Stagnating productivity continues to be one of the biggest threats facing the UK economy, in which we trail the other members of the G7 group of countries by a worrying 16 per cent.
Ramifications of flat productivity growth, which range from weak GDP growth to lower living standards and tax revenues, are of real concern to the upper political echelons. Hot on the heels of the Government’s 15-point productivity plan, Philip Hammond pledged to set up a new National Productivity Investment Fund during the last Autumn Statement, with £23 billion earmarked to be spent on innovation and infrastructure over the next five years.
Such commitment from central government is important – but whether it will help the nation change course on productivity remains strongly contingent on the degree to which businesses can tackle this problem themselves.
Over the past few years, various solutions in the form of upskilling employees, a reduction of office hours or an increase of the National Living Wage, have been discussed at length by businesses and government. The concern is that these are major, long-term programmes, the benefits of which will take many years to realise.
Fortunately, there are some more immediate steps organisations can take to boost profitability, and improvements to office technology is at the very core of these.
One of the biggest drains on workplace productivity is the endless number of meetings that office workers attend each week, often preventing employees from doing the actual work they have been tasked with. However, it is not only the amount of meetings but the poor way in which they are set up and managed that is leading to decreased productivity.
Issues with technology in particular are the most common cause of significant delays. Cisco estimates that more than one in five of all delayed meetings are due to problems with meeting room equipment – equivalent to almost three full working days of wasted time per year per employee. Extrapolated across every employee at every UK company, that is hundreds of thousands of hours and billions of pounds wasted.
This correlates with our own global study into why organisations globally struggle so much with meeting room equipment. Surveying 1,250 IT decision makers from the UK, US, Germany and France, our findings reveal that the average British employee strongly relies on IT support to set up presentations and meeting room technology. Apart from the obvious impact on efficiency, when these meetings are in the presence of customers and other stakeholders this can also lead to reputational damage and in some cases lost business.
Another issue our survey highlighted is that most employees do not consider it part of their job description to solve technology issues, instead directing responsibility toward the IT department. This is especially the case for UK employees who are more likely to defer presentation technology issues to IT departments than in any other country.
The research also identified a stark digital skills gap between generations. Interestingly it was those in the middle of the age spectrum that have the most difficulties with office technology, while older employees and Generation Z are far more self-sufficient.
This may seem at odds with the commonly held belief that Millennials are ‘digital natives’ and naturally at one with technology. True, growing up in a decade of smart devices and connectivity, they have digital expertise when it comes to consumer devices and platforms. However, this knowledge does not automatically transfer into the professional sphere, where technology lags behind that of the consumer world. It is not difficult to see how someone can be 100 per cent mobile driven but still know very little about network infrastructure or desktop connectivity.
For Millennials, it’s arguable that technology primarily represents a means for instant gratification – think e-commerce or social media for instance. Desktop interoperability problems, meanwhile, are not a daily concern and certainly not something that most young people would feel confident tackling on their own. Coupled with a tendency towards impatience, it’s clear to see why they are the least self-sufficient group!
Unless organisations truly integrate digital services into their day-to-day operations, Millennials will continue to struggle with the functionality of workplace technology. What’s more, this generational skills gap is only likely to accelerate as consumer technology continues to advance apace; impacting not only young employees but IT professionals as well, with further impact on productivity.
Presentation technology assistance proves to be the most time-consuming IT issue, with IT departments at mid-sized companies reporting an average of 11 requests per week. In other words, this is a serious global IT challenge for enterprises of all sizes.
Most IT decision makers believe that the matter needs to be addressed in two ways. On one hand, businesses ought to invest time and effort into ensuring all employees understand boardroom technology and are able to ‘troubleshoot’ any small issues that may arise. This is particularly relevant in the UK, where an overwhelming 86% of respondents in our survey saw a need for better technological skills to improve digital know-how across staff members.
Secondly, IT professionals recommend that employers modernise presentation technology and use wireless, easy-to-install and easy-to-use equipment. As virtual meetings spanning multiple locations become more prevalent, it is equally important to build out the network capabilities required to handle the influx of data. The deployment of solutions that allow for seamless meetings without any technical hiccups will cultivate a digitally-savvy workforce and maximise meeting efficiency.
Businesses that acknowledge how imperative technology is to productivity will be the ones that thrive. Those that don’t risk seeing the digital divide in the boardroom continue to grow, impacting their productivity and profitability more and more as time goes on.
George Stromeyer, Senior Vice President Enterprise Division, Barco
Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock