People of the Screen and the Future of Work
August 14, 2019
Work today can be plagued by two competing problems. One is information and technology overload. Many employees feel that they are drowning in information and serving their technology more than productivity. The second problem is not enough information and too little technology. What is odd is that the same people and the same workplaces can have both problems, at the same time. Let me explain this seeming contradiction.
When you look around a typical office setting in the U.S., you will see dozens of people typing on keyboards, looking at screens, and occasionally talking on devices or to each other face-to-face. This is what you see. But you also know, because it is true for you, that many of those people have another screen – or two or three – in their pockets, briefcases, or purses. Some are work devices. Some are personal devices. All are connected, really, to the same Internet, the same general cloud infrastructure, though not the same cloud, and all the gadgets can do, more or less, the same things. But both the people you see, and you, are constantly juggling these machines, like the juggling clown on the street corner.
On the "not enough information and technology" side of the coin, consider the typical experience of a digital native who walks into your office as a new employee, on their first day. I will wager that in most workplaces, when a digital native walks in the door they think, "Man is this place backward. Where is all the great technology? What I see is not as advanced as what I have at home or in my pocket."
The Challenge of the Future Workplace
These issues were clarified recently in The State of Workplace Productivity Report study conducted by Cornerstone OnDemand. As a whole, U.S. employees often feel overloaded, with 50 percent saying they experience work overload, 34 percent information overload, and 25 percent technology overload. Interestingly, Millennials, our tech-savvy digital natives who make up the entry-level workforce, were more prone to feeling overload. Information overload was cited by 41 percent of them versus just 31 percent among older generations, while technology overload was cited by 38 percent of Millennials versus 20 percent of older generations.
As for the number of gadgets used at work, venerable desktop computers were used by 76 percent of all workplace device users, laptops by 43 percent, smartphones by 36 percent, and tablets by 15 percent. Millennials are about twice as likely to use personal devices, smartphones, or tablets at work. In other words, they are jugglers, and this may help explain why they are more prone to feeling overloaded.
Here is the challenge when we look at the future. The number of available devices is likely to increase, not decrease. The amount of information is obviously continuing to explode. By one estimate, the amount of new data added to the Internet every two days exceeds all the information in the world prior to 2003. This does not include all the information in private clouds and company servers. What we need are better ways to find information, focus clearly on what is most important, and to collaborate with others. It is not an easy thing to do. Employees make their best efforts, according to the study, even spending their own money to obtain apps for work purposes, hoping for apps that improve ease of use, convenient access to information, productivity, collaboration or access on multiple devices.
As providers step up to the challenge of an improved environment for information, technology and collaboration, interestingly the solutions that can reduce overload will be the same solutions that solve the problem of not enough information and inadequate technology.