Old office tech: the productivity killer

DocuSign Group VP & GM, EMEA, Ronan Copeland explores the impact of digital maturity on worker productivity in EU economies and addresses the challenges businesses face in digitising processes and overcoming the productivity gap.
Old office tech: the productivity killer

Europe has a productivity problem. The ECB estimates that labour productivity in the EU and major economies has been in a slow decline for decades which continues to this day.

Productivity is an important measure of living standards - the more a business can produce, the more it can pay workers who spend more and pay taxes, ultimately boosting economies.

However, our research shows businesses aren’t taking the crucial steps to increase worker productivity because they’re not making the necessary investments that enable teams to work better. It’s such a big problem that 31 percent would consider leaving their jobs because they’re frustrated with the current systems, processes and ways of working they have to deal with.

However, the level of digital maturity at a business (the ability to add value through digital tools and processes) can have a significant impact on workers’ job satisfaction. 43 percent of those at low digital maturity organisations said they would consider leaving their roles in the next 12 months, compared to just 29 percent at very high digital maturity businesses. 

Businesses therefore need to address three key challenges: overcoming the issues surrounding legacy tech in the workplace; digitising their processes as fast as possible; and implementing measures to overcome today’s widening productivity gap.

The legacy tech challenge

While many businesses may claim to have digitally transformed recently and feel well-equipped to manage whatever comes next, worker sentiment doesn’t match. Given 27 percent of those who’d consider leaving their jobs in the next year would do so because they want to work for a more digital-forward company, there’s a disconnect between leaders and their staff over what makes an organisation technologically advanced.

Part of the problem could be that too many employees find themselves stuck doing low value tasks. On average, 12 hours per person per week is being spent on non-value, manual, and repetitive tasks. With nearly half (46 percent) wanting more time to focus on strategy and higher-value work (44 percent) where they can shine, it’s not surprising so many are thinking of leaving.

The digital maturity silver bullet?

Digital maturity could make or break a business. Becoming a more digitally mature business needs to be front and centre of every organisation’s mind. It matters because the research showed a clear majority (78 percent) of respondents see themselves as tech-savvy - but only 16 percent said their firm’s tech infrastructure hit their expectations very well. Yet if investments in digital solutions could automate more ‘toil’, staff could get those 12 hours of time back per week, contributing to greater staff contentment.

Allowing employees the time to do high-value, strategic tasks that directly and meaningfully impact business goals is important for morale as well as the bottom line. Fewer than half of our respondents claimed they did this, and a whole five hours per person per week is wasted on manually entering information that could be automated, for example.

It’s that frustration with legacy tech and wasted time which is potentially driving those 31 percent of respondents into the arms of digitally-forward competitors. It’s no stretch to say that less user-friendly solutions put unnecessary friction in the path to productivity and growth.

That lack of digital maturity could have potentially catastrophic repercussions for business. 34 percent of C-level respondents want jobs at those digital-forward companies, leaving the rest with a brain drain that’s only going to send productivity spiralling further down.

But just because that’s the current situation, doesn’t mean businesses should give up. Becoming more digitally mature and competitive is possible. The first step is to define and implement a digital strategy that works across all aspects of the organisation, cutting out inefficiencies, like unnecessary manual processes. While effort is required, it pays dividends.

Plug the productivity gap

Business leaders already know they need to adopt more modern technologies to increase productivity. The report shows that 70 percent are increasing their investment or adoption in digital tooling, which is obviously a positive sign. However, only 31 percent actually expect investment in digital modernisation or transformation to grow in the next year.

Organisations must ensure they marry the business need and employee experience of technology and processes they’re using, and that they will lead to the best possible outcome for everyone. Putting off investment but risking higher staff turnover will only be counterproductive.

With 69 percent of organisations already facing a technology skills gap, there’s no excuse to go slow. If they don’t meet employees’ digital hopes, it’s hard to see how a business can retain top talent.

Those who do crack their transformation plans and support employees who want to make better use of tech to spend time on higher value, strategic work can look forward to a potential 25 percent productivity boost, estimated at more than £31,000 per worker per year in the UK alone*. Generative AI, when used correctly, could be one example that would drive positive change for workers. 27 percent of organisations are already using technologies such as ChatGPT in the quest for greater efficiencies.

Virtually every business is facing pressures right now. But, if organisations can implement measures to become more digitally mature, cut waste and enable staff to focus on the tasks that are more valuable, then there’s a chance of growth again. They could even start to attract fresh new talent from competitors.


*These figures were calculated in the following way:

  • Assuming one working day is equivalent to 7.5 hours. The research found 3.75 hours a week wasted on repetitive tasks that could be automated, and 3.59 wasted on non-value tasks, totalling 8.1 hours per worker per week. By removing those tasks workers could gain a 25 percent increase in productivity - based on the 8 hours being 25 percent of the remaining 32 hours in the week.
  • With a total of 11 hours wasted per worker per week on all tasks, multiplied by the UK’s productivity as estimated in the OECD Labour Productivity in 2021 report ($67.7 per hour worked) and multiplied by 52 to calculate the annual average, with a conversion rate of 1:0.797762.

Lead image: Photo by Chris Curry

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