Platform Consolidation, Remote Work

Preventing Platform Fatigue in the Modern Workplace

A no-nonsense guide to preventing platform fatigue

Technology helps us in many ways; to streamline processes, simplify tasks, and boost the ability to collaborate. The problem is, many businesses have now overcommitted to digital tools.

Rather than streamlining and simplifying, an overabundance of digital tools can actually create more work that takes away from productive time. As a result, platform fatigue, a.k.a. app overload, has become a real problem.

Zoom fatigue paved the path for platform fatigue

Two big things happened in March 2020. First, many companies, suddenly forced to pivot to a remote work structure, adopted lots of digital tools to help ease the burden of the rapid shift. Two, all previous in-person communication moved to virtual spaces.

As a result, ‘Zoom fatigue’ became a hot topic of conversation. We all quickly realized that long days spent in front of a webcam chatting with colleagues were markedly more taxing than the same number of hours spent with colleagues in a physical space. But why?

The first peer-reviewed article that systematically deconstructs Zoom fatigue from a psychological perspective, published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior in 2021, found the following:

  1. Excessive close-up eye contact is highly intense
    The amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, and the size of faces on screens, are both unnatural. Normally, you look around the room, look down at notes, watch people through the window, perhaps see a bird fly by. You’re not just staring into the souls of others for hours on end. Long story short, it’s a stressful experience.
  2. Faces are often too big for comfort
    On Zoom, colleagues’ faces are large and in charge. In real life, when someone’s face is large enough to be that “close,” you’re engaging in an intense situation. Spending hours a day in a state where your brain is trying to figure out why people are so close to your face who normally would not be is exhausting.
  3. It’s unnatural and uncomfortable to see your own face all day
    The article explains that if someone were to walk around behind you all day, showing you what you look like in a mirror at all times, that would be incredibly uncomfortable. But that’s essentially exactly what’s happening on Zoom. You suddenly have a heightened awareness of the faces you make when conversing with others, creating another ‘processing’ layer for your brain to compute.

 

Overall, the cognitive load is very high and the situation is highly unnatural. Add the fact that mobility is significantly restricted when you’re locked to a seat next to your computer – no pacing allowed – and it’s no wonder we’re all fatigued.

To avoid all these issues, researchers suggest taking your conferencing platform of choice out of full-screen mode, moving your monitor further away from your face, and turning off the “check yourself out” mirror video. They also encourage those leading meetings to offer “dark” times, where participants can turn off their cameras for a while to take a break from intense eye contact. Employees should try to use wireless headphones and walk around when they turn off their cameras, to catch a break from the confinement.

While Zoom brought the fatigue issue to center stage, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Platform fatigue is garnering tons of attention in 2022

We’re hearing a lot more about this growing issue because it’s impacting employee happiness. Two years ago, G2 – the world’s largest tech marketplace – warned businesses that “more than half (51.95%) of all employees are unhappy at work because of the software tools they’re using.”

Given that metric, and knowing that 46.99% of all employees report using more software tools now than they did in 2020, it’s understandable that tech can be playing a far more significant negative role in your organization than you realized.

Today, 32% of workers (nearly a third) have said goodbye to an employer whose tech was a barrier to their ability to do good work – up from 22% pre-COVID. Also, nearly half of U.S. workers (49%) say they are likely to leave their current job if they’re unhappy or frustrated with the technology they use at work.

All Hands meetings that don't suck
Benefits of investing in the right technology

The goal of this post isn’t to convince you that tech tools are bad. Given that the brains behind Cleary built a comprehensive remote workplace platform, we proudly advocate that tech is good when it’s utilized properly – and research supports our position.

More than 56% of workers surveyed by G2 agreed or strongly agreed that having the right software at work allows them more free time outside of work. Why? Because 95% of employees surveyed agree or strongly agree that software makes them more productive at work.

Also, companies are investing significant money into tech. G2’s survey also revealed that 64% of small to mid-size companies with over a thousand employees plan on buying five or more software tools in the coming year, and 55% plan to increase their software and technology spending in 2022. Also, PwC’s 24th annual CEO survey (2021) reported plans to increase their rate of digital investment by 10% or more — more than any other spending category.

So what’s going wrong in companies’ efforts to implement smart tools? There are a handful of factors that contribute to platform fatigue:

  • Extensive setup time
    Every new tool added to a company’s toolbox requires some form of setup, even if it’s relatively ‘plug and play.’
  • Learning curves
    It takes time for leaders to learn new tools. Once high-level team members know how to use a platform, they have to train the rest of their employees, which is a time-consuming process usually riddled with questions.
  • Repetitive tasks
    When multiple tools cover some of the same bases, team members can become frustrated by what inevitably becomes redundant work.
  • Heavy adoption quotas
    Some tools require most team members to adopt and regularly utilize a platform to realize the maximum benefit from it, which can be tricky to achieve.

 

While these new advancing technologies are supposed to streamline communication and improve workflows, they can become burdensome and time-consuming to staff members who may not have the mental capacity to take on more. If it’s not handled with caution and customized to accommodate staff needs, technology can become “too much of a good thing.”

Research conducted in 2018 by RingCentral, a cloud-based communications provider, found that on average, workers switched between apps 10 times per hour, resulting in 32 days lost in productivity per year. So how do you curb the burnout and pivot to productivity?

Stop thinking in black and white

When making a business case for a new app or software tool, efficiency almost always drives the conversation. However, there are often much more significant big-picture benefits you can focus on that provide more significant long-term benefits to the organization.

For example, overhauling your onboarding process to save time is awesome, but it’s even more exciting when it improves your employee retention. More efficient prospecting tools are great for productivity, but when better tracking results in more effective training programs, which in turn generate more sales – now you’re talking. Using a mindset focused on outcomes, not stepping stones that lead to outcomes, is far more likely to have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Focus on what’s in it for your people

Once you’ve recognized there’s a software need, do two things. First, re-evaluate the current tools you’re using to determine if there are missed opportunities to leverage something you already have in place to alleviate whatever burden you’re trying to solve. Also, consider the possibility of eliminating tools that aren’t cutting the mustard. Second, empower internal stakeholders to lead the charge when it comes to training and adoption.

Having internal buy-in and excitement around how and why tech is valuable will help you get so much more traction than a leadership-led decision that doesn’t take everyone else’s input into consideration. Clearly explaining the benefits and focusing on “what’s in it for me” on behalf of your team members is the formula for adoption success. Also, hold space for training and do it right. Invest in time with the software team and make sure you have resources in place to troubleshoot issues and answer questions along the way.

Choose systems that work smarter together

When you have to stitch together multiple solutions, you’re likely to create additional busywork that will fall onto members of your team. By making sure a system you put in place is interoperable with all your other mission-critical tools, you can save yourself a ton of time and headaches in the long run. Also, when possible, choose tools that allow teams to customize the tool to meet their specific needs so they can utilize it more effectively.

Long story short, tech is not the enemy, but it should be considered carefully to avoid platform fatigue. Companies willing to think through the big picture, focus on outcomes rather than tasks, and empower internal stakeholders to drive and lead the adoption of new tools are most likely to have the best outcomes.

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