Most workers agree that in-office technology helps more than it hurts — but balance is key to ensuring it doesn't become a problem for productivity.
According to The Hartford's Tech @ Work Survey, which polled more than 1,200 employed U.S. adults, the vast majority of workers said their productivity is improved by the internet (83 percent), email (79 percent) and mobile devices (72 percent).
This sentiment is no surprise: For many office workers, these technologies are used for the job, and a lot of what is accomplished throughout the day is done through the internet. In fact, 57 percent of those surveyed said they could not do their job for a full hour if the internet went out, and 19 percent said they could work for only 5 minutes or less.
Lindsey Pollak, The Hartford's millennial workplace expert, said, workers' reliance on the internet is dependent on the industry. In fields like tech, financial services and health services, internet connectivity — including email and social media — feels like an absolute necessity, whereas in industries like construction, transportation and hospitality/restaurants, it does not, Pollak said. [See Related Story: 10 Distractions That Kill Workplace Productivity]
Although the internet is essential for many of today's workers, having that access can still be a double-edged sword. The Hartford study found that some workers do feel the detrimental effects of tech distractions. Social media is the most distracting, with 19 percent of respondents saying it decreases their productivity. Mobile devices came in second with 12 percent, followed by messaging apps (9 percent) and the internet (5 percent).
Similarly, a 2014 survey by IT services and technology company Ricoh Americas Corp. found that the majority of workers check personal email (76 percent), send personal texts (67 percent) and post on social media (35 percent) during their work day.
"We need to be connected to electronic resources for our work, which gives us a tremendous ability to achieve great things," Terrie Campbell, CEO of Esquire Deposition Solutions and a former vice president at Ricoh, said in a statement. "But the flipside is, we're a click away from alluring distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Hollywood gossip and 'Angry Birds.'"
Indulging in tech distractions is a symptom of the disappearing boundary between an employee's work and personal life, according to Campbell. She said there's been a collective rebalancing to offset the work demanded of employees on nights, weekends and vacations.
"If you're expected to be 'on call' during your personal time, it's not outrageous to take a call from a friend or family member during work hours," Campbell said. "The firewall between work and life has crumbled, so it's understandable that personal affairs have seeped into work time just as work affairs have seeped into personal time."
If technology distractions are a problem in your office, Ricoh Americas Corp. offered several tips in a statement:
- Acknowledge the issue: In order to start an open dialogue on distractions, organizations must first accept their existence and the challenge of staying focused.
- Set expectations: Provide your employees with some guidelines. Clarify your performance expectations, while also defining your understanding of the work/life balance.
- Measure employee results: Instead of spending time trying to determine how to eliminate distractions, try setting employees' goals around results. For example, if workers are expected to assemble 50 widgets a day, and they do so, then it may not matter how they allocate their time.
- Change the workplace culture: To get employees to stop texting or making personal calls, create a culture that is as appealing as the distractions. Make work as fun as possible. Evenly distribute the appealing work as well as the monotonous assignments.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.