Adding value to the productivity debate. 

15.12.20 06:00 AM Comment(s) By Jonathan Faurie

There has been a growing debate about whether technology enables productivity. 2021 may be a definitive year in settling it. 

We have learned a lot of things over the past 12 months. If 2020 has taught us anything, it has showed us that the world has become more connected through technology, and that technology enables productivity.


“This was an important foundation that GTconsult was built on. We will continue to strive for excellence and make sure that we are at the forefront of this innovation,” says Aaron Blair, GTconsult COO.


What does the future hold for the growth of productivity? I recently read a few key articles which provided some valuable insight into these developments.


I’m here boss, I’m just working from bed

The days of calling in sick are perhaps a thing of the past. The pandemic has shown that employees do not need to be physically present at their jobs to do their work. Remote working is here to stay and mobile offices can offer employers a lot more benefits outside of saving on rent. A recent article by ZDNet shows that working in your PJs has advantages. But be warned, it could be bad for your mental health.


The article points out that a new study by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, together with the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney, has uncovered that while working from home in pyjamas during the COVID-19 pandemic did not lower productivity, it was linked to poorer mental health.


According to the study, 41% of respondents said they experienced increased productivity while working from home, while more than a third of respondents reported that working from home resulted in poorer mental health.


The article adds that when the study examined the effects wearing pyjamas had on productivity and mental health, it found that wearing pyjamas was associated with more frequent reporting of poorer mental health. For 59% of participants who wore pyjamas during the day at least one day a week, they admitted their mental health declined while working from home, versus 26% of participants who did not wear pyjamas while working from home.


"While we cannot determine whether wearing pyjamas was the cause or consequence of mental health deterioration, appreciation of the effect of clothing on cognition and mental health is growing, as observed in hospital patients: Encouraging patients to wear normal day clothes can reduce the severity of depression," the study said.


"The simple advice to get changed before beginning work in the morning might partially protect against the effects of COVID-19 restrictions on mental health, and would be less expensive than the 'fashionable' sleep or loungewear gaining popularity as working from home becomes the norm."


The article points out that the study also examined the impact children had on people while they worked from home. Unsurprisingly, the study found 63% working from home with a toddler reported reduced overall productivity. Similarly, people who had primary school children at home while they worked agreed that their productivity was hindered.


However, by far the most frequent causes of disruptions to teleconferences were internet connectivity problems, the study showed. Other frequently reported interruptions were by colleagues' infants or toddlers, or other members of their colleagues' households, which according to the study included "anecdotes of colourful behaviour by housemates not suitable for publication".


"One respondent was interrupted by somnambulism, although it is unclear whether this was during a daytime nap or a night meeting," the study said.


The article adds that the findings, which were published in the Medical Journal of Australia, were the results of a survey that was carried out between April 30 and May 18 with staff, students, and affiliates of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research including the Garvan Institute, Children's Medical Research Institute, Centenary Institute, and Brain and Mind Centre.


The study also looked at people's working arrangements during the pandemic. For 42% of respondents, the kitchen or dining table was their choice of work-from-home setting. Meanwhile, 3% said they resorted to working in their bathrooms.


“Before I continue with the next part of my statement, I must categorically state that I do not go to bed in a suit like Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother (even though I am a massive fan!). While working from home has become the norm, I feel that it important to get dressed in office attire even if your office is in the adjoining room of your house. Dressing in office attire switches your brain into business mode and keeps you focused on the task at hand. Sometimes even the smallest of changes brings about the biggest results,” says Blair.


Cutting the fat

The pandemic put a lot of businesses in distress in the sense that they were severely disrupted. Most countries around the world were forced into a hard lockdown and homes became offices. The problem with this is that company owners were still facing rent on their office premises. Paying rent not only became a grudge payment, but it became the departure point of trying to make sense of a cost cutting exercise that was gargantuan in nature.


