When you analyse the make-up of an average working day for office-based employees, you start to uncover some uncomfortable truth. Such as more than a third of a worker’s day is typically wasted on outdated processes and unnecessary tasks.
These are some of the findings from a recent global study, carried out by OnePoll, which explored the impact technology has on the administrative efficiency of our businesses. More than 5,000 employees were interviewed about their time allocation during a typical working day.
It found that, on average, 26% of an employee’s day will be wasted on avoidable administrative chores, unnecessary tasks and outdated ways of working. A breakdown of the areas identified as being the biggest daily time wasters included:
- 42 minutes spent on needless administration tasks
- 36 minutes involved in unproductive work conversations
- 28 minutes having to attend unnecessary meetings
- 26 minutes devoted to outdated technology tasks
The general picture to emerge from the data is of frustrated employees struggling within workplaces where manual and paper-based processes are still so commonplace. Nearly half (44%) of UK respondents classed their company’s office technology as being ‘woefully out-dated’.
Globally, more than a third (38%) of those surveyed said their employer is still reliant on manual administration processes and nearly half (48%) believed they would be more productive if they were given access to better office technology and tools.
For 40%, administrative chores were preventing them from completing their core tasks and 39% said that, as a result, they regularly felt unhappy with the quality and quantity of their work output during the day.
What are the time wasters?
Specific tasks linked to inefficiency included the need to manage bulging email inboxes, having to manually build expense claims and the time required to manage business travel and accommodation arrangements. The five main areas of inefficiency were:
- Managing email inboxes
- Attending unnecessary meetings
- Handling employee expenses
- Arranging business travel/accommodation
- Manual processing of invoices/payments
The cumulative time that’s being lost to these various kinds of inefficiencies equates to a startling 76 working days during a typical 48-week year, assuming employees take four weeks of annual leave.
The results help to highlight the practical consequences of outdated and inefficient business processes. Each small area of inefficiency within a company accumulates over time to create such a significant loss of time and productivity.
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Consequence of outdated business process
What’s notable about the survey findings is how much of this wastage is completely avoidable. In the past, offices have been managed by traditional paper-based and manual ways of working, this was the world of filing cabinets, printers and having to post documents.
The emergence of cloud-based processes and real-time data management has virtually removed the need for these traditional forms of administration. Manual tasks have been replaced by automated processes, creating fast and streamlined forms of management.
While the majority of business accounting practices are now handled digitally, there are still many areas of administration which remain stuck in the past.
One of the areas identified in the research was the management of employee expenses. When this is handled in the traditional way, with paper receipts attached to hand processed claim forms, it was found to be taking UK employee’s an average of 26 minutes.
This is a task that’s able to be completed in a matter of minutes when the process is automated. A cloud-based system allows claimants to scan a paper receipt with a smartphone app, allowing claims to be created in a fraction of the time it takes to manually collate information.
Replacing paper-based processes
Similar kinds of time savings can be made wherever there are paper-based and manual administration processes within a business. The need to physically handle, process and store information in a paper format creates inherently slow, inefficient and frustrating working processes.
Cloud-based office tools, such as Google Docs, allow any kind of documentation to be handled in real-time, with access available to employees from anywhere they have an online connection. It creates a fast, scalable and flexible way to manage information, one that’s not possible with a paper-based approach.
There are now a multitude of specific software tools and apps that are designed to replace traditional systems – streamlining and improving every area of business administration. These range from core accounting software and expense management tools to marketing and HR systems.
A digital approach allows data to be seamlessly shared between various financial and administrative systems, eliminating the need for large amounts of information to manually input and transferred – a slow, error-prone and tedious process.
This kind of automated approach is increasingly required by the legislative jurisdictions. The recent Making Tax Digital (MTD) legislation, introduced by HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) in the UK, makes it a requirement for certain businesses to operate a fully digital process when submitting VAT claims.
Evaluate existing systems
As the survey data shows, tackling wastage also means making the best use of existing technologies. One of the biggest time wasters identified was employees spending a large chunk of their day managing a stream of unnecessary and unproductive emails.
Improved use of inbox filters or stricter guidelines on internal communications can help tack tackle this problem. Alternatively, there are now multiple ways to manage business messaging with many companies opting for more social media style services which allow greater control.
Business travel was another cause of lost time revealed by the research. As more employees are given greater control over arranging their own transport and accommodation booking, they are faced with a bewildering range of online booking options and alternatives.
A dedicated business travel service can help to streamline this whole process, providing an employee with easy access to clear and accurate information on the options and allowing search data to be filtered to reflect a company’s specific travel rules and policies.
Challenge for FDs
The research findings shine a light on how business productivity is being held back by outdated processes and administrative inefficiencies. The results should act as a wake-up call for those companies that are clinging on to traditional working processes.
What’s encouraging, however, is just how much of the time being lost is entirely avoidable. Business managers have access to the tools and systems that can transform the way companies operate – minimising wastage by streamlining and automating outdated admin processes.
One of the challenges facing finance directors is identifying and understanding the cumulative impact of these everyday inefficiencies. How seemingly small and trivial problems can combine to create a situation where 76 days of productivity are lost per employee.
It’s by identifying these vulnerabilities and quantifying the costs that the case can be made for greater investment in office technology and cloud-based tools. By significantly reducing the time it takes to carry out everyday tasks, a streamlined process can deliver quick returns on investment.
Without seeing this bigger picture, investment in improved office processes is liable to remain on a company’s ‘to do’ list. It helps to explain why the business sector is still home to so many manual and paper-based management methods.
Building better businesses
Less quantifiable are the benefits that improved technology delivers to overall productivity and morale. The survey clearly shows the sense of frustration that exists when workers are forced to use systems which, in today’s digitally connected world, are feeling increasingly antiquated.
We are so used to the benefits of digital systems and real-time communications in our everyday lives that the paper-based processes feel increasingly anachronistic. So the move to automation delivers more than just speed and efficiency, it provides a simpler way of working, one which is in tune with the way employees live their lives.
It helps to build a working environment in which workers’ can focus on their jobs without finding themselves stifled by the kind of repetitive, tedious and unnecessary tasks that makes work feel like a joyless chore.
It doesn’t just boost individuals’ performance; it also helps to build a positive company brand. It can create a positive and enticing working culture which helps to attract and maintain a quality workforce.
But for finance leaders, the bottom line is simple – saving valuable time and resources, resulting in increased productivity. This comes as a by-product of building a more robust, scaleable and adaptive administrative structure, one that’s designed to handle the demands of today’s digitally led financial and legislative environments.