Fri | Sep 25, 2020

Technology boosts productivity

Published:Sunday | November 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM
The past decades have seen many changes in the world of information technology and a corresponding increase in productivity as a result. - File

Paulette Dunn Smith, Contributor

REGULAR READERS of this column will be aware that workforce productivity will be the dominant driver of our economic growth for years to come. Over the past few weeks, we have looked at a number of ways in which we can increase productivity and today, we examine the use of technology.

Have you ever heard the phrases "employees spend too much time on the Internet" or "social networking lessens the productivity of the workplace"? Several studies now reveal that technology and the use of information technology, in particular, can lead to an improvement in workforce productivity. The past decades have seen many changes in the world of information technology and a corresponding increase in productivity as a result. The use of computers has forever changed the way we work and has allowed us to be more productive on the job. From front-line customer service workers and salespersons, to executives and entrepreneurs, everyone has benefited from information technology in one way or another.

What is different about this onset of improvements in technology is that it is directly impacting small businesses. In the past, technology significantly impacted large multi-national corporations who had the capital to invest in new systems. The strides made in computer technology in the last decade have given business owners remarkable new options for improving productivity. Today, with an inexpensive laptop, even the smallest of businesses can afford to take advantage of technology, allowing them to get more done in far less time - the essence of increased productivity.

Software programmes in database management along with the use of telephones, for example, allow us to use fax-back, bar-coding, voice mail and email to manage inventories, disseminate information to customers and track purchases which formerly had to go through the regular postal service. Automatic messages are generated when stock levels are low, and websites allow large and small companies to go global at very little cost, advertising products and services both locally and internationally.

The use of company intranets, instant messaging, videoconferencing, webinars and systems to manage accounts, personnel, human resources, procurement and the purchase of goods are all available to make work more efficient. These applications can exist separately, but in order to achieve the objectives of the organisation, to complete tasks, to optimise efficiencies and effectiveness, to find the right answers and make correct decisions, they need to be combined. The ability to streamline operations is one of the keys to the productivity gains that information technology has provided over the last two decades. This has resulted in increases in the productivity of the average worker, and much of the increase can be attributed to the growing importance of information technology in the workplace.

Work from home

One of the most significant impacts information technology has had on productivity is that it allows employees to work from anywhere. Employees who were once forced to spend an hour or more each day travelling to an office can now log on and work from the comfort of their homes if they so desire. Workers are more comfortable and are just as productive, or even more so, than they would be in the office.

This remote-access technology also allows companies to benefit in a number of important ways. There is the cost savings associated with lower office space requirements and lower renting costs. In addition, there is also greater employee satisfaction and morale that working at home can provide and, of course, the use of technology involved can increase productivity as workers spend what would have otherwise been their commuting time, working and helping the company to succeed.

Do you believe that even using social-networking sites at the workplace can increase workplace productivity? A new study just published by Australian scientists found that taking time to visit websites of personal interest, including news sites and YouTube, provided workers a mental break that ultimately increased their ability to concentrate, which led to a 9 per cent increase in total productivity. The study was performed by researchers at Australia's University of Melbourne who coined the phrase "workplace Internet leisure browsing," or WILB. The activity, they said, helps keep the mind fresh and helps put workers in a better mindframe when they return to working on their task.

In order to be competitive, however, small businesses must invest in technology. Even though there may be complaints that using technology takes time to learn, the good news is that technology in the workplace is becoming more affordable, less expensive and much easier to use. New 'plug-in-and-play' customised products that are easy to install and easy to use are being designed and marketed just for small businesses. The investment is worth the effort.

Paulette Dunn-Smith is an international trainer and workforce development expert. She is executive director of Dunn, Pierre, Barnett & Associates Ltd & chairman, Caribbean Career and Professional Development Institute. Contact her at pdunn@dpbglobal.com or www.dpbglobal.com.