“You cannot grow or turn your business simply by cutting costs. In terms of turning your business around, cost-cutting mistakes are some of the most devastating that are made by consultants and entrepreneurs. If you simply keep cutting costs, you very soon find yourself in the position where your business can no longer function properly. Even more concerning is that the most popular cost-saving method is to cut staff; often removing the most valuable of your business’s assets.  It is important that you remove any waste. However, concentrate on growth rather than cost saving. You can only cut so much. You need workers to help your company grow,” says Blair.


I recently read an article that was published by the Bus and Motorcoach News, which pointed out that paper trails may be a good place to start cost cutting measures.


The article points out that If 10 hourly employees spend 15 minutes per shift doing paperwork at $30 per hour, it can add up to $18,750 a year. When managers spend 3.5 hours per week on paperwork. It costs a month of productivity annually.


There is a better, more efficient and cost-effective way, according to Trisha Fridrich, self-described operator-turned-tech-nerd.


“Anything you write on a piece of paper or put into a spreadsheet can be automated,” said Fridrich, who shared her insights with motorcoach colleagues during a recent UMA Town Hall.


The article adds that Fridrich, in her role as Technology Solutions Architect at the L&W Team, is passionate about data and finding ways to “use technology to turn that data into dollars.” When operators empower their teams with technology to automate processes, they make those employees more productive.


She says everything from expenses and reimbursements to driver pay calculations and employee health questionnaires can be automated. Those parts of management that require empathy are not suited to being automated, she said, but most other things are.


Fridrich encouraged operators to “be creative and open to change” when approaching automation, and to “start with the worst processes first.”


The article points out that Fridrich encourages businesses to begin by seeing how technology can resolve some of the biggest issues taking up staff time. Automation can particularly be useful for compliance.


In addition to cost savings, technology is one way to assure that a process is done the same way every time.


“Technology completes tasks the exact same way every single time — humans don’t do that, but robots do,” she said. “A lot of our processes in the transportation industry should happen the exact same way every time.”


Fridrich has put her tech skills to work organizing grassroots lobbying efforts on behalf of the industry during the pandemic.


The article adds that she predicts that those companies that harness the power of technology to make their companies more lean and efficient will be in the best position as business begins to pick up again.


“I know that the industry is going to recover because people love to travel,” she said. “I think operators who invest in technology now will recover quickly and more profitably than people who continue to do things the way that they used to.”


These sentiments were affirmed in an article on which pointed out that nearly seven in 10 business leaders and decision-makers say that investments in digital technologies in 2020 have enabled their organisations to increase revenue, save money and improve productivity, according to a new survey released by Randstad US.


The article pointed out that while many organisations face budget challenges during the pandemic, investments in digital technologies have positively affected organisations’ bottom lines for 64 percent of respondents to the survey. Additionally, 69 percent of respondents said their organisations have saved money as a result of those investments.


These findings are part of new research efforts by Randstad US entitled “what we know now: the state of digital transformation today,” a survey of 276 C-suite executives, directors, department heads and other decision-makers responsible for technology services, including hardware and/or software purchasing for their organisations.


“The pandemic has accelerated our transition into the digital age, and a change of this magnitude presents both challenges and opportunities for businesses,” said Graig Paglieri, Group President of Randstad Technologies Group at Randstad US. “Our findings suggest there is a silver lining to this upheaval: executives report that embracing digital transformation is increasing revenue, boosting productivity and changing the way they think about organisational structures. It is a sign that leveraging the latest technology, forming strategic partnerships and shifting organisational structures can help companies emerge from the crisis stronger than ever before.”


The article added that the importance of strengthening an organisation’s commitment to the new digital environment is clear, as nearly two thirds (63 percent) of respondents reported making a greater investment in technology. Organisations are also growing their internal technology talent pools, as nearly half (48 percent) of all business leaders surveyed said they are increasing staff in key tech areas to address challenges surfaced by the pandemic.


