Is technology really making you more productive?

Does technology always equal productivity? For Jane Duncan, Vice President of Capgemini Invent the simple answer is no. ‘But it’s useful to look at different user groups and contexts. In some cases, technology can equal productivity for some populations, but less so for others… There are different winners and losers.’

When it comes to the promise of productivity-improving technology, it all depends on the individual. Take smartphones – they can automate admin, glamorise our to-do lists and contact anyone, anywhere, at any time. But they can also be used to play games, stream videos and listen to podcasts. These activities can, depending on the individual, actually hinder output.

It’s all in the mindset

As with all technology, the potential of the smartphone to help or hinder productivity lies not so much in the device itself, but in the hands of the user. The same applies to businesses: when it comes to improving productivity in the workplace, simply investing in technology isn’t enough; employees must first learn how to utilise the technology before they – and their employers – can reap the rewards.

Unfortunately, very few businesses are fully prepared to take advantage of productivity-improving technologies, according to a recent study (external link) from the World Economic Forum. The report found that only the companies with the best management stood to increase their output by investing in new technology.

Incidentally, smaller businesses showed lower rates of productivity but the highest potential for growth – specifically from investing in big data analytical software and artificial intelligence technologies. Bigger businesses, on the other hand, showed the greatest growth in productivity after investing in new technology, sharing three things in common:

  • superior management
  • simultaneous introduction of a combination of new technologies
  • collaboration with key parts of the business’s supply chains on the above

And as for the industry that showed the greatest return in productivity from investing in new technology? Financial services.

Don’t shoot the messenger

While technology tends to only translate into productivity when it’s introduced in the right context and to the right user group, some technologies seem so simple, yet sophisticated, that they can be utilised effortlessly – regardless of who is using them.

Ever since the invention of the first productivity-improving technology in human history, the Oldowan – a stone tool used to butcher animals 2.5 million years ago – changes in technology have been the only sources of permanent increases in productivity. Duncan points to one that has had a huge positive impact on productivity in the last 20 years – both in the workplace and at home: instant messaging.

‘I’ve worked on lots of different projects where instant messaging has enabled large populations of employees to work remotely, but still remain connected to their teams and offices,’ she says. ‘It’s very simple, very intuitive. Everybody can work it out… It makes a huge difference to productivity.’

In spite of the success of instant messaging, it is still regarded by many businesses as a source of disruption (external link) – even though the so-called disruptions have actually been linked to an increase in overall output.

Translating new technology into productivity gains is not therefore just about finding the right context and the right user group, it also involves overcoming perceptions and challenging established ways of behaving… whether that’s trusting employees with new technology or letting your fridge order the milk.