New research published today—commissioned by Citrix and carried out by Lancaster University’s Work Foundation—reveals worrying tensions between productivity and the adoption of digital technologies within organisations.

The paper, ‘Productivity, technology & working anywhere’, shows that while there’s an undeniably positive link between correctly implemented technology and workplace productivity, in many cases, technology is in fact proving more of a hindrance through poor management, lack of innovation, outdated systems and low uptake of flexible working cultures. What’s more, it is an issue affecting businesses large and small.

The global financial crisis has impacted every economy, but the UK’s productivity slowdown is the largest of the G7 economies. Significantly within the study, 63% of knowledge workers polled believe they are no more productive today than they were three years ago, with a further 17% claiming to be less industrious. Adding to this, just one third of employees feel their productivity has changed in the last three years, and a mere 31% predict their productivity will increase in the future.

Why productivity is important in business

Productivity matters because not only does it drive growth through higher performance and profits, but it also supports, in turn, higher wages, stronger public revenues, and greater social prosperity. Within the study, just 49% of managers said their company measured productivity, highlighting how urgent change is needed.

There is no doubt that the capabilities of today’s digital technologies should be driving workplace productivity, and 80% of workers polled — who see a link between technology offered and their productivity levels — acknowledged the positive effect access to technology can have on working more efficiently. Two-thirds of managers also saw a correlation between technology and their organisation’s performance. However, according to the study, only 54% of managers say their organisation is technologically forward thinking.

It’s clear that not just any old IT will cut it, and what’s more technology cannot operate alone. Up-to-date, fast, and performing technology is required to make the difference between enhanced productivity and inefficiency, and it is also essential that sophisticated management techniques are in place to support effective use, so that employees are realising the full potential of the technologies they have access to.

Supporting the rise of ‘innovation champions’ or ‘intrapreneurs’ within businesses

A common theme within the study is the need for a collaborative culture and a 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 technology they use outside of work. By supporting such ‘innovation champions’ or ‘intrapreneurs’ , and giving them room to make mistakes, organisations set themselves up to discover new and more efficient ways of performing for their customers or users.

Truly grasping the ‘working from anywhere’ culture

The ‘tipping point’ in mobile working was predicted to occur in 2017, but despite that, the study reveals that 7 in 10 are still not given the opportunity to work remotely. Additionally, just 8% of workers say remote and flexible working is ‘actively encouraged’ by their organisation and measured though outcomes and outputs of staff, and 32% of workers claim their organisation still restricts flexible working to certain job roles and levels. Over a fifth of managers also retain the belief that those working away from the office are less productive.

When asked about their organisation’s provision and culture to enable flexible working, 56% indicated difficulties with the technology available to them. In contrast, when asked which factors will most affect their productivity levels in the future, respondents at employee level called out technology (53%) and changing working practices such as flexible working (45%) as the top two influences. The managers polled agreed with these sentiments, with training and skills (51%), stronger leadership (46%) and better technology (44%) listed as key industry drivers.

And so, as we enter 2018, it’s critical businesses finally grasp the working from anywhere culture, and see work as something we do, not somewhere we go – it’s crucial to understand why flexible working is important. To achieve this once and for all, a change in management strategy is needed that embraces the multitudes of technologies available to businesses, and pools knowledge, expertise and resources from across the organisation. Instead of deploying new technology deemed appropriate by the leadership, the resulting vision needs to be built on a strong case for change at all levels, with the emphasis being on how technology can support and enable everyone to perform at their best.

For further reading, the full report can be downloaded here.