Can UK productivity be saved by tech?


It’s been apparent for some time that UK productivity is dropping behind that of its major competitors. Of the other members of the G7, only Japan has lower productivity per person per hour. Concurrently, UK workers put in some of the longest hours in Europe.

Those who wonder if tech could solve the problem have some opposition. Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health, advises firms to stop workers from sending internal emails as a way to boost productivity. In addition, checking emails outside of working hours should, he thinks, be banned, so that workers get a proper rest.

Why it matters

Inefficiency is a serious problem. Londoners average an extra 11.5 hours of unpaid overtime every week. Were they as productive as the Germans, they could do the vast majority of this work during normal hours and get paid for it.

The productivity gap means that UK workers are having to put in longer hours just to stand still. Sir Cary Cooper has highlighted that people are also taking work home with them on their smartphones. To improve, something needs to change.

Tech can be the answer

While the emails issue might seem like tech is the problem, what’s actually affecting workers is inefficient habits. Rather than being the bad workman who blames his tools, it’s important to reconsider and reprioritise, high level thought processes difficult to execute when you’re overworked!

We need to break the cultural inertia which has grown up within workplaces, getting rid of ingrained habits and improving working practices. Across the UK as a whole, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has highlighted three problems:

• Underdeveloped skills
• Lack of investment in technology and infrastructure
• Inefficient management

The good news is that a good IT strategy can address all three of these problems.

A shift in culture

Let’s return to that inefficient use of emails. In effect, this requires a small amount of training, helping with skills. In 2011 French tech firm Atos stopped all internal emails. It’s required a cultural shift, but they have not looked back, showing how sometimes less is more.

Alongside this, the promise of improved technologies, and staff training to make the most of improvements, can help workers to be more efficient. The benefits compound themselves. More efficient workers have more time, which allows them to be more creative, an essential ingredient for companies to succeed in a knowledge based economy.

Making the first steps

And how do you get the right tech and training? A holistic approach is clearly required, but companies shouldn’t be shy of turning to industry experts to assist. The pace of change is high enough that finding the right technology can become a barrier without expertise.

So, with the right tech, improved skills, and better management, the UK might just be able to start to close the productivity gap. It’s a long road ahead, but those companies that innovate will benefit.