The survey also claims that business leaders are making structural changes to their organisations, with 62 percent stating that it is important to adjust their internal structures to replace traditional hierarchies.


 The article pointed out that other key findings included: 


-  64% of respondents reported that their organisations have experienced positive ROI from investments in digital technologies;

-  78% of respondents expect that the investments they are making right now in digital technologies will pay off in the long run, and 71% said they feel a need to embrace digital technologies now or risk falling behind;

-  45% of respondents said they can’t implement new digital tools at the speed expected of them by management, with 42% saying they lack the resources required to be considered an industry leader;

-  42% of respondents said they currently lack the knowledge needed to become a digital leader; and

-  86% of executives said it was “very” or “highly” important to partner with digitally proficient vendors.


Highway to the dangerzone

While there are a lot of advantages when it comes to working from home, there are some pitfalls as well. A recent article on ZDNet points out the inefficiencies of key pieces of technology.


The article points out that amidst the turmoil and tragedies of 2020, the way that businesses and households responded to the disruption has demonstrated the pervasive power of technology. For it was technology that allowed many office-based workers to switch to remote working with surprisingly little fuss (although the often-overlooked tech workers who faced a race against the clock to kit out workers with laptops and productivity apps deserve a shout-out).


While some organisations and workers were already comfortable with this modus operandi, many more were forced into the world of remote working for the first time.


The article adds that it wasn't just about the switch to working from home: old PCs, smartphones and more were pressed into service to keep us entertained, educated and connected during a period of isolation that many had never expected or experienced.


If the COVID-19 crisis had arrived 15, or even 10 years, earlier the situation would have been quite different.


Working from home would have been all but impossible for the majority, either because home computers were much less common or because the relevant applications and services could not be accessed remotely. There would have been no video chat with lonely relatives, and no contact-tracing smartphone apps to help slow the rate of coronavirus infection.


The article points out that, day-to-day, barring outages, we now barely register the presence of broadband, Wi-Fi, cloud services and cheap computer hardware. Without that familiar infrastructure, 2020 would have been even more cruel.


However, this year has also highlighted the limits of technology.


The article adds that while Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have seen a huge boost in popularity, there's also a recognition that the tools we have for collaboration are still frustratingly limited. There is still a long way to go before these applications can replace the richness of face-to-face collaboration.


Remote-working tools may have kept us productive, but they have done less to keep us inspired, and being more digitally connected than ever before has not prevented people from struggling with isolation and loneliness.


The article points out that it's also worth noting that cutting-edge technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality, which have promised to bring us together virtually when physically apart, have proven less than effective.


Then there's the fact that the events of this year have worsened the economic divide between knowledge workers who can comfortably work from home and others – in front-line services like nursing or teaching, or in hospitality and retail – who cannot, and have been forced to continue to risk physical contact.


The article adds that, furthermore, digital technologies will only deliver benefits to those who can afford them; for children at home without access to a connected PC, 2020 has been a year of lost education on top of all the other deprivations. No wonder there are calls for a new tax on working from home.


The past year has demonstrated how reliant we have become on technology, but it has also reminded us that the benefits are neither absolute nor shared evenly. As we look towards 2021, we must deal with these challenges rather than ignore them in the rush to return to normality.


“Again, this speaks to the mental side of the pandemic which has possibly had the most significant impact on society. Yes, the days of working from the comfort of your home are here, but the flipside to that is limited interaction with co-workers who perhaps inspired you. Some employees – particularly those in creative fields – need constant engagement with management, and clients, to see if they are on the right track. If we can get technology to bridge this gap, then we will see a completely new side to the productivity debate,” says Blair.


