More Technology Equals Less Productivity?

The impact of new technologies on productivity in the workplace

By Vahida Badat, Section Editor

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

Admit it.  You are addicted to your gadgets.

Might as well face it, because technology is changing the way we do things.  We are always looking for ways to stay connected with others even when we are on the move.  We’re either texting, e-mailing, or Tweeting several times a day.  It is never really a challenge to remain connected though, because of the powerful devices that we clutch in our hands and insist on carrying around with us everywhere we go.

Since the Industrial Revolution, it is believed that more technology means more productivity.  In any workplace, it isn’t difficult to find desks that are home to personal computers, smartphones, notebooks, and other gadgets.  In a culture where technology has become so integrated into our daily lives, do these Blackberrys and iPads help or hurt a company’s productivity?

Today, there are countless web applications that have become available over the Internet for businesses to use.  Some of these tools include Yammer (“The Enterprise Social Network”), Google Documents, and Dropbox.  These web applications give co-workers the ability to collaborate in real-time without constantly sending emails back and forth containing updated files.  This means that employees are able to work together despite geographical barriers.

On the other hand, these technologies also bring a great amount of e-mails, instant messages, texts, news feeds, and Tweets that fight for attention.

[pullquote]… 83% of survey respondents admitted to checking their e-mail everyday while on vacation.[/pullquote]

According to data collected by AOL and Opinion Research Corporation in the United States, 59% of Americans check their e-mail every time a new one comes in.  In addition, 83% of survey respondents admitted to checking their e-mail everyday while on vacation.

We might like to think that we are the kings and queens of multitasking, but this is not true at all.  The volume of email being sent and received is not only stressful to employees, but also decreases productivity.  Once we lose our train of thought, it is impossible to immediately go back to what we were doing before.

A Microsoft study suggests that it takes workers at least fifteen minutes before they are able to refocus after receiving an email or phone call.  Once an employee gets distracted from their work, they will be less productive.

Employees are becoming so invested in their technological devices that the boundary between personal and business uses of these technologies is blurring.  Workers use their laptops, mobile phones, social networking accounts and blogs for personal and business activities.  While some employees prefer to go home and forget about their work day completely by popping open a beer and watching a movie, other individuals stay hyperconnected.  These individuals are those who are available to be contacted even on the weekend.

[pullquote]“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”[/pullquote]

Ultimately, what we want to know is, does this hyperconnectivity increase or decrease productivity in the workplace?  Robert Solow, an American economist, made a witty remark back in 1987, in regards to computers and productivity.  He said, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

Solow’s statement still stays true to this day.  Unfortunately, at this time there is no concrete answer to this question.  It seems as though we do not have the tools to correctly calculate if technologies help or hurt productivity in the workplace.  Perhaps in this hyperconnected world, no one can find the time to come up with such a device.

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