Several years ago, Microsoft Corp. surveyed more than 38,000 office workers in 200 countries in an effort to find out just how productive these people were and to identify roadblocks to personal and team productivity.
The results of the study painted a sobering portrait of office productivity, or the lack of it in most office situations. In the U.S., for example, most people worked 45 hours per week, but considered 16 of those hours to be unproductive. Office workers spent an average of 5.5 hours in meetings each week, and 71 percent of the people polled considered these meetings to be unproductive and time wasting, according to Microsoft’s 2005 Office Personal Productivity Challenge.
More than 60 percent of office workers in the U.S. relied on software to achieve productivity goals, and 66 percent of those polled felt they did not have a balance between work and their personal lives.
Five years later and in the midst of the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression, workers in general have increased their productivity, with output rising 4% and hours increasing 1.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the first quarter of this year may have seen the greatest jump in productivity – about 6.1%.
However, the formula for this may be based more on job security and anxieties, rather than true productivity, say the experts. People work harder when there is a risk they may be singled out and eliminated from the job roster.
Bringing mobility inside
One solution might be to apply some of the traits and tactics of remote computing to office-bound employees who spend less time at their desk and more time being locally remote.
A second study conducted by Microsoft earlier this year – this time looking at remote workers in the U.S. – found that 45% took advantage of their company’s remote working policy because they found it more productive to work outside a structured office environment. Roughly 38% opted for a remote work environment because they found it less stressful, and 60% believed it provided a more balanced work-life experience.
In fact, advancements in notebook technology, wireless connectivity alternatives and software make it increasingly possible to take many of the best aspects of mobile working and apply them to a typical office setting. These aspects include:
- Connecting and Collaborating. This ranges from simple email and messaging to more interactive social networking platforms. Microsoft’s Office 2010, for example, includes the Outlook Social Connector, nicknamed the “People Pane,” that can import social network data into your contact list, and keep tabs on social media content and events.
- Pervasive Connectivity Options. Most companies have an 802.11 Wi-Fi system in place, but many also use high-speed wireless broadband and short-range communications alternatives (like Bluetooth) to maintain connections inside and outside the office and link with printers, LCD projectors and other office equipment. The Lenovo ThinkPad T410 and similar business notebooks continue to be strong contenders as a capable desktop replacement, but some people even use consumer-oriented laptops for business such as the Dell Alienware M11x, which is an Editors’ Choice for sheer performance, capabilities and price.
- Web-Based Applications. Mobile executives have known for a long time the value of remotely-accessible applications and data, especially when using small and portable systems like netbooks or emerging tablet PCs, which usually do not have the resources to support a lot of software stored locally. Microsoft’s Office 2010 takes a big step forward in this direction with the introduction of Office Web Apps, which are the online versions of Word, Powerpoint, Excel and OneNote. Not only are these applications available to office-bound mobile workers, but they can be easily extended to other PCs, tablet PCs, smartphones and any other device that supports a browser technology.
|Pet peeves when working with remote mobile workers
Source: Microsoft 2010 U.S. Remote Working Research
Best of both worlds mobility
By taking the best of remote working tactics and applying them to in-office activities, workers can also avoid a lot of the negative aspects of telecommuting. Chief among these is the lack of personal interaction with people who work from a home office or spend a great deal of time on the road.
Approximately 44% of the executives who took part in the 2010 Microsoft remote computing study pointed to the lack of face-to-face communications as a serious problem. Nearly 30% cited difficulties in communicating and connecting with remote individuals, and 26% noted the lack of accountability of those who work outside the office on a regular basis.
By making use of remote tools and technologies within an office, workers can get the best of both worlds and dramatically improve productivity. Wireless-enabled and networked printers installed in conference areas, for example can save time since employees don’t have to run to a print station to quickly generate hardcopy.
Bluetooth- and WiFi-equipped handheld PCs and smartphones can also channel content to these printers, or instantly distribute information and access the Internet by using a smartphone’s 3G/4G hotpot capabilities (as with the HTC EVO 4G).
Cloud-based applications are also increasingly being adapted to take advantage of wireless output devices to eliminate wired solutions and create a more productive and cost-effective workplace environment.
Read more on Office Productivity Trends and Tactics.