Why your staff aren’t using your amazing productivity tools

Productivity software can do amazing things, but do your staff know or care? The implementation of many productivity tools is missing the human factor.

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I deal with many kinds of businesses and organizations in my work. They all use different productivity tools. As I get my head around learning that new software for a new project, I’ve often found those working in the company have no greater knowledge of their tech tools than I do.

Many companies find productivity tools don’t deliver. I see that, but I think the problem isn’t the tools. Nor is it the people who don’t know how to use them. It’s something in between.

Software is becoming more elaborate

Most of us don’t use much of the capability of our tools. Software company Pendo says we rarely or never use 80 percent of any software product’s features. Cloud software companies spend 30 billion US dollars each year developing these features, “dollars that could have been spent on higher-value features and unrealized customer value.” This is perhaps one reason comparatively feature-lite Google Docs is so successful.

Non-use of features is only half the story. A recent survey of US workers found 68 percent faced challenges with their workplace software. Common gripes included that software was hard to learn, always changing, and many technologies to learn. Interestingly, four in five high earners (earning over 100,000 US dollars) found software challenging, but lower-income earners coped better, with three in five reporting difficulties.

Is software training helping?

Kaspersky’s research found 38 percent of the workforce want more support from their organization when working remotely. One in two saw work-from-home skills as essential.

Yet, employees aren’t that happy with their on-the-job training. A Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning study found only one in five would recommend their employers’ learning and development offer. Nearly one in two are dissatisfied with it. Poor development opportunities might drive your employees into competitors’ arms – a survey by communications platform Hibob found 56 percent of staff considered learning and development opportunities more important than salary.

Receiving training in using new software is by no means the norm. I asked peers if, when new software arrived, they were trained on it. One said, “When we get a new piece of productivity software, it’s very much, “Here’s something we bought. Now use it.” We’re never told why and never given instruction.” Another said, “Everyone just assumes if you know how to use (Microsoft) Office, you can use everything else.”

This ‘technology will solve all our problems’-thinking may, ironically, be holding companies back when it comes to digitalization. Consultancy firm Gartner lists factors that hold back digital transformation, including not leading from the top, vague goals and too much focus on technology rather than corporate culture.

What do we see here? Staff receive new technology and are told to get on with it. Their only participation in the process is as recipients.

Staff rarely hear why they should use the software, so view learning to use it as a chore separate from their jobs, rather than something that will improve their productivity. So, they learn the bare minimum and go back to their “real work.”

The pandemic helped us adopt new tools, not just because we had to

Considering this problem, the grand, forced work-from-home experiment in the first half of 2020 may have had positive effects. We all had to start using new technologies, and the reason for it was staring us in the face. Companies made support available, staff wanted to learn, and together, they made big strides.

The pandemic work-from-home experience filled me with optimism. You heard moans about ‘Zoom fatigue’ initially, but most people adapted well, supported by their companies. In September 2020, Enterprise Technology Research surveyed about 1,200 Chief Information Officers around the world. They said they thought, compared with before the pandemic, their permanent remote workforce would double in 2021 to about 34 percent. Nearly 50 percent reported productivity had improved with remote work, with only 29 percent reporting productivity reductions.

This echoes what I’ve heard. A major professional services firm partner told me earlier this year, technological changes that once would’ve taken years had been pushed through in weeks. They had to be.

If you’re working in a team and most of you don’t use the collaboration software, it doesn’t matter so much when you’re in the same building. But if you’re hundreds or thousands of miles from each other, you can’t just walk across the office and ask someone a question.

Knowing why you should use the tech isn’t the whole answer. You still need to articulate a vision, train people and make sure it works. But having a ready-made case for change, such as a pandemic forcing remote working, was a big part of the answer.

One lesson companies can take from 2020 is to show employees why they’re introducing productivity tools. Make a compelling argument for them gets you halfway there.

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About authors

Rhymer Rigby is a journalist who writes for the FT, The Times and The Telegraph in the UK as well as magazines including GQ to Management Today. He is the author of two books: 28 Business Thinkers Who Changed The World and The Careerist.