Business Technology

From 1980 to 2020, technology's influence on British worker productivity has increased

4 min read

30 October 2013

The rapid adoption of key technologies over the last 40 years, including mobile phones, email, and business software, has meant the contribution on information and communications technology to office worker productivity per hour, is 480 per cent more than what it was in the 1970s.

In 1980, a gigabyte of hard disk space cost £120,000 in today’s money and the current cost of a gigabyte is approximately 5p, exponentially less than in 1980! The rapid advances in technology associated with information and communications technology (ICT) means that office workers can now get more done, in less time for a lower cost, according to O2 Business and the Centre for Economic and Business Research.

Productivity related to ICT in the office fell to its lowest level during the mid-1980s, coinciding with a time of record unemployment and persistent strikes. During the same period, ground-breaking products such as the mobile phone (1985) were launched, which paved the way for a revolution in the use of technology in the office.

A long period of robust growth from the early 1990s in the UK coincided with the launch of key technologies and products, such as Microsoft Windows 3.0 (1990), dial up internet (1992), and Google search engine (1998). 

With this data in mind, an individual productivity index was produced to present labour productivity per hour worked in the office sector associated with ICT. The index shows a growth of 480 per cent in ICT-related labour productivity between 1972 and 2012 compared to growth of 84 per cent for overall labour productivity. This means ICT has had a massive impact on labour productivity growth in office-based sectors over the period.

Forecasting office worker productivity per hour for the next seven years, the analysis showed that productivity associated with ICT is set to grow a further 22 per cent or 2.5 per cent per annum between 2012 and 2020. This compares to growth in overall productivity per hour of 15 per cent or 1.7 per cent per year. This growth will be driven by ascendant technologies such as O2’s 4G high speed mobile internet access, and tablet computers which will allow office workers to stay connected and productive wherever they are.

Smartphones and tablets continue to revolutionise the business landscape and O2 believes that productivity through the use of ICT allows businesses and their employees to work smarter. This has become an increasingly important aspect of British business culture, with a growing number of organisations and employees adopting a more flexible approach to working life as new technologies – such as Office 365, 4G, cloud and collaboration tools – make it increasingly easy to conduct business from beyond the confines of the office.

Ben Dowd, O2 Business Director, said: “The findings from our report show how the increasing use and investment in technology by UK businesses has allowed us to work smarter, and as a result we are more productive. Our research confirms my prediction that as digital Britain advances we will continue to see employees’ productivity improve, and as more businesses adopt technology that enables them to be flexible, we’re likely to see even greater growth than forecast in the future.”

In fact, Richard Donkin, author of The History of Work, believes that many office workers will be surprised to find they are more productive today than they used to be. “You don’t feel productive when chatting around the water cooler with colleagues or when nipping out to the shops on an errand,” he explains. “But you may field two or three calls on your mobile phone during the errand; you might deal with half a dozen emails on your way in to work. The difference today is that we live in an “always on” society where lines between work and leisure have become blurred by communications technology.”

Image Source