Changing the world

Risks aside, technology is here to stay and can deliver a lot more good than bad. I recently read an article on which highlighted some of the future tech that will change the world:


-  Cloud, cloud, cloud. It isn’t secure.We can’t afford the time required for the project.Our systems are paid for, why move to a subscription? This list of excuses to justify avoiding the migration to the cloud are long and varied. Legacy systems that “just ran” triggered complacency and the cloud was kicked down the road. When COVID-19 hit us in 2020, those that weren’t in the cloud lost employee productivity, potentially causing millions or more in lost time and work. Where was the “Global Pandemic” section in the business continuity plan? The prioritization of digital transformation efforts hastily moved from the low column to the high column. At the very center was pervasive access to applications and, of course, the cloud. The upshot: Digital transformation in the cloud will continue as companies prepare for uncertainty and tackle their legacy on-premises applications as the distributed work-from-home culture persists through 2021 and beyond;

-  AI is the new reality. Artificial intelligence is real and helping leading-edge companies gain an advantage in the market through improved automation, enhanced decision-making and improved productivity. Whether it’s a simple algorithm that enhances reporting, a cloud-based AP automation suite or an ERP module your accounting department can leverage, AI point solutions are available and built to solve specific business problems. We recently sponsored a well-attended webinar panel with Accounting Today discussing AI in accounting. During the webinar, we took several polls with a sampling of about 200 financial and accounting professionals responding, revealing very telling statistics: Only 11% of the participant organizations use artificial intelligence today; and, 40% have no plans to implement AI technology. Moral of the story: If we put you and your top competitor in the same room, one is gaining an advantage with AI and one isn’t. Which one are you? The upshot: AI will become more pervasive and necessary as companies look to automate their processes and improve remote worker productivity.

-  Rise of the citizen developer. Over the past few years, there have been major advances in "no-code/low-code” platforms that enable everyday users to build their own applications, workflows and automations without IT support or a development team. They have gone from requiring a technical background to intuitive platforms that do the complex work behind the scenes, making configuration easier. Did you ever think an accounts payable clerk could configure an AP workflow in a few minutes? Software vendors are now offering recipes that can be fired up in minutes and start servicing your automation needs. The upshot: Citizen developer apps will continue to penetrate the workforce and provide powerful tools for any user;

-  Eliminating shadow processes. We all know they exist — the work just gets done miraculously. A "shadow process" is a closely held process, usually performed in a clunky, ineffective manner by one or a handful of individuals. I call it “business by email and spreadsheet.” That sales order backdoor through Becky in Sales Ops, or the handful of vendors that send Tom in Accounting their invoices directly to process. COVID-19 exposed many of these as the workforce moved to the home office and personal interaction was halted. Hunting down these non-trackable processes that are typically completely manual is becoming a target for businesses. robotic process automation was thought to be the game-changer in this area, but it mostly automated bad processes. The upshot: Organizations will continue to focus on refining and improving legacy, shadow processes and improving overall efficiency for remote work;

-  Enable productive remote work. The first half of 2020 was completely reactive, with IT struggling to procure hardware, enable remote access for office workers and figure out a plan for legacy application access. Then came the questions: how do we process mail? We scan invoices from the department copier and a desktop scanner, how can I do that from home? We typically collaborate on projects via in-person meetings and whiteboard sessions, how can we start those up again? Although the majority of businesses have adapted to using online conferencing, outsourcing mail processing and digital document submission methods, many companies are a work in progress and still implementing strategic technologies to enable full productivity of the remote workforce. The upshot: In the first half of 2021, organizations will continue to complete WFH projects focused on digital transformation and automation.



Gamification may be a way in which tech helps us break our productivity barriers. Below is the reproduction of an article from Forbes where tech influencers gave their input on the subject. Comments were supplied to Forbes.


Reward the achievement of goals

We created a raffle where every department gets tickets for success at a particular objective and key result. At the end of the month, we run a raffle for a prize. This way everyone buys into overachieving at something our business needs to accomplish. Just make sure the prizes mean something to everyone (e.g., a trip or a cool gadget). - Tarek Alaruri, Fairmarkit.


