UK small businesses are wasting time with IT problems

IT problems

New research released today by Samsung Electronics has revealed time spent on technology issues could be a major contributor to the UK’s productivity gap.

While small business owners are spending nearly three and a half hours on sales and close to three hours on marketing a week to drive new business, IT accounts for two hours and 47 minutes, and office management almost three hours.

The UK currently ranks 7th in the G7 and 17th in the G20 for productivity per person, and spending less time on these tasks could help to close this gap.

The findings – part of Samsung’s ‘More Good Days at Work’ initiative which shows small businesses how innovative technology can help their staff to have better days at work – highlight that the situation is mirrored in workers, with nine in ten (91%) losing concentration by coming to the rescue to help colleagues with IT issues.

With two-thirds (63%) of workers spending between 15 and 45 minutes a day helping their colleagues with these issues, businesses are losing almost four hours a week per employee.

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Commenting on the findings, Graham Allcott, author of “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and founder of Think Productive said: “We have some fantastic businesses and innovators in the UK SME sector, but there are still big productivity issues. A lot of workers are distracted from the things that create impact and growth by tasks like IT issues, and we are falling behind the rest of the world as a result. While lots of these distractions might only be for 15 minutes here and there, this quickly adds up and affects overall productivity.”

When it comes to the time of day that employees get most done, over four in five (81%) feel they are most productive in the morning, with 10-11am being the most productive hour (42%).

It also appears that a break to refuel at lunchtime helps workers increase their motivation with the second and third most productive times being between 2pm and 3pm (32%) and 3pm and 4pm (30%).

With business rates on the rise, the need for businesses to adjust their working environment is highlighted by the finding that nearly two-thirds (62%) of SME owners encourage mobile working. And, ensuring that their team has access to the latest technology (92%) is more important to SME owners in increasing productivity than always being contactable (83%), having access to emails outside of work hours (81%) and perks such as team drinks and half-days (80%).

Graham Long, vice president of enterprise at Samsung UK & Ireland, said: “SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and it’s important that they work in the most efficient and productive way possible. While technology is certainly a productivity enabler, it’s clear that SME owners and employees are struggling to unleash its full potential. Businesses need technology that is easy, secure and that their workers feel comfortable and familiar using.”

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“Our focus is on making sure technology remains an asset, not a frustration – because everything working perfectly isn’t a luxury, it’s an essential. That’s why we have a dedicated business service centre who are on hand to troubleshoot remotely; allowing businesses to keep running smoothly and importantly giving back time to owners and employees alike to focus on their day job.”

Allcott continued: “Changing and updating technology for companies is obviously much more complex than simply upgrading your personal phone, especially for smaller companies that don’t necessarily have dedicated IT support. The problem is that workers then often bear the brunt of this because it means they have frustrating or old technology to use at work, despite perhaps having newer devices in their home lives. There’s also lots of unlocked potential in the fact that companies often don’t recognise the power of training or even good practice-sharing when it comes to using apps and tools. In general, getting more savvy about our relationship with technology is a huge opportunity to boost productivity as well as helping people to focus on what they love, and live a more balanced life, too.”

Top tips for workplace productivity from Graham Allcott

1. Ninja email

Email is a fantastic productivity tool, but it’s also a huge source of distraction. And when you think about the key moments in your job – those things that create an impact and add value – they all happen outside of the email inbox, not in it.

Keep your inbox at zero, spend some time each day at work with email switched off, and take advantage of surprise opportunities to cut through the email, such as train rides or dentists’ waiting rooms. Also, don’t make email the first thing you do in the day – start your day by thinking about your own priorities, not everyone else’s.

2. Sharpen the saw

In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey talks about how if you’ve got to cut trees down, it’s more efficient to spend time sharpening your saw than it is to jump straight in.

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The same is true with our tools: replacing that old laptop that’s got slow and out of date, taking advantage of great new apps, or simply learning good keyboard shortcuts are all examples of sharpening the saw: you invest a few minutes now, but just watch it pay off for years to come.

3. Have a “good second brain”

We live in an age of information overload, where we’re expected to work on a wide range of projects, and keep an eye on so many different plates that are spinning. Your brain’s short term memory is a terrible place to try and keep track of all this stuff.

Make lists, use apps, use checklists, keep a spreadsheet – whatever it takes so you feel these things work like a ‘second brain’, which remembers all these things so that you don’t have to. This also frees you up to focus on creativity, strategic thinking and problem-solving, which plays to the strengths of the human brain.

4. Ditch the meetings

Apps like Slack, Basecamp or Google Hangouts can reduce the need for lots of time-consuming and energy-sapping meetings. Find a way for your team to work more flexibly, and never attend or organise a meeting unless there’s a clear purpose and you’re sure a meeting is the best way to solve the problem.

5. Automate

So much of our brains are taken up with ‘maintenance tasks’: expense claims, regular reports and meetings, problems or people that need regular attention and focus, and so on. Then we get home and it’s “Did I remember to put the recycling out?” or “Have we packed the gym kit for school?”.

Using apps and reminders, and storing this in your phone is a great way to reduce this mental noise. Most people can take this a step or two further than they currently do. What mental noise or repetitive tasks can you use technology to automate?

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6. Innovate

The novelty of apps on your phone may have worn off, but in truth, the productive value of these tools is just getting started.

Whether it’s sending invoices direct from your phone and taking photos of your receipts with an app like Xero, collaborating on documents and chatting with colleagues, counting your steps, or using a meditation app like Headspace to calm down after a long day, we are only just at the beginning of how technology can improve our productivity, save us time, and help us lead a better life, too.

7. Voice, don’t text

One of the most underrated features of WhatsApp is the ability to record short, voicemail-style messages at the touch of a button.

This saves you the time of having to type the message out, and it’s a win-win for the person receiving it, too, as it doesn’t interrupt them like a phone call would, but they also get the intonation of your voice rather than just text-alone, which makes you much more likely to be understood.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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