What factors are impacting workforce efficiency in 2023?

Navigating productivity in a world of constant distractions—from social media to emails and office conversations—can be challenging. However, with adequate tools and support, employees can overcome these hurdles.

Employees are facing a decline in productivity. A survey conducted in October 2022 by Ipsos and cloud communications firm RingCentral revealed that 43% of workers aged 21-65 felt productive. However, a subsequent survey earlier this year indicated a drop in this percentage to 36%. What’s causing this decline, and how can companies enhance employee performance?

Unsurprisingly, colleagues and technology significantly impact productivity. For instance, about a quarter (27%) of respondents in RingCentral’s second survey pointed to office conversations as a distraction. Additionally, nearly a third (31%) of workers aged 21-34 identified social media browsing as a significant work interruption. Conversely, individuals aged 45 and above were more inclined to perceive emails as the primary obstacle to accomplishing tasks.

“The challenge of securing uninterrupted focus time is a common frustration across diverse industries,” notes Anthony Painter, Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute. “Our attention gets diverted instantly by incoming emails, often drawing us into addressing the latest inquiries or issues.”

External factors also play a role in affecting productivity, and some of these have been escalating. “Financial concerns, increasing bills, and rising inflationary pressures are impacting not just employee welfare but also their efficiency, resulting in heightened absenteeism due to illness, distraction, and a reluctance to take on additional tasks,” explains Painter.

Another factor contributing to low productivity, which isn’t as quantifiable as some other reasons, is an unhealthy organizational culture. “A toxic or unsupportive work environment characterized by a lack of acknowledgment, diminished morale, and ineffective leadership can demoralize employees, significantly impacting productivity across the entire company in the long term,” highlights Colin Wilford, CEO of Wilford Scholes, a human resource development company.

Businesses that neglect prioritizing employee well-being are also unlikely to maintain a productive workforce. “One of the most significant influencers of productivity is the absence of health and well-being support,” emphasizes Sir Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Alliance Manchester Business School. During challenging financial periods, some businesses might consider reducing such support. However, Cooper argues, “It’s crucial to consider the broader implications. What is the cost of not providing this support, such as increased sick leave or employees functioning below their potential?”

Facilitating focused, immersive work

Close to half of the full-time employees surveyed by RingCentral mentioned that tranquil environments contribute to their enhanced productivity. Younger employees emphasized the significance of organizing or blocking out time for concentrated work to boost their effectiveness. Louise Newbury-Smith, the UK and Ireland Country Manager at RingCentral, notes that the latter necessitates “effective calendar management” and “ensuring everyone plans ahead” to safeguard time for essential tasks. However, even with these efforts, locating peaceful workspaces can still pose a challenge.

Remote workers might find themselves confined to working in a bustling home, perhaps stuck at a kitchen table. Conversely, office-based employees often have to navigate distractions caused by noisy colleagues. To tackle this issue, businesses can offer a range of work settings within their office premises. “When you need to concentrate on a task, having the option to move away from the general workspace is crucial,” emphasizes Newbury-Smith. “It’s vital for companies to provide that choice.”

Painter advocates for a level of flexibility conducive to deep work, emphasizing that “empowering team members to recognize their need for quiet time, allowing them to reserve a separate office room away from open spaces, or permitting them to work from home on certain days should become standard practice.” This approach relies on trust. “[Until an employee proves otherwise], there’s no reason not to trust them to manage their schedule and duties.”

Simultaneously, remote workers must establish clear boundaries between work and home life to prevent burnout. “Working in an environment with more distractions can lead to extended work hours… so maintaining a healthy separation is crucial,” notes Newbury-Smith.

Grant Price, CEO of YOHO Workplace Strategy, concurs, highlighting the significance of addressing remote fatigue, a growing concern for mental health professionals. He stresses the importance of implementing structured breaks between virtual meetings and ensuring employees have adequate face-to-face interaction. “This not only supports mental well-being but also significantly impacts productivity,” Price affirms.

An environment that fosters collaboration

According to findings from RingCentral’s research, older workers (aged 55-65) are most inclined to perceive collaboration as a factor contributing to their productivity. However, establishing effective collaboration among hybrid teams demands a blend of strategy and technology.

“Teams must establish agreed-upon communication methods within a hybrid setup, select technology suitable for all, and implement clear protocols and expectations to maximize collaboration,” asserts Painter. “For some, this involves a ‘camera on’ policy during video meetings, while for others, it means scheduled ‘start the week’ calls to ensure everyone is informed about the wider team’s objectives.”

Arranging in-person team gatherings on specific days or coordinating schedules to ensure a certain number of individuals are present in the office simultaneously can nurture a sense of community and creativity.

“Make sure that this time is dedicated to activities that benefit most from face-to-face interactions, such as exchanging ideas, catching up, and planning,” adds Painter. “As a manager, lead by example: be transparent about your approach to hybrid work and when you plan to engage in face-to-face meetings.”

Regular check-ins with a manager were identified as a significant productivity driver for one-fifth of respondents. Despite phones occasionally posing distractions, 34% of workers in the 21-34 age bracket also consider them a crucial aid to productivity. Consequently, integrating unified communications tools into business applications is “crucial,” remarks Newbury-Smith.

RingCentral’s research highlights that business decision-makers believe tools like video conferencing, messaging, chat, and automated meeting notes can enhance their personal productivity and that of their companies. In fact, 42% indicated that boosting productivity is their company’s primary consideration when making spending decisions. Thus, while distractions from social media, email, and noisy colleagues persist, investing in the right tools, supporting deep work, and promoting employee well-being should assist workers in overcoming the current productivity downturn.