The latest productivity figures from the ONS provide a reminder that the UK needs to make fundamental changes to kick-start productivity growth.
Following some signs of life earlier in 2015, the latest figures are a reality check that we need to do more. We simply can’t afford for the current situation to become the norm, and it’s clear that digital technology should lead the UK’s productivity charge.
This isn’t an idea pulled out of thin air. Research from O2 has shown that companies challenging the norm of the working day by maximising the benefits of technology are enjoying greater business efficiency and productivity.
In fact, devices alone can save businesses 9.4 million hours and £2.2 billion per week. Beyond devices, business software, apps and services save businesses 6 million hours and £2 billion per week, demonstrating that integrating digital can really have a transformative effect on not just individual businesses but the UK output as a whole.
O2 recently partnered with St Helens Council in Liverpool to test how much connectivity can transform a predominantly analogue community grappling with modern day challenges – one being poor productivity.
As part of the pilot, O2 gave local small businesses free digital makeovers. Unite Healthcare, which offers social care to local people, was struggling to grow because time-consuming processes and limited resources restricted the number of patients for whom the team could care.
O2 gave them access to tablets, laptops and a mobile printer, which streamlined admin time from two hours to 30 minutes, improved staff communication and sharing of patient information, and grew daily patient visits from six to ten per day.
The potential for connectivity to improve productivity is clear to see. Despite these promising figures, less than half of businesses have integrated digital into their business strategies.
Now is the time for more businesses to make the most of connectivity to drive the UK’s productivity gains. It doesn’t require an entire company makeover – it can be relatively simple for businesses of all sizes.
Firstly, more businesses should embrace smarter working. This means allowing employees to work more flexibly – in terms of both time and location. It’s not just a passing trend; it can have a real impact on productivity.
In fact, O2 found that over two thirds of senior managers in large businesses think breaking the nine-to-five work pattern has helped their company achieve greater business success.
In practical terms, this means giving employees the digital tools they need, including smartphones or tablets, to work smarter, not harder. It doesn’t mean employees should be accessible 24/7 – it means giving people the option to work in a way that suits them in order to drive maximum productivity. For example, enabling parents to work from home around child care commitments or helping commuters to make the most of their journey into work, reducing extra time spent at their desks. It might sound simple but it can drive efficiency, staff satisfaction and client service.
Secondly, as the old adage goes, two heads are better than one. Collaboration helps to promote the productivity of employees. The good news is that two thirds of UK businesses are using online collaboration tools such as white boarding portals, idea sharing forums, instant messaging, and video conferencing, saying it leads to greater business efficiency and improved sharing of resources.
Providing employees with access to Wi-Fi through a dongle or using collaboration tools such as Office 365 are simple ways to encourage collaboration. However, software and hardware won’t be a cure-all. Encouraging a collaborative culture is just as important, whether that’s making sure senior managers take time to work with more junior colleagues, or that apprentices or graduates new to the workforce feel able to contribute valuable new ideas to the business.
Finally, we must collectively champion the improvement of Britain’s digital infrastructure. Currently, access to connectivity – whether broadband or mobile networks – is inconsistent the country over.
But without the reform of planning laws and the Electronic Communications Code – the rules by which telecoms companies can build and maintain networks – coverage and capacity difficulties will become more commonplace. We need to overcome these challenges if businesses are to embrace smarter working and benefit from the productivity gains it can bring.
Let’s all start harnessing connectivity to help fix the UK’s productivity puzzle, for the benefits of businesses and the economy.
Sourced from Ben Dowd, business director, O2