By Daniel Hunter

The rapid adoption of key technologies over the last 40 years, including mobile phones, email, and business software, has meant the contribution on information and communications technology (ICT) to office worker productivity per hour is nearly five times (480%) more than what it was in the 1970s.

The findings come from a new Individual Productivity report released today (Tuesday) by O2 Business and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) to mark the launch of The O2 Business Show Live, held in Islington’s Business Design Centre, London.

According to the study, the productivity businesses are seeing from adopting new technologies is an important driver of economic growth. It allows businesses to get more done in a shorter amount of time, so they can focus on reaching new customers, providing a higher level of service and ultimately growing their business.

Other findings from the report include:

· In 1980 a gigabyte of hard disk space cost £120,000 in today’s money. The current cost of a gigabyte is approximately 5p, exponentially less than in 1980. The rapid advances in technology associated with ICT mean that office workers can now get more done, in less time for a lower cost
· Productivity related to ICT in the office fell to its lowest level during the mid-1980s coinciding with a time of record unemployment and persistent strikes. During the same period, ground-breaking products such as the mobile phone (1985) were launched, which paved the way for a revolution in the use of technology in the office.
· A long period of robust growth from the early 1990s in the UK coincided with the launch of key technologies and products, such as Microsoft Windows 3.0 (1990), dial up internet (1992), and Google search engine (1998)
· An individual productivity index was produced to present labour productivity per hour worked in the office sector associated with ICT. The index shows a growth of 480% in ICT-related labour productivity between 1972 and 2012 compared to growth of 84% for overall labour productivity. This means ICT has had a massive impact on labour productivity growth in office-based sectors over the period.
· Forecasting office worker productivity per hour for the next seven years, the analysis showed that productivity associated with ICT is set to grow a further 22% or 2.5% per annum between 2012 and 2020. This compares to growth in overall productivity per hour of 15% or 1.7% per year. This growth will be driven by ascendant technologies such as O2’s 4G high speed mobile internet access, and tablet computers which will allow office workers to stay connected and productive wherever they are.

Smartphones and tablets continue to revolutionise the business landscape and O2 believes that productivity through the use of ICT allows businesses and their employees to work smarter.

This has become an increasingly important aspect of British business culture, with a growing number of organisations and employees adopting a more flexible approach to working life as new technologies — such as Office 365, 4G, cloud and collaboration tools - make it increasingly easy to conduct business from beyond the confines of the office.

Ben Dowd, O2 Business Director, said: “The findings from our report show how the increasing use and investment in technology by UK businesses has allowed us to work smarter, and as a result we are more productive. For example, employees can now work anywhere they need to — whether that is in the office, from home or even on the move.

"They can easily access and edit documents on smart devices, and use connectivity like 4G and wifi to stay in touch wherever they are. This flexibility enables us to get more done during the working day than ever before, so businesses can focus on maintaining growth.

“Our research confirms my prediction that as digital Britain advances we will continue to see employees’ productivity improve, and as more businesses adopt technology that enables them to be flexible we’re likely to see even greater growth than forecast in the future.

“However, increased productivity must not be confused with working harder. Indeed, a lot of the new technologies that are driving productivity today are actually those that are contributing to an improved work-life balance and loyal workforce by allowing us to work more remotely and flexibly.”

Colm Sheehy, Senior Economist at the CEBR said: “Productivity is important because it is the primary driver of economic growth in the long-run. Further investment in ICT capital as well as improvements in the quality of this capital — also known as technological development — help drive productivity improvements now and into the future. This will help support further growth in the UK economy.”

Richard Donkin, author of The History of Work, said: “Many office workers will be surprised to find they are more productive today than they used to be. You don’t feel productive when chatting around the water cooler with colleagues or when nipping out to the shops on an errand. But you may field two or three calls on your mobile phone during the errand; you might deal with half a dozen emails on your way in to work. The difference today is that we live in an “always on” society where lines between work and leisure have become blurred by communications technology.

“The real productivity gains resulting from these changes have been for employers that have been able to condense work-flows among fewer workers. The result is fewer secretaries taking diction, for example, and more managers dealing with their own administration in emails and exchanging documents online.

“In the past office, workers would have experienced more downtime dealing with the ebb and flow of work, working hectically at peak times, while relaxing when the pressure was off. The peaks and troughs still exist, but modern communications technologies allow more even flows and fragmentation of some tasks in to more digestible chunks.”

The report marks the launch of The O2 Business Live Show, held at the Islington Business Design Centre, London from the 22nd to the 25th October. The event, which showcases the latest technology available to small and medium sized businesses, also includes a unique pop-up exhibit charting the evolution of the office.

Featuring fully functioning and interactive offices from bygone eras, it will give visitors the chance to experience first-hand the distinctive changes that have occurred in working lives between the 1950s to the present day. O2 is also taking the show on tour, arriving in Manchester 12-13 November and a one off customer event in Edinburgh will take place on 14 November.