Does a modern workplace mean a productive workforce?

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Workplace efficiency is something that all businesses strive for, but UK offices today still lag behind their European counterparts when it comes to worker output. While productivity is a puzzle that we haven’t yet solved, it’s safe to say that it’s not for want of trying.

There are hints and tips all over the web that claim to bolster productivity, from carefully crafted to-do lists and structured incentives, to shorter working hours and sanctioned nap times. But the blame for an unproductive office is often laid at the feet of our old friend technology.

Recent research from Sharp reveals technology’s role in this ongoing saga, with over 6,000 workers from across the EU sharing insights on what helps, or hinders, workplace efficiency. Findings do suggest that technology has a part to play. But on closer inspection, it appears that inefficient office tech is part of a much larger set of interrelated issues.

New technology, more technology or no more new technology?

Whether it’s too old, too complicated or too slow, being held back by inefficient technology is a common narrative in many offices. In fact, it can often be a convenient excuse. A startling 32 per cent of UK office workers said they had pretended that office tech was broken, just so they wouldn’t have to use it.

Almost two thirds of Brits (64 per cent) feel they would be more productive if their office had better technology. A similar number (63 per cent) think that up-to-date technology would allow them to do better work with more people.   

This reinforces what many will expect to hear; that better technology can help us do better work. However, when we take a closer look at who exactly hits these stumbling blocks, the story takes an unexpected turn.

Across the different age groups surveyed, it was the youngest who appeared to struggle the most with office equipment and technology. Among millennials (those aged 16-34), almost half (45 per cent) admitted to not knowing how to use all of the technology they were expected to use as part of their job.

If you break down the age range even further, then you learn that over half (52 per cent) of 16-24 year olds have actively avoided technology at work because it seems too complicated. By way of comparison, this sentiment was echoed by less than a third (30 per cent) of those aged 55 and over.

Investing in training and skills

These numbers suggest that some employers may be neglecting important training for younger staff. Given that there are more millennials in offices than ever before, basic common sense says that we should be investing in this generation.

Younger workers have a reputation for being tech-savvy, but being a natural when it comes to using a mobile phone doesn’t equate to an in-depth knowledge of the meeting room AV system. In his whitepaper based on Sharp’s research, Professor Dr Sascha Stowasser, Director of the German Institute for Applied Work Sciences, explains:

“Employees are confronted with a large number of new technologies, particularly in the age of digitisation. But further training and life-long learning can do away with the fear of using the new technologies.”

This highlights that technology shouldn’t be thought of as a standalone cause of, or cure for, our productivity problem. Employers shouldn’t view technology in isolation from the user, but should instead work to ensure that the solutions they do deploy come with the right level of support.

Remote working and the BYOD generation

Similarly, the relationship between technology and its users needs to be viewed through the lens of modern working environments. We have seen a major shift in recent years in terms of how and where we work; increasingly team members choose to work from home or are based in different countries. 

Despite this, less than a third (31 per cent) of UK workers say they feel confident organising or chairing a remote meeting. This lack of confidence, coupled with the fact that people are used to their own smartphones and tablets, means that more and more people are choosing to use personal devices in the workplace. In fact, 41 per cent of those surveyed said they preferred this option because it was easier.

Some companies do run ‘BYOD’ schemes and encourage employees to use whatever technology they are most comfortable with. While admirable for putting the user first, this approach doesn’t always improve efficiency – especially when it comes to collaborative working. 

A host of different devices, with a plethora of different interfaces, makes it difficult to share information. This can lead to a disconnect between individuals, which may alter the dynamics of the wider environment.

So clearly tools that facilitate digital collaboration should be a priority; but it’s even more important that these tools engage users in a meaningful way. 

New expectations

Professor Dr. Sascha Stowasser believes that people’s expectations surrounding technology are changing: “People no longer use a device if the basic principles of usability are not fulfilled. For a device to be usable it needs to be easy to learn, intuitive, have a low error rate and it needs to satisfy a need.”

“Conversely, if a device is difficult to use, unintuitive, error-prone or doesn’t satisfy a need, then people will not use it. This leads to demotivation and less productivity. Therefore, companies need to think about these principles with every new IT purchase they make. If technology is not used extensively and in a manner that is meaningful, then it obviously requires a change.”

On average, workers surveyed said they were frustrated by technology 3.19 times in a normal working day. That means that employees are being stopped in their tracks by bad tech around 64 times each month. Furthermore, the average UK worker says they waste 40 minutes per day because of slow or inefficient technology. This is the equivalent of 168 hours or four weeks of dead time each year.

Clearly a more considered analysis of existing solutions, and a willingness to change when these solutions don’t meet user needs, would go a long way to alleviating this frustration.

So a modern workplace doesn’t necessarily create a productive workforce, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t go hand-in-hand. If we listen to our employees and invest in their future; take pains to understand how working environments are evolving; and adopt a considered and adaptable approach to the future, then there’s no reason we can’t unlock the productive potential of the modern office.

Sharp has produced a free guide, including advice from Dr. Sascha Stowasser, on how the right technology can improve business productivity, available now at www.sharp.co.uk/unlock.

Stuart Sykes, Managing Director, Sharp Business Systems UK
Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock