A few years ago someone I know was working in a business that was looking to better understand social media. The company in question brought in a young, tech-savvy social media guru. He explained his philosophy and suggested that the company really immerse itself into social media. All employees should be spending an hour or more each day interacting with the different platforms. Updating their Twitter feeds, scheduling Blog posts, finding people to connect to on LinkedIn, using Facebook to look at trends etc. In short, social media was to be a core part of their working (and waking) lives. Rather than it being just an occasional foray once or twice a month.
My friend pointed out that this was all very good, but wouldn’t it impact on more traditional work? Well, he was quickly silenced with comments that he was a Luddite, a reactionary, and clearly didn’t understand how the office of the future would work! The 21st century workplace would embrace social media. So that in fact rather than being an alternative to traditional working it would form the nucleus of the new way of working.
Moving forward to today and it seems there is now some concern for the lack of productivity in the workplace, particularly in the UK. Productivity is apparently below the levels that it was 10 years ago. So just why is that?
There is increasing evidence that far from enhancing productivity, the internet along with the various platforms it allows us to access, may in fact be hampering our productivity. You only have to think about this for a few minutes to realise the impact that all this online activity might be having. In an age before we spent all this time using social media just what did we do with that time? The answer is simple, we worked. In the old days it was pretty obvious who was working. They were the ones at their desks or they might be stuck in meetings. After all what else could they be doing? Being at work meant you were, err… working.
Nowadays of course someone intently looking at their computer screen in the office could be:
- Doing their weekly grocery shop.
- Buying or selling something on eBay.
- Following some live sporting event.
- Watching catch-up TV on iPlayer.
- Stalking someone on Facebook.
- Writing/reading their private emails.
- Booking a holiday/restaurant table/theatre seats/concert tickets.
- Looking for cute cat videos on YouTube.
- Doing some family history research.
- Searching for a soul mate on one of those dating sites.
Or perhaps they could actually be working. The point is we just don’t know.
Of course doing all the above in work time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Provided it is done at sensible times e.g. lunchtime, and in moderation. At the same time the flexible working schedule that many enjoy means that when we are away from the office (at home etc) we should also be happy to do real productive work in our ‘own time’. You know making up for all that time spent in the office on Facebook/ Youtube/ Waitrose.com/ lastminute etc. Think of it as a bit of give and take.
It was whilst watching the ITV programme Tonight one evening I turned to Twitter to see what people were saying about the subject. This particular episode examined the apparent slowdown in the UK’s productivity. One person’s comments I thought were priceless. He said that “People in the UK had become really good at using the internet whilst perfecting the appearance of actually working.”
In summary we cannot turn back the clock and un-invent the internet, complete with all the music distractions, sport distractions, shopping distractions, news and social media distractions that we can possibly digest. But in order to sort out this productivity problem we will have to figure out just how to effectively re-balance our working/non-working lives. Particularly when we are in the workplace.
The successful businesses of the future, and by definition those individuals working in them, will be those who are best able to handle all these many distractions.