Encourage participation in unpopular but necessary tasks

I have found that integrating gamification into meetings leads to productive cadences, and employees want to attend versus have to attend. I have had specific success with integrating gamification around employee reporting systems, which most employees do not enjoy but which are essential. Creating competition with prizes for use has increased effectiveness and employee satisfaction. - Steve Taplin, Sonatafy Technology


Identify security training gaps

We know that cyberthreats keep tech leaders awake all night. There are many internal processes, software and systems in any tech organization that have security loopholes or vulnerabilities. Gaming can offer an effective method for identifying and remedying team members’ inexperience with security, be it an insider threat or software security. This can help make the workplace and the organization safer and more secure. - Jyoti Prasad Bhatt, ImpactQA


Improve your image as an employer

Gamification makes all processes more fun. Make sure to leverage it to improve your image as an employer. It will help your business become more attractive as a workplace for professionals from different industries and of different skill levels. In general, it will improve morale, make your office atmosphere friendlier and bring new people to the team. - Daria Leshchenko, SupportYourApp Inc.


Add a positive user experience to customer forms

We make our best effort to utilize gamification in customer forms or other areas where extensive data entry is required. Long forms are boring and not very user-friendly. Gamification provides an opportunity to create a positive user experience while also increasing the quality of data captured. An example of gamification could be as simple as the portal registration form. - Jahn Karsybaev, Prosource IT


Encourage the adoption of new tech

With our Industry 4.0 application, we are dealing with C-suite managers who are excited about new visibility into manufacturing and acquiring data from remote sources, while the machine operators and shop floor managers are often reluctant to cooperate with new technologies that change the way they are used to working. We use gamification to motivate and encourage the latter group to adopt and embrace the new technology. - Ariel Rosenfeld, 3d Signals


Help prevent employee burnout

The tech industry has an immense issue with burnout. Teams are asked to innovate, iterate and improve at a constant and rapid pace. Companies should mandate gamification to give professionals much-needed and well-deserved breaks. Sometimes a pause is all we need to get back on track, reset or find that next inspiration. Use gamification to prevent burnout—our professionals are not machines. - Ryan Chan, UpKeep Maintenance Management


Promote skill-based learning

Gamifying skill-based learning is a great way to incentivize folks within the company as well as individual teams to learn and master new skills. Not only does this provide friendly competition, but it also increases collaboration and gives individuals a deeper appreciation of the different roles within the organization. - Abishek Surana Rajendra, Course Hero


Encourage improved quality and productivity among devs

Gamification has proven extremely effective when applied to the software development lifecycle. When deployed effectively, it builds a community of developers, encourages healthy competition and improves productivity and quality. Implementing gamified solutions increases motivation and attention to detail. This pushes developer teams to learn more, and it makes it fun. - Frank Palermo, Virtusa


Improve vital metrics

A simple way tech leaders can leverage gamification is through transparency in metrics across an organization. For example, a leader could position mitigation of risk factors as a competition among departments. The department with the most mitigated risk vectors wins. This just requires transparency in tracking and a domain to share the information. - Matt Kunkel, LogicGate


Encourage exercise and well-being

We conducted an internal “Get Fit Challenge” for our team to encourage good vibes, fun competition and a healthy lifestyle. Employees were invited to join by forming a team, selecting a preferred sport and tracking their results for a predefined period. It was a nice way to engage teammates and encourage them to work out, have fun together and, of course, get rewards in the end. - Ivailo Nikolov, SiteGround


Place unpopular tasks in a new light

Gamification can cast unpleasant tasks in a new light. We've taken a gamified approach to security awareness training and to bug-bashing product issues. Offering rewards, recognition and healthy competition can motivate employees and improve remote team morale. - Shiv Sundar, Esper


“It will be interesting to see what 2021 has in store for us. It may be the year that the debate around tech and productivity gets settled once and for all,” concludes Blair. 

Jonathan Faurie

Share -