We need a flexible working revolution to solve the productivity crisis


Productivity has long been front of mind for British industry, with firms up and down the country still working to solve this complex and evolving puzzle.

And new research published this week – commissioned by Citrix and carried out by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation – has found worrying tensions between productivity and the adoption of digital technologies within organisations.

The global financial crisis has impacted every country, but the UK’s productivity slowdown is the largest of the G7 economies.

Read more: Still puzzled? UK productivity has risen by the most since 2011

Significantly, within the study, two thirds of professional workers polled believe they are no more productive today than they were three years ago, with a further 17 per cent claiming to be less industrious.

A productive workforce not only drives growth through performance and profits, but also supports higher wages, stronger public revenues, and greater social prosperity.

While there is an undeniably positive link between correctly implemented technology and workplace productivity, this study indicates that technology often proves more of a hindrance, through poor management, lack of innovation, outdated systems, and low uptake of flexible working cultures.

Technology cannot alone tackle the productivity gap. Yes, fast, well-implemented technology is required, but sophisticated management techniques must also be in place to support its effective use.

Flexible working has also been heralded as the saviour of our productivity challenge. Previous research predicted that the “tipping point” for mobile working was set to occur last year, yet this study reveals that seven in 10 knowledge workers are still not given the opportunity to work remotely.

Incredibly, over a fifth of managers still believe that those working away from the office are less productive.

Tackling these deep-rooted challenges will never be a small ask for any organisation. However, a common prevailing theme was the need for a collaborative culture and bottom-up approach that takes the needs and experiences of individual users into account.

Organisational productivity could, for example, be enhanced by acknowledging that some individuals are more comfortable with experimenting, and providing them with the opportunity to trial new approaches to technology in practice.

By supporting such “innovation champions”, and giving them room to make mistakes, organisations can discover new and more efficient ways of working.

As we start 2018, it’s time to embrace the multitude of technologies available today to improve productivity. We need to encourage collaboration, engage the workforce, finally grasp the working anywhere culture, and – most of all – support internal innovation, or “intrapreneurs”, who are brave enough to drive such change.

Combine this with strong leadership and willingness to take risks, and we have the perfect recipe to truly accelerate the UK into the business stratosphere.

Productivity matters to companies everywhere, as we’ve heard frequently over the past few weeks. The key is to emphasise how the benefits of technology can redefine people’s job roles for the better.

Workers and managers are ready to go and it is there for the taking. So now is the time to get this right.

Read more: British armed forces on track to get flexible working options in 2019

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