Office productivity reports: Ask.com and the IDA

Two kinds of office productivity reports are discussed in this post: Ask.com’s office survey (conducted by an independent external company), and the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland’s recommendations on boosting productivity. These two viewpoints offer a bottom-up view and a top-down view on what office productivity means.

“Productivity is commonly defined as a ratio between the output volume and the volume of inputs. In other words, it measures how efficiently production inputs, such as labour and capital, are being used in an economy to produce a given level of output.” (OECD)

“Productivity is a measure of your company’s return on investment.” (D. Hughes, IDA Ireland)

Which quote do you think is more accurate?

Ask.com “Office Workplace Productivity” 2013

This survey was widely cited in major publications in the USA. Despite dogged searching, the actual survey was nowhere to be found on the internet. The closest source that could be uncovered was the Ask.com blog. Presumably, the company wanted to keep certain employee data to themselves. Therefore we must trust what they have published and analyse what the results mean for those searching to optimise their productivity.

“This survey was conducted online within the United States between March 26-28, 2013 among 2,060 adults ages 18 and over (of whom 603 work in an office setting)” (Wall Street Journal).

How does a person interpret how productive they are? Is it fixed on meeting deadlines? Is it being constantly busy? Being busy doesn’t mean being productive. Meeting deadlines doesn’t mean your productivity is optimal. Mathematical calculations seem to be what companies rely on most to tell them about productivity.

This basic example was taken from a University of Punjab lecture slide:

office-productivity

This really only works accurately for manufacturing. In manufacturing, a set unit can be used as the measurement. The example given above is inherently flawed to me. 800 policies? What length are these policies? Surely they cannot have a standard size. A policy needs to be as long as it needs to be, and surely each policy requires different quantities of research. If the employees are later calculated at producing less than 6.7 policies per hour will they be fired? What about the quality of the policies? How does that become included in the productivity measurement?

These are questions you need to ask yourself when considering the results of this survey. People are being asked to reflect on their own productivity, but without knowing how they measure their own productivity (i.e. a complicated task of measuring the quality AND quantity of the service you are providing) the results must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Key results

  • Working alone is perceived as being best for efficiency (86%)
  • 29% prefer to work from home
  • 46% use technology to communicate with nearby colleagues rather than talk face-to-face to minimise interruptions
  • Noisy colleagues are the biggest distraction (61%)
  • 24% of meetings are a waste of time
  • 42% of men vs. 28% of women prefer cubicles to an open-plan office

Whilst these numbers give a general overview, until the quality of the work is taken into account we cannot know if they truly are being productive from working in a cubicle to working from home to working in a team. Not knowing the type of work each person is doing also affects the validity of these results. A survey focussed solely on marketers or managers may give more insightful results as to how productivity is interpreted and what facilities each role requires. Perhaps an accountant needs a cubicle but a designer needs an open-plan office for inspiration.

IDA Ireland’s recommendations to boost productivity, report 2009

The Industrial Development Authority in Ireland reported a list of factors that increase a company’s productivity.

  • Investing in ICT and training
  • Investing in more efficient technologies
  • More efficient energy use
  • Hiring well-educated employees with niche skills
  • Using HR strategies such as performance-related pay, goal-setting, feedback, open communication and teamwork
  • Using proven benchmarking and world-class business tools

“A high-quality workplace contributes to a high-performance business. A survey of more than 130 leading Irish companies found that firms with high levels of employee involvement and engagement were 15 per cent more productive than their competitors. In monetary terms, this was equivalent to €12 million per annum in additional sales revenue for the average company in the survey. Employee turnover rates were also 7.7 per cent lower than other firms.” (IDA 2009)

Whenever productivity surveys and reports are done, it is wise to take into account QUALITY. An author may only produce one book every two years – but an epic book. Quality may tentatively be measured in terms of functionality, as in: how far does this product or service go towards solving the problem it set out to? That, combined with quantity, will be a more accurate representation of our productivity. When calculating human activity, it is important to mix both qualitative and quantitative data to get more accurate views of the state of affairs.