2020 taught us technology is central to every aspect of our lives.
Working from home, accessing streaming services, using food delivery apps or dialling into video calls with family and friends, technology has become front and centre in almost every aspect of our lives. The challenge with this situation is that when things go bad with technology, it can be a disaster, especially in the workplace.
How much of a disaster? It turns out a lot. Earlier this year, we embarked on our first ever neuroscience “Brain on Tech” study. Our objective was to explore our relationship with technology and see how it affects our ability to work.
Together with portable brain sensing technology and consumer neuroscience company EMOTIV, we monitored brain activity in real time (via EEG scanning headsets) on participants as they worked and interacted with technology. This let us go far beyond the fill-in-the-bubble-survey, providing rich scientific results.
As anyone who has ever wanted to rage-thump a printer during a paper jam can tell you, experiences with good and bad technology directly impact productivity and how your employees feel. But what was surprising is the profound extent of this correlation.
Supercharging productivity and efficiency
It’s not just your employee’s imagination: bad technology experiences can torpedo productivity and the impact is stark enough that it should be factored into your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) consideration. Increased management and security capabilities already make a compelling case for refreshing hardware more often than not; but quantifying employee productivity and happiness can make it watertight.
The Brain on Tech study found that employees can achieve 37 per cent more in a workday when working with good technology. The study also shows that no matter how computer literate your team is, their productivity can plummet by over 30 per cent when presented with a poor quality, unreliable laptop with planted bugs. Younger Millennials and Gen Z’rs suffered the most from bad tech, performing twice as poor as participants older than 26 – possibly because they were spared the pain of life in the time of dial-up internet and 56K modems.
Mitigating the stress effect
Bad technology can be a productivity killer at the best time. The spike in remote working earlier this year and the inability for employees to stick their head over the cubicle over to ask IT to help with system crashes or computer lockouts has only served to prolong the agony.
On top of these issues is the impact of bad tech on your employees mentally. Stress affects the body, mood and behaviour, triggering a range of problems including headaches, depression and both over and under eating, which left unchecked can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Ultimately, this impacts more than your employees, as a 2013 study by SafeWork Australia discovered, suggesting that workplace stress was costing employers about $10.11 billion dollars each year.
In our research, bad tech proved incredibly stressful. Employees that have bad technology experiences during their workday feel twice as stressed than normal. Comparatively, that is almost 30 per cent more stressful than being asked to sing an unfamiliar song in public!
What’s more, the stress was long-lasting. Those experiencing high stress moments took three times longer to recover, compared to those experiencing less stressful moments in the workday - even when listening to relaxing music (that they didn’t have to sing in public).
The Password Problem
Often, the little things cause the biggest problems. For instance, malfunctions when logging on to a password protected computer under time pressure increased stress by 31 per cent within five seconds. This stress seemed to carry over into other tasks that the user performed afterwards, preventing them from calming down. Similarly, employees that lost spreadsheet data experienced a 17 per cent increase in stress levels in just 8 seconds.
In addition, the Brain on Tech research measured excitement once participants received and used new, better functioning computers. The change of equipment induced more excitement than receiving a monetary reward upon completion of the experiment.
When times are tough and the future looks uncertain, it’s tempting to try and stretch your tech spend that little bit further. But when you factor the costs of bad tech to your business, along with the risks inherent with using older, less secure technology, it starts to look like a false economy. Keeping employees productive and happy should be a top priority for companies as they try to combat burnout. Creating a great technology experiences in the office or at home is a good place to start.
Cile Montgomery is Customer Journey Director, Dell Technologies