Struggle to manage multiple work communications channels is damping productivity and damaging mental health, study shows

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British workers are struggling to keep on top of distracting and confusing digital communication tools, causing them to miss important work emails or messages, according to a new report.

New digital tools which have become more commonplace during the pandemic are often poorly implemented and have only served to compound the issue, denting productivity, causing miscommunication and placing additional strain on workers already struggling with poor mental health.

The Modern Worklife report by Sigma, a leading User Experience (UX) agency, has revealed that a quarter of all workers in medium-large businesses are losing around an hour a day of productivity due to difficult-to-use, inefficient or difficult-to-understand digital tools.

The average worker in a medium-large business loses 28 minutes every day on these processes. For a full-time member of staff, this works out at 560 minutes (9.3 hours) per month or 112 hours per year.

There is clear variation across sectors when it comes to the amount of time wasted on difficult-to-use tools, but when considering an employee with a salary of £30,000, even small businesses, with 20 employees, could be wasting tens of thousands of pounds of salaried time, each year.

Of those surveyed, 86% said that their organisation’s digital communication processes could be improved in some way in order to save time and make them more productive.

Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma UK, said: “Digital communications tools have revolutionised work processes in recent years but there are now real concerns that workers are becoming increasingly distracted and frustrated at the volume and type of communication they must contend with.

“Our research demonstrates that this is now beginning to have an impact on staff productivity and mental health. Clearly, the time has come for companies to review what are sometimes badly configured, and often confusing digital communication channels used within their organisations.”

Asked why they were most likely to miss important work emails or messages, a third of respondents (32%) said that they struggle to keep on top of the volume of emails received. Other respondents (16%) blamed having to use so many different systems and tools.

Asked about their frustrations with digital communication tools, a third (32%) said it’s quicker to have a face-to-face conversation; 30% said tools crash or don’t work properly; and 25% said training to use different tools was time consuming.

A lack of integration between different tools was cited as a frustration by 23% or respondents, while many suggested that poor use of digital communication tools was hampering wellbeing, causing stress/anxiety (18%), making it more difficult to collaborate (12%); and making it harder to ‘switch off’ from work (18%).

A significant number of respondents (17%) were concerned that digital tools were being misused, with messages sent during evenings and weekends.

Stephenson continued: “Digital communication has become a vital part of business life, but the volume of digital messages coming from multiple channels, particularly during the pandemic, is now leading to frustrations for employees and employers alike.

“Businesses must now recognise that there are cost implications in creating confusion and stress for their workers by rolling out poorly conceived communication tools, without taking users’ real needs into consideration properly. The business that takes the time to implement user-centred digital communications channels, supported by sensible policies and guidance, will unlock benefits including higher productivity, better client relationships and happier employees. “Although “digital transformation” is taking place across all business sectors, our survey suggests that there is still much to learn when it comes to getting the basics right.

A huge 86% of people think that their organisation’s processes could be improved in order to save time and make them more productive.”

The report, Modern Worklife, surveyed 500 SMEs and 500 employees from medium-large businesses in a range of sectors about their current working processes.