Coping with Tech Overload: Is There an App for That?

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie March 7, 2019

​For lots of employees, there's something even more annoying than doing household chores, paying bills or trying to lose weight.

It's navigating the sea of computer and Web-based programs and communication tools in the workplace. 

Employees are using an average of four apps—just for communication—to get their day-to-day job done, with 20 percent of workers using six or more, according to a report from RingCentral Inc., a communications and collaboration provider.

More than two-thirds of workers spend up to an hour each day navigating among these apps, amounting to about 32 days a year, and more than half toggle between apps—e-mail, texts, team messaging, videoconferencing, social media, live-chatting and the like—up to 10 times an hour.

And those communication apps don't include a company's online or app-based programs for travel planning, expense reimbursement, time-keeping, benefits, performance tracking, service requests, paycheck management, writing, editing, creating reports and graphics, and more—many requiring separate usernames and passwords and often entailing a steep learning curve.

"In today's digital world, employees are overwhelmed with the increasing number of apps they need to use to get work done," said Neha Mirchandani, vice president of corporate marketing at RingCentral. "There are workplace apps for virtually everything, and information or alerts are coming from everywhere, with unlimited ways for it to be delivered. The irony is that while these apps are intended to make us more productive, the sheer volume of them are contributing to a chaotic work environment that actually hampers productivity. Even the best multitasker or brightest brain has a hard time juggling multiple apps."

 The report found that:

  • More than 70 percent of workers say that the amount of communications they receive is a challenge to getting work done.
  • Almost 31 percent say that toggling between apps makes them lose their train of thought.
  • Workers say that navigating between apps is more annoying than doing household chores (53 percent), paying bills (52 percent) and trying to lose weight (50 percent)

And as companies seize on the "latest" technology and introduce even more apps, workers are growing increasingly "change weary," said Cheryl Cran, founder of future-work consultancy NextMapping and author of NextMapping: Anticipate, Navigate and Create the Future of Work (Motivational Press, 2019).

"There are so many new systems being introduced, and companies are still struggling with integrating multiple systems," Cran said, "and this causes workers to tune out."

Moreover, it doesn't help matters when a program—or the hardware needed to run it—isn't working correctly.

"IT leaders and CIOs are all too aware of the stress of technology not doing what it should and faulty equipment," Cran said. "That's the nature of being a technology-reliant culture. IT teams are working tirelessly to solve technology challenges for workers, and it can be incredibly frustrating for the worker and for IT. Companies are recognizing that they must provide stress management and support to workers as technology continues to increase the speed and nature of work." 

Help on the Way?

There's a movement among companies to educate workers on how to troubleshoot the most common laptop or Internet challenges, use artificial intelligence to automate IT support for workers, and increase access to tech support through online chatting and screen sharing.

One promising trend, Cran said, is the advent of touch- and voice-activated technology, which can make the task of remembering multiple usernames and passwords simple. "In the future," she predicts, "that problem will be gone completely as fingerprint tech is used for all app access."

Nearly two-thirds of workers say they want a single communication platform that would integrate many of the separate apps they now use, according to the RingCentral survey.

But there are impediments to that. For instance, the RingCentral survey found that 44 percent of senior leaders are content with their current tools, "revealing a disconnect with the cultural shift to newer communications and collaboration solutions," the report authors wrote.

Moreover, even though voice-activated assistants like Siri and Alexa often can simplify tech tasks, many workers have grown resistant to learning yet another new tech platform.

"The only solution for firms that want to dominate is to cherry-pick those workers that learn quickly, work fast and adapt to changes really fast," said John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University. "Unfortunately, those workers that can't handle the complexity will be left behind because robots will do most of the routine work. Those that can't adapt will be the first to be laid off."

Do You Really Need It?

In fact, company leaders and IT departments may want to consult with workers before signing up for the next new IT program or tool, and guard against adopting new technology just because it's the latest shiny thing and other companies are using it.

"It's key that employees speak up if they're overwhelmed with technology and finding it challenging to get work done, as this has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and the company's bottom line," Mirchandani said. "With the plethora of workplace apps available, workers need to be clear about what works for them and partner with decision-makers in IT and other departments to identify solutions that will enable greater productivity." 



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