5 ways search is killing your productivity
Is searching negatively affecting your workplace productivity? The ease of conducting a quick Google search often gives the illusion of unbounded efficiency, but more and more employers and researchers are coming to realize that some aspects of a digital workplace could be slowing us down more than speeding us up. And it’s not just about employees searching personal content on work time.
Rather, research suggests that this productivity loss is also being driven by work-related searching and online activity. In fact, data now indicates that employees spend more than 25% of their time searching for the information they need to do their actual jobs, and up to 75% of their time is wasted on re-work. Time that could undoubtedly be better spent on more productive tasks.
In this article we’ll show the top 5 ways search is affecting your workplace productivity and some actionable steps you can take to refocus your employee’s workflows once and for all. Digital technologies help us work more efficiently in many ways, but sometimes we forget that they might be also be slowing us down.
In other words, digital technologies must go hand in hand with healthy, focused, moderated habits.
Search has entered the workplace
Online search is now a workplace norm. Employees use internet search daily, and most work tools have some kind of search functionality. Workplace digitization and internet-first approaches have created a workplace culture that operated predominantly in the digital realm.
87% of CEOs now believe that providing their employees with the digital resources they need can have a substantial impact on revenue. But what about productivity?
Technology boasts tremendous advantages. It provides flexibility, access to information on mass, data-centric work, and opportunities for remote working. But more and more of us are starting to notice some worrying pitfalls developing alongside. Especially when it comes to workplace productivity.
When employees are regularly jumping between tools and have to dig deep searching for the information they need for their work, productivity takes a hit. Today’s employees are more susceptible than ever to constant distraction, information overload, and unhelpful multitasking.
And when we think about it, it’s not that surprising. On any given day, in any given hour, employees are more likely that not navigating a plethora of online platforms and materials supposedly designed to simplify workflows. Apps such as:
Email, Teams or Slack
ZenDesk, HubSpot, Salesforce or other CRM tools
Company intranet and network folders
Legacy enterprise apps and portals
Now think about that for a moment. That’s a lot of disparate information to navigate whilst still trying to do your job. And each tool has it’s own quality of search (that usually leaves a lot to desire). This level of multitasking and uncertainty is damaging employee productivity in the long run.
The impact of bad search at work
Let’s talk about some of the ways search is changing how we all work. We might have all the information in the world at the click of a mouse, but all that information is bogging us down. Today’s employees are more likely to lack focus, face constant distractions, and end up suffering from information overload. And it’s not their fault. Rather, the way we interact with the technology that serves us must change.
IMPACT #1: Employees become responsive not productive.
As workplaces have become increasingly digitized, employees have become more responsive but not more productive. Hear me out. In any average in-person meeting, 4.73 texts, emails of online messages are sent. Digitized work processes make it easy for employees to be constantly contactable. And whilst that’s great for communication, its not such great news for concentration.
Today’s employees lack focus due to the constant barrage of interruptions they face throughout the day. It’s known as the digital paradox. We all thought that digital transformations would increase office efficiency. But in reality, constant communication means deep work is now a thing of the past.
In fact, 40% of knowledge workers never get 30 minutes straight of focused work. When we can’t give projects our full attention, work slows down and quality falters. Disengaged employees equal wasted time, and wasted time equals wasted money. Digital tools might be practical, but it’s also getting in the way of our employees’ productivity flow.
IMPACT #2: Information overload is a real problem.
Information overload is a real phenomenon: The human mind can only process so much information at once. Any more, and we stop working at our optimum. When there’s too much data coming at us all at once, we experience information overload. With digitized information at our fingertips, overload is a real problem for the modern-day workforce. Today’s employees are constantly bombarded with emails, app notifications, company intranet reminders and the internet itself. Email itself is one of the top causes of information overload.
Whether you’re the CEO, a manager, or a white-collar worker, when we’re constantly searching online, in our inboxes, or on the company internal apps, there’s little room left for effective, efficient work. In fact, Harvard Business Review has estimated that productivity lost to information overload costs the United States economy a monumental $900 billion a year. Yes, you did read that right.
A secondary symptom of information overload is choice overload. Choice overload describes individuals who find it difficult to make decisions due to a bombardment of unfiltered information. With infinite information available at the click of a mouse, and with a quick online search, employees and even those in senior leadership roles are struggling to make the best decisions.
IMPACT #3: Inefficient multitasking gets less work done.
It might be about time we threw out the multitasking myth. Some might have mastered this precarious sport, but in most cases multitasking produces mediocre results all around. When we ‘multitask’ at work, what we’re really doing is shifting out attention from one task to another without dedicating our focus to any one in particular. Multitasking only perpetuates an illusion of productivity. And the internet is exacerbating this problem ten-fold. The more we navigate the web for informative content, the less we dedicate ourselves to our actual jobs. Switching tasks too frequently is highly disruptive. In fact, research suggests that our current working conditions could be destroying upwards of 80% of employee productivity.
IMPACT #4: Time pressure equals workplace stress.
Digitization, the internet, and the rapid availability of information offers so many benefits. But it also means that employees are expected to get a lot more done in a lot less hours. Information reaches us faster and, therefore, we work faster. Likewise, as notifications constantly disrupt our workflows, employees are forced to compensate by picking up the pace on their actual work. This perpetual state of time-pressure spells disaster for performance and decision making. In fact, research suggests that such conditions puts a ‘cognitive tax’ on individuals that actually lowers their IQ temporarily!
IMPACT #5: Digital addiction also exists in the workplace.
Finally, the ease of access to information at our fingertips is akin to the classic 21st Century problem — digital addiction. It’s not just at home that we become glued to our devices, wasting time mindlessly searching, scrolling, and picking up on the latest notification. More and more of us are engaging in similar behavior at work. And it’s hardly surprising. Most workplace communication tools, intranets, and professional applications function much like personal mobile apps in the sense that they’re always there to distract us from real work.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a notification from your work colleague or the latest TikTok video, a notification is a notification and stimulates the same dopamine response in our brains. And that means all notifications appeal to similar behaviors. According to LinkedIn, around 90% of Americans have the mobiles within arm’s reach and 36% never switch it off. In the workplace that means inferior outputs and loss of focus.
Could this time be better spent?
Okay. I’ll admit that this is all sounding pretty bad. It’s true, the modern workplace isn’t working as efficiently as it might have promised. Digital tools may have accelerated process efficiency, but it’s yet to nurture human productivity levels. Could time be better spent? Absolutely. And it’s not time to give up yet.
Now that we’re aware of the potential negative impacts of digitization in the workplace, it’s time to implement the necessary changes to negate these setbacks. Our time and the time of our employees could be better spent engaging in deep-focused work. And thankfully, we don’t have to sacrifice the utility of technology to achieve it. We’re going to discuss some top tips for improving workplace productivity in the digital age.
Check our follow up article to learn more about tips to improve your workplace productivity!