New uSamp Survey Shows: Applications Designed to Save Time Are Major Cause of Time-Wasting Distraction

The proliferation of collaboration and social tools designed to increase productivity is actually costing businesses millions of dollars per year in lost productivity, according to a new survey of more than 500 employees in U.S. businesses of all sizes.

“This survey paints a picture of a highly distracted workplace with a particular irony: information technology that was designed at least in part to save time is actually doing precisely the opposite. The very tools we rely on to do our jobs are also interfering with that mission. We’re clearly seeing what psychologists call ‘online compulsive disorder’ spill over from our personal lives to the work environment,” said Yaacov Cohen, co-founder and CEO of social email software provider, in a news release. “For all of us, it’s time to take back the Internet and find ways to control our digital addiction.”

The survey was conducted by online market research firm uSamp (United Sample) and commissioned by

Nearly 60% of work interruptions now involve either using tools like email, social networks, text messaging and IM, or switching windows among disparate standalone tools and applications. In fact, 45% of employees work only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted, and 53% waste at least one hour a day due to all types of distractions.

That hour per day translates into $10,375 of wasted productivity per person annually, assuming an average salary of $30/hour. That is more than the average U.S. driver will spend this year to own and maintain a car. For businesses with 1,000 employees, the cost of employee interruptions exceeds $10 million per year.

Among the survey findings:

Most work disruptions are electronic:

While traditional activities such as phone calls, talking with coworkers, and ad hoc meetings account for 43% of work interruptions today, the lion’s share of distractions are now electronically based.

Users reported getting sidetracked in email processing (23%), switching windows to complete tasks (10%), personal online activities such as Facebook (9%), instant messaging (6%), text messaging (5%) and Web search (3%).

Multiple devices on the desktop contribute to the problem, with 65% of respondents reporting that they utilize up to three additional monitors and/or mobile devices simultaneously with their main computer screen as they work.

Document searches drain productivity:

Users also spend an average of 2-1/2 hours per week trying to find the documents they need in multiple local, corporate and cloud repositories. That adds up to 16 workdays annually, costing businesses $3,900 per $30/hour employee per year to subsidize inefficient document management. The problem is exacerbated by the use of email attachments instead of posting documents to a central repository where they can be easily located. The survey found that:

The user’s email inbox is the #1 location searched, with 76% of respondents reporting email as the first place they look. Other locations include the desktop (69%), file server (52%), shared workspace (34%), portable storage device (18%) and/or cloud storage (9%).

The average user emails two or more documents per day to an average of five people for review, increasing email-based document volume by up to 50 documents per week. The fact that these attachments are stored on multiple local computers complicates the challenge of finding the latest document versions as well as merging feedback from multiple reviewers.

Work output and quality suffer:

The actual cost of distraction is even higher than $10,375 per person per year in terms of the negative impact on work output, work quality and even client relationships. Users report that the continuous interruptions cause:

  • Difficulty working/producing (33%)
  • No time for deep or creative thinking (25%)
  • Information overload (21%)
  • Missed deadlines (10%)
  • Lost clients/business (5%)

Refusal to disconnect leads to rudeness:

The perceived need to stay connected at all times has reduced civility in the workplace as well as interfering with the ability to focus on the task at hand. The survey found that:

  • Two out of three users will interrupt a group meeting to communicate with someone else digitally, either by answering email (48%), answering a mobile phone (35%), chatting via IM (28%), updating their status on a social network (12%) or tweeting (9%).
  • Relatively few workers disconnect to focus on a task (32%) or during virtual meetings or teleconferences (30%), webcasts (26%) or lunch (12%).
  • A majority of workers turn off their devices only when their boss asks them to (85%) or during one-on-one meetings (63%).

More than 2/3 adopt strategies to reduce distractions:

Despite the attachment to their digital tools and devices, both companies and end users recognize the productivity challenges created by these technologies and have implemented a variety of tools and strategies in an attempt to limit digital-related disruptions.

68% of respondents reported that their employers have implemented policies or technologies to minimize distractions, while 73% of end users have adopted self-imposed techniques to help maintain focus.

The #1 corporate strategy used to discourage digital diversion is blocking access to public social networks such as Facebook and/or other non-business websites (48%).

Other corporate techniques used to promote digital efficiency include tracking online usage patterns (29%), training (25%), deployment of an enterprise collaboration and social platform that aggregates information in a single window (13%), No Facebook Fridays (6%) and No Email Fridays (3%).

In the case of end users, 51% try to minimize distractions by reading emails in batches, 28% by working outside the office, and 25% by disconnecting from IM/email and phone a few hours a day.

Findings are based on a March 2011 uSamp survey of 515 email users working in sales, marketing, human resources or legal departments for U.S. companies of all sizes.