Employees waste tons of time in meetings and emailing

14 October 2019 Consultancy.eu 4 min. read

More efficient planning and streamlined work flows could significantly improve the productivity of employees, according to a new study among over 3,700 respondents. Roughly half of work time is lost on ineffective tasks such as reading useless emails, unproductive meetings and suboptimal processes. 

The state of work is changing rapidly in today’s digitised world. Emails, collaboration platforms such as Slack and digital tools are making the lives of millions of knowledge workers a lot easier and more effective. Yet there is also a downside to the tech revolution, one that should not be overlooked by management teams, warns a research report by Workfront.

The researchers polled 3,750 employees in four mature economies (the US, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands) on the largest bottlenecks in their work. Not surprisingly, wasteful meetings are considered the number one activity that gets most in the way of getting work done. According to their own self-assessment, the Brits hold the most unproductive meetings (68% of respondents), while in Germany and the Netherlands, 64% and 55% of knowledge workers respectively said that meetings waste time ideally spent on other more valuable activities.Largest bottlenecks for being effective at work

Excessive emails was rated second at 53%, followed by a too complex authorisation processes, poor work prioritisation across management and teams, and a lack of standard processes for workflow and collaboration. Overall, employees across the countries surveyed spend less than half (the average is 43%) of their work week working on their primary duties at their job, with the UK spending the least amount of time per week on primary duties, and the Germans and Americans the most.

Time is also lost in order to use/login to technology (over 40% of respondents said that they waste time having to switch between a large number of apps and programmes), on staying informed socially (26% highlight interruptions from social media or messaging platforms) and on getting to grips with the wide range of digital communication options available. 

All in all, an average knowledge worker is interrupted over 13 times a day – the Dutch lead the statistic with 15.5 times a day, while the Germans rank most favourably on this performance metric with 13 times a day. “Wasteful activities can add up to a considerable part of an average work week, resulting in hundreds of unproductive hours annually,” said Steven ZoBell, Chief Product & Technology Officer at Workfront.

Googling with colleagues

The study, titled ‘The 2020 State of Work’, further asked employees how they believe they could become more effective in their job. Out of the 10+ questions on the topic, a clear answer surfaced: technology. Around half of the respondents said that productivity is stalling because of outdated technology, and over 80% said that their organisation is actually missing opportunities by not moving to more modern technological solutions.

Number of digital interruptions at workThe voice of the employees echoes a host of research previous conducted. Companies that outperform their peers in work management share a number of fundamental attributes, including technology as a driver of efficiency and effectiveness. ZoBell: “Leading organisations support their people with the applications and systems they want and need, anything from instant messaging to product design tools or the latest creative suite.”

Not only does a digital backbone facilitate work, it also enables companies to blend every employee's work tasks into an orchestrated whole, enabling a more integrated and dynamic work processes, and allowing for the capture of information that supports visibility and context, said ZoBell. Put simply, technology makes work easier or more fluid through an improved organisational agility, and data sourced from technology can enhance decision-making across all aspects of work management.

Asked about the design of such new age solutions, 85% of knowledge workers pointed out that workplace technology should dump its traditional legacy appeal to look “a lot more like Amazon, Google, and Instagram”, while nine out of ten respondents even said that workplace technology should make things to find (documents, presentations, process descriptions, etc) as easy as Google.