App fatigue and lack of communication are killing productivity. Here’s how you can change it.

Not getting enough work done in the office? If the answer is yes, most people blame too many meetings. Too much talk and not enough work, right?

Turns out, one of the biggest time-wasters at work is app fatigue. A recent survey by Productiv found that 39 percent of workers said not having access to the right applications decreases their productivity. More than half cited a lack of cross-departmental collaboration, caused by app dysfunction, as another huge productivity buster.

At least 83 percent of working professionals reported that their organizations have two or more redundant applications. The bottom line: all this technology isn’t helping people work and communicate more efficiently. Instead, it’s causing costly communication breakdowns. The solution is surprisingly old school: face-to-face conversations.

The app problem

We toggle through apps up to 10 times every hour, which could mean companies lose up to 32 days of productive work per employee every year. Whether it’s WhatsApp, Dropbox, Skype, KissFlow, or Slack, the average person uses 28 different apps just to complete basic tasks. In addition, 70 percent of the 2,000 workers surveyed said their communications volume is a challenge to getting work done.

“Today’s workforce is under siege by a flood of communications apps,” says Riadh Dridi, CMO of RingCentral, which conducted the research. “More than ever, our attention is scattered across a wide array of different apps and communications channels.”

“Today’s workforce is under siege by a flood of communications apps.”
Riadh Dridi, CMO of RingCentral

Wasting time, however, is the norm at work. A UC Irvine study revealed that on average, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. And yet, it takes around 25 minutes to get back on track. Eliminating distractions by implementing a corporate social media policy, and creating a culture where long-winded co-worker drop-ins aren’t the norm can help. Also blocking certain internet sites can cut down on erroneous activity.

Reducing app overload

Cutting productivity killers should be a combined effort between employer and employee. Here are a few ways organizations can set the tone for vastly improved productivity:

Bring IT and HR leadership together.

Department leaders may barely speak the same language, but these two powerhouses of the enterprise hold the key to most app-driven functions.

As video apps become more prevalent, IT should ensure certain conversations are recorded and transcribed, stored and searchable for knowledge sharing. IT and HR should also decide which tools all employees must use.

Meetings aren't the time wasters we think they are

Meetings are typically blamed for wasting time and hurting productivity. But too many apps has become a new problem.

Consider an app aggregator. 

This means one application that integrates all products into one screen and user interface. There’s a number of them already out there, including Citrix’s Workspace. If you’re a smaller organization or solo entrepreneur, try Asana or Basecamp, which roll project management, to-do lists, direct messaging and time tracking into one platform.

Perform an app analysis.

Different departments will use different apps, depending on the daily functions of their job. Marketers will need much different features and functions than software engineers, for example. But in each area, there may be redundancies. If you’re using Basecamp “ping,” do you really need Microsoft IM+? Is one department storing data in Google Sheets, and another in OneHub? As much as 83 percent of working professionals say that their organizations have two or more redundant applications for these functions, while 57 percent reported at least three redundant apps. 

Separate personal and business apps.

Ask employees to keep personal apps separate from personal and company devices. Putting personal devices on “do not disturb mode” can cut down on the temptation to tweet and talk with family and friends. According to the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of people use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job, and 27 percent of people use it to connect with friends and family while at work. RescueTime says in fact, most workers spend an average of 7 percent of their working hours on social media.

The failure to communicate

Another big time-waster at the office is the lack of cross-departmental communication. Waiting for projects or email responses from another team can be incredibly frustrating and can slow down your workflow.

Face-to-face conversations

Stepping away from technology and communicating face-to-face across departments can help improve productivity.

When software company BetterCloud grew rapidly and expanded into two separate offices, one in New York and the other in Atlanta, communication dropped off. In fact, 40 percent of surveyed employees said cross-team communication was “problematic.” 

To fix this problem, Emily Disston, BetterCloud’s director of people and culture, implemented an ambassador program. Every month, Disston assigns each department two ambassadors, who then meet with their counterparts from other teams. They gather questions and concerns and present them at their meetings. They always ask three questions:

  • What works well between our departments?
  • What doesn’t work well, and how can we fix it?
  • How can the company be more successful in achieving its goals?

“After just six months of doing the Ambassador Program, our next employee survey revealed that the (problems) had decreased by 15 percent,” said Disston. Employees gave great feedback, too, saying that people think differently about how best to communicate with other teams. Plus, it gave birth to some new company initiatives and projects.

Ambassadors from different departments created a more efficient onboarding process for new hires, improved ticketing systems for software bugs between quality assurance and engineering, and a smoother handoff process between the customer success team and sales. When two leaders who had participated in the Ambassador Program mentioned that the company’s progress wasn’t appreciated, BetterCloud created a Slack channel titled #wins to highlight every big win that happened at the company.

Battling human nature

Even if you do rid yourself of meetings and you manage to improve cross-collaboration and cut down on app overload, you may still find that wasting some time is unavoidable. CareerBuilder conducted a survey of thousands of managers and workers, hoping to find out the top ten ways employees are wasting time at work. At the top of the list? Cell phones and texting, gossip, personal use of the internet, social media, and snack and smoke breaks. Have no fear, though. Some research shows that brief periods of distraction can improve decision-making and creativity. So a little time wasting isn’t necessarily the end of productivity.