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Workplace productivity – are UK managers missing the point?

By Matthew Parker / 27th May 2018

Our office is our second home, and according to recent research ‘The Economy of People’ commissioned by Ricoh and Oxford Economics, the UK could achieve a 1.8% increase in GDP, equal to £36.8 billion, if businesses commit to creating the optimal workplace productivity.

The findings are based on forecasts of how productivity in various industries will improve, if investment in workplaces makes them optimal for those that work there. Executives in the UK & Ireland were asked, amongst many other things, how much of their operating budget they plan to spend on workplace initiatives next year. The insights were used as a benchmark, along with economic factors including gross value added, labour productivity in industrial sectors and employment figures, to form an economic model that calculated the gross value-added contribution to GDP that an optimal office would deliver. It’s a pretty comprehensive study (and not a marketing-led justification for more office equipment). It’s also a matter close to my heart, because it’s what we do – help make our customers more productive and profitable through communications technology – and so I was particularly interested in the report’s conclusions.

Let’s put the opportunity into context, if all UK businesses were to develop an ‘optimal office’ they could generate a boost to UK GDP (£36.8bn) larger than the GDP contributed by the architecture and engineering (£32.8bn), food and beverage serving (£32.4bn) and land transport (£32.3bn) (including pipelines) industries each year.

The office matters. After all it’s the location for the vast majority of the UK’s output.

But the sad truth is that the UK performs pretty poorly in international comparisons of productivity levels, and since the financial crisis productivity growth has slowed down in the UK to a larger extent than in other major economies, such as US, Germany and France. And the productivity gap appears to be widening again. Depressingly, productivity in Germany and France has exceeded that in the UK since the 1970s!

So why is that?

I believe it’s because the average UK manager sees productivity as being a problem of the individual, and not as a problem of infrastructure. Simply put, the average UK manager sees Sarah (the UK workforce) herself as the problem, and not the tools that Sarah works with. So, whilst productivity is showing slow signs of an improvement (hurrah!) that small improvement has come from the fact that Sarah is better qualified, and her skills have developed. Now that’s fantastic, but driving productivity is not a binary choice between the individual or the infrastructure – it’s about doing both at the same time.

If you don’t think the UK Manager is missing the point then consider the fact that 93 percent of executives plan to spend more than 10 percent of their operating budget on office improvements, having identified facilities management (sensors, monitoring equipment, temperature, etc.) as the biggest driver of productivity. How depressing is that?

Worse still, it’s completely out of alignment with employees who feel technology infrastructure and digitisation of information, two hallmarks of effective digital transformation strategies, are the most critical components of driving productivity.  UK Managers may just be putting lipstick on a pig.

Work doesn’t just happen, and productivity is a delicate flower that must be housed, fed, watered and nurtured, but the truth is that far too many UK workers have to fight every day to overcome the poor-quality infrastructure their managers provide them with. Just ask them. It’s no wonder they never bloom.

We have an expression in babble that ‘the office is where you are’ and with the new generation of unified comms and collaboration tools, specifically designed to optimise output, this has never been truer, but that makes the failure to equip our teams for productivity even less excusable.

Here’s an idea, next time you worry about productivity maybe don’t talk to HR or Facilities, talk to IT. Ask them how well they are equipping your teams to communicate seamlessly, painlessly and naturally. Check to see how easily your teams get the information they need or have the conversation they should – regardless of where they are.

Then talk to your people. They’ll probably tell you that as you wrestle between spending money on an improved air conditioning sensor or a collaboration platform that enables them to work as one productive team, that you may be about to make the wrong decision.

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