A trip to the office of the past tells a somewhat different story
Research published by O2 claims to show that technology has made workers five times more productive in the last forty years, but an exhibition mounted by the mobile firm may have some visitors questioning that claim.
There has been a 480 percent rise in “ICT-related labour productivity” since the 1970s, according to the Individual Productivity Report, produced by O2 and the Centre for Economic and Business Research and to celebrate, O2 held an exhibition at the Islington Design Centre providing mock-ups of offices from past decades.
Acceptable in the 80s?
The report is based on “gross value added” or GVA per worker-hour, and comes to its conclusion largely because fewer workers are now required for the same tasks.
“Increasing use and investment in technology by UK businesses has allowed us to work smarter,” said Ben Dowd, business director for O2, citing the fact that workers can now be kept busy anywhere and anytime, and get more done,”so businesses can focus on maintaining growth.”
A quick walk through the O2 Business Show provoked an alternative view: when we couldn’t be reached, we did other things with our lives; and a large amount of the extra tasks we carry out now have been created by the technology itself.
For instance, email makes it easier to send messages, but that means workers spend hours deleting unnecessary emails, and the existence of Google creates the need for whole industries working on tasks such as SEO.
All this time, the office itself became more luxurious, although by the 1990s, it was cluttered with wires, said former FT columnist Richard Donkin, author of The History of Work, who curated the exhibition (shown here enjoying a low-tech 1960s experience). “Pot plants and office toys have come in since the days of the 1950s and 1960s,” he said.
Countering TechWeek’s feeling that work is now more snarled up in meaningless tech-created tasks, Donkin said: Many office workers will be surprised to find they are more productive today than they used to be. You might deal with half a dozen emails on your way in to work. The difference is that we live in an ‘always on’ society where lines between work and leisure have become blurred by communications technology.”