Productivity Through Tech

Quick disclaimer: I am currently quite pleased with the amount of tech my employer provides me with and fully appreciate the beast of a machine I use to do my job.  Now, let the rant begin.

What is the easiest way to make your employees more productive?  There’s many schools of thought, prescribing a more focused working environment, a more streamlined process for your employees to do their work, better means of communicating business pertinent information and all kinds of other contrived ways of selling expensive products that will in fact result in some gains, but really just serve to sell stuff that people market to businesses.  However, that’s not really what I am talking about here.

My approach to making your employees more productive is much simpler, throw more powerful tech at them and they will have more time in an active work role and less time in a passive work role.  What I mean by more powerful tech is really straightforward, more CPU power, more RAM, faster hard drives, better monitors and faster intranet and internet access (I am also a big fan of having really comfy chairs to sit in, but that’s not really pertinent to this discussion).

This theory really only applies to office workers who spend the majority of their day working on a computer.  Which really, is just about all office workers these days.  Now that we have set our general scope, let’s just dive in and see where time is lost in an average day.

In a generic office job, a worker will generally spend a few minute each morning staring a computer screen while their computer boots up (good time to get a cup of coffee or tea), then spends a couple more minutes waiting for their OS to finish loading after logging in (good time to talk sports or pop culture with person in the next cube), then spends a couple more minutes waiting for their applications to start up and then can finally get to work (the myriad industry standard and proprietary applications that we spend more time with than we do with our friends and family). Here’s a fun thought exercise, think about 10 quirks of your favorite business app, now try to think of 10 quirks of your best friend.  Which one did you think of first? But I digress.

Some employers require their workers to get to work early and do all of this on their own time before clocking in.  I’m not really even sure how legal that is, but this is a down economy, so employers can metaphorically slap their employees around and do not really need to worry about those same employees leaving for greener pastures (if you live in the middle of the desert, even a foul watering hole is better than no watering hole). So, the employees can just as easily just leave their computers on overnight to avoid the hassle of booting up in the morning. This is pretty wasteful, but hey, it shaves 10-15 minutes off of the morning work start time so it might be worth it (insert mental image of baby ducks crying, or some other environmental heart string tugging meme).

Then let’s think about an average day and how much time is spent by an employee staring at a loading screen.  This is really just about anything from the download bar for that quarterly report, to the time is takes to start up you favorite office application, to the time spent loading files from network shares and loading times for ERP/CRM/CMS/other powerful, complicated and tech hungry business app. Think about your own experience with that sort of thing and think about how much time you spend waiting for something to load.  Do you have a rough number in your head?  Good.

Let’s think about all of the time we spend staring at our screens waiting for something to load.  Those are the times when the user is faster than the system.  Those are the times when the user is ready to do the next thing, and the tech is causing time to be wasted. We all know that time is money, so let us put things into monetary terms.

Take that number you came up with earlier and multiply it by your hourly rate. If you’re salaried, just fuzzy math your rate, I know you have a rough idea of what you get for an hour of your work.  That’s what your lack of technology is costing your employer, every day for every person who could have a faster computer and doesn’t.

Let’s say you are an accountant or a software developer and some of your work requires a lot of heavy computer crunch work.  Be it the compilation of a report, or the compilation of the newest build of your software program, you periodically need to hit a button and let the computer crunch away on a big chunk of files or data before taking your next action.  If your computer might not be the newest, you might end up staring at your screen (hopefully not literally), for an hour or more. Now let’s think about that accountant’s salary seriously being spent for an hour during which the accountant has to figure out something else to do while their computer crunches away on the big data set it has been fed.

If that accountant loses an hour every other day compiling a big report, that’s 2.5 hours a week, for a little under 50 weeks a year, which means the accountant is essentially being paid for about 125 hours of less than fully productive work each year.  What if we halve that time by throwing a nice fast machine at that accountant?  Would it cost more over the life of the machine than it does to pay the accountant to not be able to work?  And more importantly, what is the opportunity cost to that accountant?  If the accountant has an extra 60 hours a year, maybe they can do more work and generate more income for the company.

For developers, this is far more insiduous.  I once had a job as a contractor for a small development company where I ended up using an older machine that the company happened to have sitting around.  Now, it took about 15 minutes to compile a build if you made changes to some of the projects. And if you were trying to work through a bug in one of those projects, you would make a change, compile for 15 minutes, see if your change fixed the bug and rinse and repeat until the bug was fixed.  For those of your that are developers, I don’t have to tell you that it sometimes takes more than a few iterations to fully fix a bug and that compilers are notorious for sucking as much computing power as you can throw at them.

With the same thought exercise, if that compilation time is halved, maybe over the course of a week, you end up saving several hours and the company wins by not paying developers to not develop and gains that time back as more time that the developers can spend performing development (shocking, I know).

Aside from these two examples, the general concept applies across the board. Faster internet access can help your multi-location company communicate faster internally.  Maybe the support ticketing system loads 2 seconds faster per page and all those support people can take a few more calls each day.  Maybe that content management system serves content a few seconds faster and your BAs and PMs can open and edit their documents faster.

The main point that I am trying to make is that technology is not that expensive when compared to the associated cost that a lack of technology introduces.  Speding a grand on a new desktop for that support person might seem silly today, but if you do that for all of your support people, maybe you can do with one less support person and that gives you back all of that money and more. Here’s a crazy thought, your employees might be a little happier too since they aren’t being hamstrung by the tech they use.

Please do not misconstrue my point.  I am not talking about the difference between a first generation Core i7 and a 3rd generation Core i7 (although that’s pretty drastic already).  I am talking about the difference between running a single core Athlon 64 based computer from 2004 vs running a new AMD A8 or A10 Quad Core based computer in order to not buy a new computer and save $1000 for the company this year.  Employers, it is costing you more, it is frustrating your employees and it kind of hurts the economy (although that’s the topic for another article), buy some new computers.