions. Make work fun and ensure everyone is challenged and stimulated. Evenly distribute the appealing work as well as the drudgery.