Puzzle (2)

The latest ONS figures comparing productivity levels between countries provided a reminder that the UK needs to make fundamental changes in order to retain our competitiveness on the international stage. The figures showed that the UK was the least productive nation of the G7 in 2014, lagging by the highest level relative to its peers for over 20 years. Perhaps most concerning; the UK’s output per hour was 20 percentage points below the G7 average.

Despite the public rhetoric on boosting productivity from both the Government and the Bank of England, it is clear that this gap is not closing. There are steps being taken to address this issue that will certainly help in the long term, such as the launch of the Government productivity plan in July 2015. But, at the ground-level UK businesses of all sizes need to be taking actions right now in order to drive productivity levels to where they should be.

We have surveyed senior managers and employees from businesses across the country to understand how technology can be used to bring about change. If you think about it, many of us are already using tech to make the day-to-day of our lives easier through services like Uber and Ocado deliveries. While tech has been so impactful in our everyday lives, there is a noticeable lag in its effect in the workplace. It is telling that less than half of Britain’s businesses are actually integrating digital into their strategy.

Our current predicament is not down to a lack of appetite. We have found strong support amongst senior managers for the role of technology in increasing efficiency in their workforce. In fact, the research showed that digital technology can power time savings of a huge 9.4 million hours a week. So what are some of the steps that your business can take to become more digitally-savvy?

By providing employees with digital tools such as smartphones or tablets, it will enable them to work remotely, businesses can create an ‘anywhere office’. This doesn’t mean that employees should be accessible 24/7; it means empowering them to work flexibly in a way that suits better so they can be more productive. So for example, enabling parents to work from home around child care commitments or helping commuters to make the most of their journey into work.

In October 2015, we partnered with St Helens Council to launch the Digital Communities initiative in order to demonstrate the power of technology in boosting growth. We gave local businesses ‘digital makeovers’ that involved setting them up with technology and providing guidance on how to integrate it into their business.

Care provider Unite Healthcare is one of our local partners for the scheme and is already seeing the benefits of being a more connected business. A large part of the Unite carers’ jobs is to travel around visiting the homes of customers to take written assessments of their status. We provided these workers with tablets that enabled them to access the company’s central system remotely and plug the data in straightaway rather than wasting time by writing information down and then typing up when they got back to the office. They are already seeing the benefits.

Technology can also be a valuable means of fostering collaboration amongst employees. We found that two thirds of UK businesses who are using online collaboration tools such as white boarding portals, idea sharing forums, instant messaging, and video conferencing, credited these tools’ value in boosting business efficiency and improving resource-sharing.

For some companies, especially SMEs, concerns about security can be a barrier to using digital technology. In fact, it can be simple and easy to equip your teams with the tools and confidence to work securely from anywhere. Using a web-based data storage service such as Office 365 enables employees to store, share and simultaneously work on a document safely.

These are simple steps that businesses of any size can take towards harnessing technology more effectively in order to boost productivity. This doesn’t just benefit individual businesses, but is also crucial in helping to tackle the nation’s productivity puzzle.

The research was conducted by YouGov using a quantitative online methodology. The total sample size was 3,638 – 1,020 senior managers (middle managers and above, working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), 542 employees (working in organisations with a minimum of 250 UK employees in particular sectors), and a nationally representative sample of 2,076 consumers (18+). Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th and 25th March 2015.

By Gavin Franks, General Manager, Enterprise Business at O2