Employees who work with IT-related hardware and software are accustomed to workflow interruptions. Computers seem to slow down. Applications require updates. New systems and processes take time to understand. For those who rely on email, messaging, storage, business applications, and communication platforms to do their job, an IT interruption can cause a series of complications and setbacks. These negative outcomes add up to problems that are significantly larger than just productivity loss. 

Workplace technology should facilitate day-to-day operations in order to enhance performance, services, and products. That’s simply the expectation we have. Likewise, employees in office environments understand that they need a baseline understanding of how to use their computer, how to navigate digital communication, how to use applications and software, and, more recently, how to use collaboration tools like Teams and Zoom.  

Still, no matter the skills of the employee and no matter the organization, glitches happen – that’s why IT help desks and service desks are so critical. But over time, organizations that don’t properly address technology problems which affect productivity and flow can expect greater institutional impacts than time loss. 

Where the IT time goes. 

Technology problems that interrupt flow and productivity range from small inconveniences to considerable obstacles that cause companywide delays. Employees are so comfortable with this range that they may not recognize how many interruptions they’re accustomed to. These can include: 

  • Internet connection issues 
  • Obstacles with passwords and password creation 
  • Program crashes 
  • System updates and upgrades 
  • Lack of familiarity or comfort with technology 
  • Slow boot-up and load times 
  • Security breaches  
  • Outdated technology 
  • Waiting for the service desk 

 Oftentimes, employees don’t contact IT right away if their problem seems fixable. For example, a less digitally savvy employee might ask a more proficient colleague for help with a problem, instead of going directly to the service desk. In this case, both employees, or more, have lost productivity time and energy. What’s more, if the same problems persist across the organization and employees opt for troubleshooting independently, IT employees are left unaware of ongoing issues that could be solved more efficiently. A study performed by Vanson Bourne on behalf of Nexthink found that nearly 80 percent of respondents agree that when IT issues are not reported, it often leads to bigger issues. 

Planned versus unplanned downtime: the results are telling. 

Time spent on resolving IT problems generally falls into two categories: planned downtime and unplanned downtime. Most organizations experience both on a regular basis, according to a study commissioned by IBM and performed by Forrester Consulting in 2019. The survey engaged 100 IT leaders from large U.S. enterprises. The majority of respondents reported experiencing planned downtime on a quarterly basis, and unplanned downtime bimonthly.  

Both planned and unplanned bring their own sets of challenges, but they share the same costly results: lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand equity or trust. The study estimated that unplanned downtime costs 35 percent more per minute than planned downtime, and unplanned problems usually prompt concerns that could affect the entire company, like data recovery and lost revenue.  

Interestingly, Forrester’s results also upended the common belief that planned downtime doesn’t result in significant business losses. With downtime, IT departments walk a tightrope of efficiency and accuracy. They need enough time to ensure the promise of maintenance and upgrades, but they’re up against the challenge of doing so as quickly and efficiently as possible – the longer systems are down, the more money it costs the company. Faced with a narrow window of success, organizations tend to delay or avoid too many sessions devoted to maintenance, bug fixes and security updates.  

Yet here’s the catch: Putting off planned downtime can actually have an adverse effect on the organization, resulting in a greater risk of unplanned downtime. It puts IT departments between a rock and a hard place.  

Minor setbacks add up – so what’s the solution? 

According to academic research on IT-related loss of productivity,  organizations lose 7.6 percent of their productivity to poor IT resources or inadequate personal computer skills.  In this case, that would, on average, cause an inefficiency of around € 1.9 million yearly for an organization of 1,000 IT end users.       

Additional research shows that every employee in a company encounters IT-related problems an average of 1.7 times a week. Less skilled employees average even more with 2.5 times a week. Forrester estimated, in their study with IBM, that planned downtime alone costs an organization $1.5 million in their previous quarter, and $5.6 million in their previous year.  

Additionally, Yorizon’s research on the relationship between IT and health shows us that when people experience negative IT interactions in the workplace, they report more stress, less motivation, and less job satisfaction. When we take these findings into account, we can presume that the real problems cause more impact than productivity loss. Less satisfied employees will become sick more often, and they’re more likely to seek employment elsewhere.  

With IT problems painting a pretty negative picture of lost time, lost      productivity, and diminished organizational potential, it’s easy to feel defeated by technology’s glitchy inevitability – easier, too, to assume that the burden falls to the IT staff to prevent troubling outcomes. But instead of putting pressure on IT departments, organizations can alternatively pivot their approach and consider how the entire company benefits from a flawless IT process.  

When employees have a positive interaction with technology – one that enhances their flow, increases enthusiasm, and does not deepen their frustration – their work and well-being improve. By extension, the work of the organization as a whole gets better.  

 Yorizon surveyed a group of 652 people from the Netherlands, U.K., and U.S. about how much time they would gain if their organization’s IT worked flawlessly. They represented employees who work in governmental services, healthcare, business services, information and communication, and education and training. On average, they expect to gain 70.5 minutes of extra productivity per week. The results varied considerably, too: 

  • Employees with IT-dependent jobs expect to gain 82.7 minutes of extra productivity. 
  • Employees in the Netherlands expect a gain of 60 minutes; in the U.K., 71 minutes; and in the U.S., 80 minutes. 
  • There are large differences between professional branches: Governmental services employees expect to gain 133 minutes; healthcare, 94 minutes; business services, 79 minutes; information and communication, 56 minutes; and education and training, 48 minutes.  
  • The size of the company matters significantly, too: Employees in organizations that have 0 to 100 employees expect to gain 55 minutes; 101 to 250 employees, 64 minutes; 251 to 1,000 employees, 92 minutes; and over 1,000 employees, 83 minutes.  

The road to gaining time.  

Leaders of organizations should not feel frustrated that IT, by nature, can work adversely from their goals on occasion.  The technology is only going to evolve and expand, and the wisest decision they can make is to embrace it and work alongside it: Prioritize the role IT plays; understand how it influences employees individually, departmentally, and collectively; encourage a healthy relationship with IT. More tangible recommendations include:  

  1. Monitoring the time that’s lost in productivity, and translating this to business costs.

Not a lot of companies calculate the exact loss of productivity and translate it to business costs. In doing so, it clarifies that investments to minimize these costs are worthwhile. To calculate business costs,  multiply the percentage of productivity loss by the salary sum of the number of IT workers in the organization.  

Business costs = %productivity loss x Σ salary IT end users.   

  1. Finding out what kind of systems, projects, locations, or jobs lose the most time.

To find the best ways to minimize productivity loss caused by IT, it’s helpful to find out where exactly this time is lost. Maybe some applications are too slow or have a lot of downtime. Maybe the loss is present in certain jobs or within certain departments.  When you pinpoint these problems, it’s easier to find the solution. Sometimes, a certain application needs to be updated, or people in a particular department need extra training.     

  1. Use IT workers knowledge and experience.

Next to using IT workers to calculate the percentage of productivity loss, it is also advisable to ask these employees for input on the elements that hinder them the most. They will give you a more specific insight into the applications and systems where productivity is lost. They will also give you a more subjective impression of their experience and can probably offer valuable insights towards solutions. Sometimes the problem is not the IT system itself but poor communication or a lack of knowledge. This obviously requires a different kind of action.  

 Finally, we recommend taking a broad perspective when deciding how to invest in IT experience optimization. Minimizing the IT-related loss of time will have a larger effect than just a gain in productivity minutes. The energy level and happiness of employees will also increase exponentially. Even if just some of the problems are solved, employees will be less frustrated.