This project explores the relationship between technology, ways of working and productivity, as a basis to learn whether technology is being sufficiently used, alongside the effective use of people, to drive smarter working and a high performing economy. In the context of a persistent slowdown in productivity since the economic crisis of 2008, the intention has been to provide some insights behind the persistent productivity puzzle.
Whilst there has been an explosion in research over the last decade or so, documenting the disruptive effects of technology, this has primarily focused on the hollowing out of jobs and the replacement of routine and standardised tasks. There has been less of a focus on how technology enriches work and can enable people to work in more intelligent and smarter ways, which can bring substantial business improvements and performance benefits. This research aims to begin to address this imbalance.
Through a mixed method involving a literature review, interviews, roundtables and a survey of 1,000 knowledge workers and 500 managerial level employees, the research seeks to understand how technology can support businesses to more effectively manage their workforces to better meet evolving business needs. It focuses specifically on office workers, within medium and large organisations across the UK, though by necessity considers the implications of evidence on other workers too. It identifies the enablers and barriers to smarter and technology-led improvements in productivity.
The research finds that despite the promise of digital transformation, effective adoption is not straightforward, involving a complex interplay between people, processes and technology at work. For instance, whilst two thirds of managers saw a correlation between technology and their organisation’s performance, only half of UK managers questioned believe their organisation is technologically ‘forward thinking’. Further, over three in five (63 percent) of knowledge workers polled believe they are no more productive today than they were three years ago, with 17 percent even claiming to be less industrious.
Whilst there is clearly a lot individual businesses can do to invest in technology and ensure success through smarter working, we do need, therefore, to acknowledge the effects of wider external events and disruptive factors. Not only can these act as important catalysts for change, they can also be significant inhibitors.
The research provides key insights for UK businesses to address this challenge and better tackles the productivity dilemma. This calls for the:
- vital role of leaders to build and incentivise the commitment to change through a strong strategic narrative which in turn supports an “explicit organisational culture” for improvements and change, and is backed by financial investment to enable it;
- importance of fostering innovation and boosting ‘intrapreneurship’; which gives room to technology experts to experiment with technologically enabled new ways of working, and to discover new and more efficient ways of performing;
- need to review and update old policies and practices once new ways of working are introduced, so that new ways of working can be supported and not inhibited, by old customs and behaviours; and
- importance of management & employee engagement to widespread and successful adoption of any change programme, and in particular the crucial role of line managers as key agents of change and brokers between employees and the strategic decision makers.
Productivity, technology and working anywhere
Lesley Giles, Work Advance
Helen Sheldon, David Shoesmith and Cicely Dudley, Work Foundation
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