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Tracking technology to improve British productivity is not Big Brother

While some may call it an invasion of privacy, Charlie Mullins thinks technology such as electronic monitoring are key to sorting out British productivity.
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Finding ways to make a workforce more productive can often see entrepreneurs walk the fine line between business success and failure. But taking advantage of technology is just one way to improve British productivity and swing the result in their favour.

The UK economy has wrestled with the so-called British productivity puzzle for years, often finding it a conundrum that even the greatest-ever panel of Countdown contestants and Carol Vorderman would fail to solve.

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And particularly now, when in the future UK business will have to fight even harder for a place at the table, firms have to think smarter about how each can not only remain competitive, but more productive.

Labour productivity, meaning what we produce for the amount of work it takes to do it, is the key factor is ensuring businesses succeed in increasingly challenging markets.

In common sense terms, there’s two ways to be more productive by making more things or selling more services. First is working more hours. With some of the longest working hours in Europe, it’ll be tough to squeeze any more minutes out of a day. That said, as a nation, because unemployment is low, collectively we are working more hours than previously. But it’s not really the answer.

The second option, and the more practical, is to work smarter. That means we can create more and do more with the same amount of effort.

There are a number of ways to do this and improve British productivity, one of which is through the use of technology. As a plumber working in one of the world’s oldest industries, personally I’m not what’s known as an “early adopter”. My Nokia mobile phone is testament to that, but at least its battery lasts me a lot more than four hours. However, when it comes to business tech, I’d like to think I know my apps from my apples.

During the last recession, for example, we increased our focus on productivity by investing in advanced vehicle-tracking systems to ensure we can always get the closest and most appropriate engineers to jobs. It made a huge difference to our productivity.

And it appears technology’s next weapon of choice in the war on low productivity is wearable tech. A firm called Humanyze has come up with a credit card-sized bit of kit that can monitor staff 24 hours a day.

Some have laughed it off as bit of a joke, but trust me, electronic monitoring of workers is on its way to UK businesses and, in fact, it’s here now.

The badges, worn on a lanyard recording fitness, productivity and stress levels, are apparently being trialled in the UK at Deloitte, parts of the NHS and a bank.

People can whinge on about privacy and intrusion all they like, but when their choices are to use the tech and avoid being on a plane with a pilot suffering a heart attack on landing, or run over by a bus, whose driver has fallen asleep, maybe they’ll change their minds?

Similar things used to be said about CCTV, pagers and mobile phones, and now look at how things have turned out. So yes, I think this stuff is a good idea, and I’m 100 per cent confident that it will be common place in less than three years.

I don’t want to know things only a person’s GP should know about, but I do want to know if people are dragging the chain, and I also want to know if they are in some way struggling and if there’s anything that I can do to improve things for them.

The world has come a long way since the days of the Roman Empire built on slavery or the workhouse-mentality of Victorian Britain. And this isn’t a Draconian big business, Big Brother thing – this is businesses doing right by workers and vice versa to ensure we can deliver the levels of British productivity required to deliver the success our efforts deserve.

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About Author

Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, also an OBE, is the archetypal entrepreneur – having started his business from scratch and then building it into a multi-million pound enterprise. From humble beginnings growing up on an estate in South London, he left school with no qualifications, but after a four-year plumbing apprenticeship he started his own firm, Pimlico Plumbers, which now generates a turnover in excess of £30m and boasts many well-known names among its many clients including Simon Cowell, Helen Mirren and Richard Branson. He has been a regular contributor on Real Business since 2011 and is particularly about apprenticships.

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