The Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century fundamentally changed the world. It transformed the production of goods from something done by an individual in the home, to something done at a massive scale in a factory. It revolutionized transportation, communication, and banking; improved standards of living; and forever altered our expectations with regard to the accessibility of goods. But it also transformed the way we think about work itself: indeed, the advances of the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t have been possible without a major shift in how we approach work, and a new focus on an emerging field known as ergonomics.

Ergonomics and the Industrial Revolution

When you get down to it, ergonomics — the study of people’s efficiency in their working environments — is what fueled the Industrial Revolution. There was a new focus on improving work processes by looking at the ways in which people worked, and finding the best machines to help facilitate and complement their natural methods.

This type of thinking led to famous machines like the spinning jenny, the cotton gin, and rolling mills, all of which were designed to integrate seamlessly into people’s work processes while dramatically increasing production and decreasing worker fatigue. Things that might seem basic — like, for instance, matching a shovel with the type of material that was being moved — were game-changers in terms of productivity.

The Post-Digital Revolution World

Fast forward to the post-Digital-Revolution world of today, and, unfortunately, something as simple as swapping one shovel for another isn’t going to cut it. Back in the 1800s, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit, which meant that tiny tweaks to work processes could make a world of difference; today, we’re already working with highly advanced machines and technology.

While the tools of the Industrial Revolution were designed to perform a single task (like, for instance, removing cotton seeds from balls of cotton), today’s digital tools can solve multiple problems at once of varying degrees of complexity. This evolution is great — but it also means that making improvements to work processes isn’t as simple as it once was.

Expectations for Productivity Have Increased

At the same time, expectations for productivity are higher than ever. With access to powerful digital tools, people are expected to create more in less time and to be flexible as the needs of customers change. What’s more, measuring the output of these powerful digital tools is more difficult than their Industrial Revolution counterparts.

While it was easy to count up the pounds of cotton produced by a cotton gin in a given day, digital tools are tougher to measure because of the central role of the people using the tool: if people use a tool effectively, then productivity increases; if they use it ineffectively, productivity plummets. That means that, in our digital world, increasing productivity is about making digital tools easier to use and shaping them to perform specific tasks.

Fortunately, just as ergonomically-focused machines revolutionized the ease and speed at which factory workers made products, today’s virtual production lines can use certain best practices and digital tools to transform efficiency.

Here are three digital transformation strategies for addressing some of the most common productivity problems in the modern workplace.

#1 – Standardize Workflows

In a factory, this might involve creating an assembly line in which each worker performs one task and then passes the product down the line to the next worker, who performs the next task. This type of workflow is known as linear or sequential. In a digital workplace, workflows are less likely to be linear, since people often have to perform multiple tasks at once (like responding to an email while working on a project). However, it’s still important to standardize workflows as much as possible, so that everyone is clear on what needs to be done and when.

#2 – Use automation to take care of repetitive tasks.

Automation can free up people’s time so that they can focus on more creative work. In a factory, this might involve using machines to perform tasks like welding or fabricating parts. In a digital workplace, automation can take many forms, from setting up automatic responses to emails to using bots to perform simple tasks like scheduling meeting rooms.

#3 – Provide people with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

This might involve training people on how to use specific software or providing them with helpful templates and resources. In a factory, this might involve providing workers with the right tools for the job, like a drill for making holes or a hammer for nailing things together. In a digital workplace, people need access to the right software and apps; they also need to know how to use them effectively.

By taking these steps, companies can make huge strides in increasing productivity and transforming their workplaces for the better. For small businesses working to scale up or for companies working to develop new initiatives, these digital transformation strategies can make all the difference. The faster you can embrace them, the better positioned you’ll be to stay ahead of the competition.

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