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Our Ability to Work Remotely Keeps Growing, So Why Hasn't Productivity? Giving your employees mobile tech doesn't improve productivity if nothing else changes in how the company works.

By Natalie Lambert Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

ONOKY - Eric Audras | Getty Images

There's a myth among business leaders that mobile technology will cause productivity to skyrocket. It's the big driver behind the trend of today's mobile workplaces. More than half of enterprises believe mobile apps will boost productivity by 40 percent or more. Eight in 10 global workers say mobile technology makes them more productive. It's no surprise then that more than 90 percent of organizations have a mobile work strategy in place or plan on implementing one.

So now that nine in 10 corporate employees are using at least one mobile app at work, productivity should be soaring, right? Not exactly.

U.S. labor productivity increased just 0.3 percent a year between 2011 and 2016, and it hasn't grown more than 2 percent in any given year since the tech boom. Mobile is on its way to becoming ubiquitous, yet many enterprises are still struggling to see the productivity gains they were promised. So, what's the problem?

Related: 8 Ways to Work Smarter and Improve Productivity

"For all the enthusiasm surrounding this new model for efficiency, our fast leap to mobile has come at an ironic cost -- it has produced a new kind of productivity gap," says entrepreneur and mobile expert Javier Soltero. "The productivity gap is the chasm between all the information we can access on our phones, and the limits on using that information in an effective way."

Mobility by itself doesn't improve productivity. What it does is create infinite opportunities for employees to work more productively. But it's up to enterprises to leverage the technology to actually help people get more work done -- whatever that looks like for each organization.

The challenge: Mobility focuses too heavily on technology.

The massive move toward mobile is a major transition for enterprises, but many organizations don't go far enough. They try to fit mobile into their existing way of doing things. They implement the technology without considering the context and changing the culture (and workflows) around it.

The end result: Devices and apps that throw more work at employees without actually helping them complete it.

Part of the problem is that enterprises are still stuck in a desktop computer mindset, expecting mobile work to look and feel the same as it does in the office. But "the mobile interface and the optimal way to use it have very little in common with the desktop interface and its uses," Soltero says. "The faster we accept this reality, the more quickly we can begin to evolve a new understanding of how to use our mobile working hours more efficiently and effectively."

Mobile devices and apps are just one part -- albeit an important one -- of the overall shift that needs to happen. To close the productivity gap, enterprises must focus on all aspects of work, not just mobile, and start removing the obstacles getting in the way. And that demands a cross-disciplinary, omnichannel approach led by someone with a clear vision for what a productive digital workplace should look like.

The ultimate goal, says the Harvard Business Review, is an organization "in which all knowledge workers have full context, tools, and support to focus their time on the biggest value drivers of the business without being bogged down by overhead and bureaucracy."

More than 80 percent of digitally mature companies get there by employing an actionable digital strategy that draws upon numerous technology solutions -- one of which is mobile -- to solve the challenges that are getting in their employees' way.

Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Business More Efficient

The reality: Productivity is being held back by legacy processes and practices.

Think about the last time you got an email on your mobile device requesting a document. Chances are, you weren't able to easily send it from your device. Or consider the last time someone texted you about a meeting. How many clicks and scrolls did it take to check your availability?

Even after making the transition to mobile, many enterprises are continuing to grapple with the same barriers to productivity they had before, such as:

  • Inaccessible data. Two in five enterprises say their data's too siloed to be accessible, let alone useful.

  • Information overload. Seventy-four percent of employees struggle with the amount of data they have access to and would prefer access to only the data that is personalized to them.

  • Clunky software interfaces. More than 40 percent of employees say it takes too long to accomplish basic work tasks.

  • Complex workflows. Sixty-two percent of employees delay completing tasks that require the use of multiple systems.

  • Poor communication. More than 85 percent of employees and execs say ineffective communication is a top reason for workplace failures.

  • Work overload. Employees who don't feel like there are enough hours in the day to get all their work done suffer an 68 percent productivity loss.

  • Stress. Nearly 60 percent of stressed-out employees report feeling less productive and disengaged.

On its own, mobility doesn't solve any of these problems -- and it may even exacerbate some. A mobile device may allow employees to receive texts and emails and access certain systems wherever they are, but reading texts and emails and completing complex workflows on a mobile device doesn't equal productivity. Unless people have a seamless way to access their business systems and get real work done in the systems they are already using, it's just extending the workday and contributing to feelings of stress and work overload.

And this is the disconnect between what mobility can do and what enterprises are asking it to do. To truly improve productivity, employees need a new and better way to get work done wherever they are. They need relevant information sent to them before they are forced to log into hard-to-use systems; they need complex workflows to be broken down into simple tasks that can be completed in just a few clicks; they need information that matters to them to be accessible based on their context (role, location, etc.) in real time; and they need this all to be available to them where they are, regardless if that is on their devices, their intranet, or in the other applications they are using.

Related: Harness Technology to Become a Mobile Mogul

To harness productivity as a differentiator for an organization, business leaders need to start rethinking how information can be distributed and tasks can be completed in a manner that will make employees more effective. Questions to start with: Where are the biggest pain points hampering employee effectiveness? How could employees solve these challenges by working differently? How can their mobile devices, as well as their laptops and desktops, and the applications they use help make that happen?

Answer those questions and focus on building a culture that empowers your employees to make a difference. Do that, and the productivity gains will follow.

Natalie Lambert

CMO at Instart

Natalie Lambert is the CMO at Instart. Previously, she was chief marketing officer at Sapho and was at Citrix, where she held multiple product marketing leadership positions. Prior to Citrix, Lambert spent seven years at Forrester Research, where she was the leading expert on end-user computing. 

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