Thursday, 16 April 2015

Workers wasting time

63% of workers waste 2- 10 hours per week.

We’ve all heard these sorts of claims before; mainly from employers who see their employees as enemies and hold them in low regard.

But this claim was not made by employers.

It was made by the workers themselves. Workers who want to be more productive.

Canon Australia commissioned a survey of corporate workers. 63%  said they waste 2- 10 hours per week on routine, administrative work. And 48% said that this burden was increasing.

This costs their employers between $3,283 and $16,415 per worker, per year, based on a 48 week working year.

No business can afford to throw away $3000 per year. What about if there were five or six workers tied up in routine administration?

What is the solution?


 “Increased regulation was named by 27% as the reason for the increased [administrative] burden, while 49% said it was simply because their jobs were manual and time-consuming.” ( Government Technology Review)

Technology has continually replaced routine human effort since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Employers have embraced new technology whenever they could see a clear improvement to their profitability. Some would argue it has been used as an excuse to sack employees.

But the workers, surveyed for Canon, aren’t concerned about this. They are frustrated by their inability to get on with their "real work". They want to be replaced and can see benefits for themselves and their employers.

Systems to automate administration are not new. I worked for one of the largest insurance companies in Australia, during the late 1990's and routine policy administration had been automated and co-ordinated, Australia wide, before I joined them.

Before the advent of The Cloud, each organisation needed its own server and appropriate software. Economies of scale meant that what was cost-effective for a large insurer, was out of reach for small businesses.

The insurer had its own dedicated software and a team of IT experts to support it. Small businesses would have had to use off-the-shelf software, and many would have found it lacking. Then there was the cost of installing and maintaining a dedicated server in each organisation.

A forklift is a great way to move pallets around a warehouse, but if you only receive one pallet per year, you can't justify the cost of a forklift. It's more economical to get the workers to unload the palate and put its contents into storeage by hand.

The cost of small-business networks has decreased since the 1990s, but monitoring, maintaining and backing them up are still significant expenses. The consequences of failing to do them properly can be catastrophic. So, although the technology has been available, it is clear that some organisations have found it better to continue to have humans do the routine administration.

Cloud applications and services have changed all that. They provide greater capacity at less cost and with greater security than local networks. They enable enterprise wide software, at reasonable cost, even for organisations which couldn’t justify a local network and server in the past. 

Bespoke software

A major problem with automated systems was that small organisations had to change the way they worked. Either the software couldn’t accommodate all of their practices or it did not integrate with other software they were using. Either way, some things still had to be done manually and some efforts had to be duplicated.

For many organisations, it was cheaper to stick with fully manual systems.

That has changed too. Bespoke software is now readily available for businesses of all sizes, at affordable rates. Most businesses can now afford to automate much of their administration and even sole proprietors can potentially save more than the cost of the applications. nuBuilder is open source, bespoke software, which offers all businesses the option of developing their own applications, or contracting developers to do it for them. This makes it viable for even very small businesses to automate their routine administration.

The potential cost savings should be enough to get the attention of most managers, but adopting a few high tech solutions is not a silver bullet. There is another problem.


Everybody in an organisation is answerable to someone else. Even sole operators are answerable to their clients.

The status quo is safe and there is little personal risk in following long-standing procedures. There is great risk in trying to introduce new procedures.

The risk of failure is obvious, whenever a leap is made into the unknown. In larger organisations, there is also the risk of embarrassment. It's much safer to keep one's head down and just do the work.

Even in small organisations, workers can find it difficult to justify taking risks if their colleagues don't fully understand the benefits. 

Some enterprises seem to function as a series of unrelated units, which don't always communicate effectively with each other and there is often a lot of duplicated effort in them.

These separate units can become "empires", in which people fiercely defend the status quo and resist any compromises with other departments. Simply upgrading the technology will not solve the problem. These organisations need a change of culture to overcome their inefficiencies.

Without education, and close consultation with employees, the Luddite mentality makes change difficult. People will strongly resist change while there is any threat, real or imagined, to their current status and security.

Canon seems to have taken the first step to overcome the cultural resistance, by commissioning this survey of workers. Other organisations would do well to copy Canon’s approach and ask workers to identify the time they could save and to propose ways to use this time more productively.


Cloud technology and bespoke software can automate administrative tasks and free workers to do productive work. Daniel Steeves says, "Cloud computing ... enables a fundamental re-think from “what can we do?” into “what do we want to do?”"

The applications can quickly pay for themselves. But technology is no longer the main issue.

Organisational culture creates barriers to change.

Developers of cloud and bespoke applications are responsible for knocking down these barriers. They must focus beyond IT and sales. They understand the benefits of changing, so must take responsibilty for educating their clients to see changes as benefits, not threats.

If workers are involved in finding the solutions then 2- 10 hours per week, currently spent on routine administration, can be used more economically and make savings which no business can afford to ignore.

Image Credits: Rebecca Partington, Our times and Jerry John, Network cables - mess:D

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