By Elaine Burke
Is your inbox bursting with unread emails? Are you chatting in Teams more than you’re working in other apps?
Have you so many Zoom meetings scheduled today that you don’t have time to think? If so, you may be suffering from “digital debt”.
Digital debt is a common issue for modern workers who have more data to process than is possible without disrupting their workflow.
Numerous workplace surveys and reports have identified the issue. In Asana’s latest Anatomy of Work Global Index, the project management software provider found that workers use on average 8.8 apps for their jobs.
Activity in these apps shows how the workload balance is tipping more toward communication and coordination than creativity and innovation.
Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index shows that, across its 365 suite, the average user spends more than half of their time communicating using digital tools, leaving 43 per cent for creative work.
The struggle to find time
The question businesses need to ask of this trend is: Is this the best use of their employees’ time?
Employees certainly don’t think so, with 68 per cent from Microsoft’s survey saying they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday and as many as 64 per cent saying they struggle to find the time and energy to do their job.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of leaders surveyed said a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a growing concern.
While Microsoft has leveraged its results to promote its new assistive artificial intelligence (AI) tools to support workers, adding more tools to the mix isn’t getting to the root of the problem of digital debt.
This is a cultural issue, and addressing it requires a rethink of how you work and a concerted effort to communicate new policies across your organisation.
Have fewer, more efficient meetings
While remote conferencing tools have made it easier than ever to connect with colleagues whenever and wherever, the flipside is that more workers are being called up for more meetings.
Microsoft reports that weekly Teams meetings and calls have increased threefold since February 2020, but more than one-third of its survey respondents felt they wouldn’t be missed in the majority of the meetings they attend.
Having too many inefficient meetings is an oft-reported bugbear of employees and companies are starting to respond.
Shopify, for example, saw time spent in meetings drop by one-third when it ordered employees to wipe their calendars and re-enter only the most essential meetings.
Other companies have followed suit with weekly meeting-free days, strict policies on what necessitates a meeting, and requirements on how they are conducted to ensure they are focused and productive.
Send less email
Resolving digital debt requires a broad shift in workplace culture, otherwise, the time saved by one action - such as paring back meetings - will only add to other workloads such as email management.
If the hours you gained from cancelling unnecessary meetings are only spent sifting through a preponderance of email updates, then you haven’t cleared your digital debt but transferred it.
What workplaces need is a thoughtful email policy, requiring employees to think before they send.
Some companies have instituted a policy that emails should not be sent to employees in the same building, encouraging face-to-face communication.
The CC chain must also be rethought - if you’re sending a message to the person who needs it, do you really need to copy everyone else in?
Put your asynchronous tools to work
If your teams aren’t meeting or emailing, how are they keeping abreast of updates? This is where teams can leverage the tools they already have to hand to the best of their abilities.
Meetings don’t need to be held just to get a string of updates when these can be communicated and shared through any number of productivity tools.
This also means that updates are recorded coherently for anyone to revisit, aiding in transparency and lessening the risk of miscommunication.
Companies that want to maximise creative time must also make information available to employees on demand, so they can answer their own queries on the fly without having to wait for a meeting to solve a problem and move on (as many of 62 per cent of workers surveyed by Microsoft said they struggle with too much time spent searching for information).
Making effective use of productivity tools enables teams to work asynchronously and keep the workflow moving.
Work on your communication skills
High-quality communication from the top down is the only way to ensure these digital debt reduction policies will be effective.
Companies that have taken this approach should ensure that their recruitment process tests candidates’ communication skills to ensure they will fit in with this new work culture.
And, leaders, as always, must set the standard. Open, intentional communication is key, and managers must convey to their teams that this drive towards efficiency should not prevent them from raising pertinent questions or calling for a necessary meeting as needed.
If you’re passionate about clearing digital debt in workplaces, check out some of these roles where you could make a difference on the Euronews Job Board.
Senior People Systems Project Manager, HelloFresh
Weekly food delivery service HelloFresh is recruiting a People Systems Project Manager at its global headquarters in Berlin. In general, it’s seeking people who can make the company better and the overall goal of this role is to help streamline processes, improve data accuracy and enhance the overall employee experience at HelloFresh.
Team Lead – Live Core Tech, Ledger
French crypto unicorn start-up Ledger is hiring a Team Lead at its Paris headquarters, reporting directly to the wallet experience engineering manager. This role will see the successful candidate take the helm of the Live Core team, creating regular touchpoints with direct reports, providing them with frequent feedback, and directing them on goal-setting and career development. It’s the kind of impactful leadership role where a candidate with knowledge of the latest workplace trends will shine.
Global Head of Talent Acquisition, SumUp
This role at SumUp will directly report to the payments company’s chief people officer and oversee a team of talent acquisition leads around the world. As Global Head of Talent Acquisition, you’ll have the opportunity to strengthen the hiring process and co-develop training for recruiters. It’s a great opportunity to guide a scaling business on securing the right skills for the future of work.