Haste Makes Waste: 4 Ways Employees Can Get More Value from Technology

At work, you regularly must decide between completing easier tasks that demand immediate attention (responding to emails, scheduling meetings, etc.) and working on more difficult ones that help you reach long-term goals. Upon completion of the former, you can often check off a box. The latter provides you with no such reward—at least not right away.

Studies have shown that people usually focus on the easier tasks at the expense of the more complex. It’s how humans are wired.

Now consider how this natural tendency plays out in today’s workplace—because of time constraints and rapidly changing technology, the complex tasks are becoming even more challenging, making people even less eager to tackle them.

The result is a traffic jam on the easy route—that is, sticking with what you know to complete your tasks instead of figuring out better ways to get things done using new tools and technology.

Numerous studies support this theory. According to a report by UK software company 1E, companies are wasting 37 percent of what they spend on software, costing more than $30 billion or roughly $259 per desktop. Among Microsoft products, the study reported 7 percent waste of Office Professional Plus licenses, 52 percent waste of Visio Standard licenses, and 45 percent waste of Project Professional licenses.

Studies have shown that people usually focus on the easier tasks at the expense of the more complex. It’s how humans are wired.

In a study conducted by Gartner, researchers examined how organizations were using Office 365 and determined that increased usage does not equate to increased value. Gartner asked respondents which Office 365 components their organizations use and asked them to assign each element a value on a scale from 0 to 100.

For usage, the results were as expected—more than half of respondents indicated that their organizations primarily use 6 of the 18 identified Office elements—Office ProPlus and Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, OneNote, and Skype for Business Online. Usage of Teams, Power BI and others were substantially lower, some as low as 30 percent.

One of the most notable findings from the Gartner survey was the disparity between usage and value. For example, while almost three-quarters of respondents indicated that they use SharePoint, they assigned it an average of 14 points out of 100 for value. The gap between usage and value was even wider for OneNote, Teams, OneDrive for Business, and Skype for Business.

The result is a traffic jam on the easy route—that is, sticking with what you know instead of using new tools and technology to figure out better ways to get things done.

How does this relate to you, the spread-too-thin knowledge worker?

In addition to efforts from your employer to increase and improve training and development offerings, you also bear some of the burden. As much as organizations cannot afford to let technology investments collect dust, neither can you. Workers today need a higher level of tech proficiency than they did in the past.

You need to take steps to get out of your technology comfort zone. Here are ways to get started:

■ Keep a learning “to-do” list: Learning and growth opportunities crop up all the time, but people are usually too busy to notice or take advantage of them. Keep track of features, applications and tools you are struggling with and those you would like to learn how to use. Use small chunks of free time to start checking off items on that list.

For example, when you are working on a regular task, such as a monthly report, you may go through the same motions every time—whether it’s creating links to data or completing a series of tasks to generate a report. Ask yourself if there’s a way to produce that report in less time and with greater accuracy. There probably is. Put it on your list and tackle it when you have a lighter workload.

■ Make learning part of your job. Weave training and coaching into your regular routine to keep up with rapid-pace updates and other tech changes. If you get stuck, resist the temptation of workarounds and the “old way of doing things.” Ask for help.

■ Put your skills to work. Assess your work processes regularly. Are you still communicating with colleagues via email and using attachments to collaborate? How do you work together on projects—do you use Teams or SharePoint, or do you use spreadsheets and in-person meetings? There’s always room for improvement—train yourself to identify those opportunities.

Keep an eye out for new ways to use technology to innovate and improve your work processes. For example, using something as simple as @Mentions in Outlook can increase your productivity and free up your time for innovation.

■ Keep asking questions. What you don’t know can hurt you. When your organization is implementing new technology, find out more about the change. Ask why the technology is being introduced and how you can use it to improve your work processes. Find out where to get training and support. Look up specific use cases for the technology to guide your learning.

Not so long ago, sticking with what you knew was the way you got your work done. But that approach doesn’t work in today’s rapidly changing workplace. By making an effort to avoid the easy route, you create a path to long-term, sustainable success—for yourself, and your company.

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