Putting Technology In Its Place
Technology was supposed to make everyone more productive. Recent data suggest, however, that productivity is down. What is going on? We have some thoughts.
First, email. We love email. But people send emails to co-workers who sit next door, or clients who sit across town, about everything. Why don't people want to talk to each other? We don’t know but, as people who worked in both pre- and post-tech worlds, we do know that email is not always the most effective method of communication. It doesn’t work where a problem is even a little complex, where a person’s perspective is relevant, or where her considered judgment is required. It isn’t efficient to navigate the gray. A quick meeting, a short phone call, is much more productive. And more fun.
Second, it is not possible, in our view, to engage in deep analytical thought if you are constantly checking email, or the latest Mets score, or breaking news, on your miraculous personal device. Sometimes you just have to concentrate, hard, for a long time. Just because you can always access intergalactic worlds of information does not mean you always should.
Third, technology in the office requires everyone to do everything. In the past, the tasks people were required to perform changed as they advanced. They were expected to focus on doing higher level functions as they became more knowledgeable. Now everyone at every level has to keep doing what entry level workers have to do--keep track of correspondence, maintain a calendar, send bills, keep electronic files, find things in electronic files--along with everything else. All of this takes time and reduces productivity.
Finally, working from home most of the time does not foster optimal productivity. It is great when you can be on a call while you are going to your child’s softball game, and be on the computer at home after the game is over. But it is not great when you work right through the game, and even less great when your home becomes an extension of your office. Productivity requires focus and deadlines. Deciding to go home at 7 pm (if you can) imposes a deadline. We all have times when we need to be on 24/7, but deciding to work any and all the time just because you can is not productive. Working mostly without human contact is also not productive. And boring.
How do we know? Because we have observed these behaviors. And yes, we have engaged in them, too. Even though we know better.