Ask leaders of companies big and small about the goals for their businesses, and increased productivity will inevitably be in the mix.
And it is no wonder businesses are so focused on productivity. Employees worldwide work an average of 45 hours per week, according to a survey from Microsoft, but they report that 17 of those hours are unproductive. Clearly, even incremental improvements can significantly impact business success. Beyond that, enhanced productivity can drive a happier and healthier work culture; 93 percent of workers cite productivity as key to achieving personal happiness.
Unfortunately, recent trends are sapping productivity. First, increasingly sedentary, screen-focused jobs mean many employees spend their working hours sitting relatively still. Many companies, including Apple, are investing in standing desks so employees can alternate positions throughout the day. Tim Cook once called sitting the new cancer, and being able to sit and stand throughout the day can help lower one's potential health risk of obesity and heart disease. In addition to being healthier, consciously spending more time standing or regularly moving around boosts productivity.
Another trend negatively impacting productivity is open workspaces. Here, the major issue is a lack of personal space. A recent survey of 700 high-performing employees across a variety of industries found that 54 percent of workers find their offices too distracting. In fact, according to another study by office design company Unispace, more than two hours of face-to-face time with co-workers might actually be too much collaboration. As a result, employees are turning to noise-canceling headphones and work-from-home options to get work done.
The role of tech in boosting health and productivity
Many companies are now doing more to promote wellness in the workplace. Along with being good for employees, it is also good for business. In the U.S., employee health-related problems cost companies more than $225 billion in lost productivity annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wellness programs, designed to positively impact both physical and mental health, improve employee attendance, attitude, and performance. In 2017, researchers from the University of California Riverside, UCLA Anderson, and Washington University also provided a direct link between wellness programs and increased productivity. By comparing productivity data and medical records, researchers found that wellness program participants had increased their productivity by the equivalent of one extra workday per month.
High-performing companies are taking the health and productivity connection seriously – more than 75 percent track employee health as part of the company's overall risk management strategy. To engage employees and drive results, executives tasked with maximizing productivity are turning to technology in three essential ways.
1. Flex the tech.
As of 2016, millennials are the largest generation in the workforce. When it comes to work, this group is all about flexibility. In a global survey of employees, millennials ranked flexibility higher than any of their other generational counterparts, with 69 percent citing intransigence as a leading reason to leave a job.
So it is no surprise that millennials are happier and more productive when they can collaborate with co-workers from wherever they are – working from home, traveling for business or working in the office. Adept with tech in their personal lives, they have high expectations for technology to help them work effectively and efficiently.
Today, smart technology strategies create true collaboration for workers in and outside of office settings, with online conversation capabilities, virtual meeting rooms, and collaboration tools that enable multiple employees to interact in real time.
Done well, technology brings remote employees together and makes flexibility productive. But it is not about having the trendiest tech – it is about evaluating and understanding the options to choose tools that align with specific business needs. Investing in the right technology (and staying on top of rapidly evolving solutions) can provide a distinct competitive advantage.
2. Maximize activity.
The much-maligned cubicle came of age as companies sought to maximize their office space. Now, the cubicle is all but dead, giving way to the open concept spaces that are popular today. However, while open offices can be a problem in their own right, the real issue facing the modern office is a lack of activity among employees.
With productivity as the goal, offices should first aim to encourage movement. In an eight-hour day, it's recommended that employees sit for only about two hours. The combination of sit-stand desks and easily portable laptops, tablets, and phones makes it easy to stand up and move.
By equipping employees with technology that enables them to work where they need to, companies empower employees to become more productive. When they're not tied to their desks, employees can choose solitude when they need to focus or common areas when they want to collaborate on the fly with peers.
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3. Improve the ergonomics.
When selecting the right equipment for your office, put extra emphasis on ergonomics. Improper keyboard or mouse configuration can be detrimental to employee health and productivity, causing fatigue, pain, and even injury. Plus, employees often put undue stress on their necks while working on their laptops. Similarly, phones can be ergonomically problematic, as people tend to kink their necks in order to multitask while talking on the phone.
Today's tech offers a range of ergonomic, adjustable devices that can be tailored to fit each employee. Baseline considerations include monitor, keyboard, and mouse placement; hands-free headsets; and task lighting.
Sometimes, different devices are required for different users. For example, employees who need to refer to complex printed documents might benefit from a document reader. Or employees might benefit from the use of multiple monitors, which can cut down on switching back and forth between documents on one screen. Research conducted by the University of Utah demonstrated that having multiple monitors helped employees complete their work more quickly with fewer errors, and employees also reported that the work was easier to do.
To get the most ROI in ergonomics, incorporate employee training. This way, employees have the information to fully optimize the tools available to them. No matter where they are working, they will understand how to position monitors at eye level so they don't have to turn their head to view the display. Or they will learn to recognize the symptoms of eye fatigue and how to combat it.
The link between health and productivity is driving today's technological innovations. Tech solutions are creative and viable, enabling employees to work smarter. Companies that invest strategically in technology are able to drive productivity and establish a happier, healthier workplace culture at the same time.