Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Is Tech Really Helping Productivity?

I'm a reflective person by nature, and I ask myself this question a lot. Anybody under 30 would probably never question this, but I can tell you that not everybody else feels the same way. Tech is wonderful, of course, and our livelihoods largely depend on it, but it's not the great emancipator. I could go on big time on that riff, but not now.

I'm not writing this post to be anti-tech, but some things only become apparent when you step outside your everyday skin, like when you go on vacation and learn to manage without broadband or cell phones for a while.

Today I was at a conference focused on the HR sector, and one of the speakers hit on this theme in a way that gives you pause for thought about our relationship with and growing dependency on tech to do our jobs. The speaker was Dr. Linda Duxbury, a Professor at the business school at Ottawa's Carleton University. She's well known in HR circles, and focuses on the impact of tech on corporate culture and employee performance. She's done some really great research and is a very engaging speaker. Sure takes me back to my MBA days and focus on Organizational Behavior, but PCs weren't around then, so the issues were very different!

Anyhow, one of her key points runs contrary to what many people living and breathing IP take as gospel - the always-on workplace is really not so great for employee performance. The expectations from employees at all levels increasingly spills over into our personal time/lives, and puts us all on an endless treadmill of managing information instead of living our lives.

In theory, all our tech tools, like email, Blackberries, cell phones, etc. are great in terms of what they can do. However, Dr. Duxbury would argue they're not necessarily translating into to better employee - and ultimately - organizational performance. Too many people are becoming addicted to managing all these flows of instant communication, and simply don't know how to push back and say - I need time to think and do my job. Sound familiar?

So, in her view, and from an HR perspective - when technology is not properly managed, it becomes a drag on productivity and performance - not an enhancer. She cited familiar examples of the anxiety people get on the weekend that they'd better clear up their email backlog before going back on Monday, otherwise they'll start the week way behind. There is some truth to this, but that's a treadmill you can never get off.

An interesting solution she mentioned was a company that simply shut down their servers over the weekend so this problem wouldn't exist in the first place. That may not work for everybody, but it's certainly one way to manage your information flow.

This is obviously a BIG issue, and we're not going to tackle it here. However, sometimes it takes a day away from the routine to see how things look in a different pair of shoes. Personally, I'm onside with Dr. Duxbury's message, and from there, I can see lots of opportunity for organizations to get a better handle on how tech is impacting their culture - and for vendors as well. It's really just another problem to solve, but one that will need more balance between what the technology can deliver, and an understanding of what is really going to be the most helpful to performance. Always-on is not a means to an end - unless you're a machine.

1 comment:

ipcom said...

Posted by: Swapnesh Shirolkar

I totally agree with the assesment here. The constant barrage of emails, IMs, ringing of the desk and the cell phone leaves little time to concentrate on any job at hand.

The quite time needed to just "think" is not there. Another observation with respect to this "tech"/"always-on" phenonmenon that I have made is that people tend to pick up their phones when engaged in another conversation or answering email while talking to person infront - which is not just rude but can waste that other person's time waiting for the call to get over before resuming the original conversation.