A helping hand in solving the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’

Gary Turner
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French supermarkets for example, control shelf prices digitally while Britain remains manually changing paper displays. (Source: Getty)

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) most recent labour productivity figures found Britain’s workers have managed to improve their output per hour by 1.2 per cent when compared to the first quarter last year.

On the face of it this seems like a victory, but the ONS itself caveated the results: “the data provides little sign of an end of the UK’s ‘productivity puzzle’”.

This so-called “puzzle” of productivity in the UK is a tangled web and the answer is not simple.

While some experts suggest that higher wages could help, others argue that therein lies the problem. Most intriguingly is the answer that perhaps the solution to Britain’s productivity problem can be found in simply doing less.

Not alone

The UK is not alone in its stagnant productivity.

It is, however, falling behind in comparison to its contemporaries, France, Germany and the United States. Despite the fact France works 25 per cent fewer hours than Britain, its GDP output per head is nearly on par, while British output per hour worked is 17 per cent behind other G7 nations.

It may seem counterintuitive to achieve more by doing less, but the numbers don’t lie. Productivity takes dedication, clarity and a steadfast commitment to organisation.

French supermarkets for example, control shelf prices digitally while Britain remains manually changing paper displays. There was a clear goal and a dedicated thought process behind how to achieve something most efficiently: job done, but not so in Britain.

What’s the solution?

For the 5.4m small businesses in the UK, reducing hours sounds like a simple solution, but is a cultural change that will take a long time to achieve. To start with, set a productivity measure as a vital building block to any small business. Once set, businesses can then look to ways of increasing productivity.

Quite quickly a business owner might realise that a time-consuming task could be automated with the help of software, or that a bulging inbox would be better dealt with in set blocks of time; they’ll end up doing less, but accomplishing more.

It’s the spread of affordable technology that is giving business owners the opportunity to think about their next phase of growth. Although on a national scale the productivity puzzle won’t be solved overnight, for entrepreneurs and small businesses it should be a consideration taken seriously from day one. Perhaps it’s in the groundswell, in working from the bottom up, that the puzzle might one day be solved.

And when reducing office hours cannot be an immediate solution for your business, these three clever apps can help manage workflow and reduce distractions:

App-solutely brilliant

1. RescueTime

RescueTime provides an accurate snapshot of how you spend your time each day. Its goal setting tools, detailed reports about which websites and applications you spent time on, and productivity scores spot inefficiencies in your day and help you become better at managing time.

2. Freedom

Exercising self control can be near impossible and the aim of Freedom is to make it easier for you to switch off from the distractions around you and get tasks done. It achieves this with software allowing you to schedule block out periods for websites and emails on your phone, tablet or computer, preventing the temptation of online distractions.

3. Coffitivity

Getting out of the office for an hour or two to work from a coffee shop can be one of the best ways to escape distractions and motivate yourself to power through your work. Getting away from your desk unfortunately isn’t always an option, but Coffitivity recreates the sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work more productively.

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