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How can the UK be more productive?

One thing is clear from the myriad of UK statistics; a huge number of UK companies just aren’t productive.

They may be working hard for their customers and stakeholders, but they just aren’t working smart.

Here is the evidence

• Productivity (measured as output per hour worked) is as a huge 18% below the G7 Average (ONS) and the widest since 1995.
• If we compare the UK to EA/EU productivity growth (2016) we are just above Italy and Greece in the group of 32 countries.
• Historically our productivity growth was 2% per year. Since 2007 growth has evaporated and as of 2017 (Q2) we are .5% below 2007 levels.
• To put this into perspective we are 20% poorer due to productivity stagnation than we would have been had productivity continued to improve at 2%.
• These figures are bad enough but when you remove London (home to the Finance Sector and 32% higher than UK average) from the figures productivity is even worse than the headline figures.

How does this affect your business?

The statistics reveal that the problem of poor productivity is not a problem that affects “some other business” but to some extent and degree most businesses. Poor productivity results in loss of competitiveness, reduced profits, wage stagnation and skill/staff attrition. If any of these resonate then you may also be one of the many and not the few.

Whose fault is it anyway?

Whilst it is true that national infrastructure (Rail/Roads/Broadband) contribute towards productivity gains (something the government is “working on”) this is just one factor which is outside of the control of business. The other critical and contributory factors remain with the CEO and the company board.

Management

A task too often focused on maintaining the status quo rather than constantly striving to improve the efficiency of their area of responsibility.

Skills

Ensuring your staff are continually trained to perform their tasks at optimum performance. Improving skills not only increases output it also reduces rework though improved quality.

Processes

Outdated paper-based and unwieldy processes that simply burden staff and reduce their productive time must constantly be identified, reworked and automated.

Technology

The ability for technology not only to automate processes but transform them is no longer a vision but an everyday fact for most high-tech business. Both process transformation and (technology) automation should be viewed as a single inseparable goal and activity.

Planning & Measurement

The transformational impact of technology enables not just improved planning but also real-time measurement enabling a business to close the loop on productivity initiatives and implement continuous improvement easily and cost effectively.

Where do I start?

For many businesses the answer is simple and that is to measure the output per hour worked. One of the biggest costs for businesses is staff and highly productive companies have the following information at their fingertips and often in real-time;

• Where are my staff?
• What are they working on (activity/task/client/contract/customer)?
• Are my staff working patterns aligned to business demand?
• What changes must be made to align staff to business demand and avoid unnecessary downtime, overtime or unproductive time?
• What is my team’s overtime, absence and unproductive time today/this week/this month?

If you cannot answer these questions simply and quickly about your greatest and most expensive asset (your staff) then you cannot even start to identify issues, implement improvement plans or measure the effectiveness of those plans.

Nor have you laid the foundations for continuous improvement.

The biggest mistake companies make with improvement projects is that it is a one-step process rather than a continuous never-ending cycle that is impacted by technology, methodology, tools, training and materials.

Above all, its time to measure, not once or twice but constantly to ensure improvements are not one-off but continuous. The UK needs a Productivity Reboot and businesses should not wait for the government to make it happen but make the changes only business can make. That time is now.

Health & Safety is not compliance

These days the amount of compliance organisations must follow can often sink a ship. With all the tick box exercises and audits it can be easy to lose sight of their actual purpose. Health & Safety is just one such case. However, at its core, it is that organisations (whether private or public) owe a duty of care to their staff and covers the environment in which they work, the duties they carry out, the hours they work and the tools that they use to conduct their duties.

Inadequate equipment, poor environment, fatigue through long hours can impact on quality, cause accidents, absences and in serious cases reputational damage, legal action and loss of revenue. If care of your staff doesn’t grab your attention, then the potential costs most certainly will. Two of the world’s biggest disasters (Chernobyl the Exxon Valdez oil spill) were the result of human error linked to fatigue. An accident in your organisation may not end up polluting the world, but it could just put you out of business.

But many organisations regard Health and Safety as simply a “compliance issue”, a burdensome admin job that someone needs to do, when in fact Health & Safety when done right is a competitive advantage that improves productivity, efficiency and quality as well as staff retention and motivation. Once you think of Health & Safety not as a compliance issue but a commercial one your whole approach changes.

The good news is that technology is readily available to simplify and automate many aspects of Health & Safety not simply to avoid the manual paper chase but to improve the health and safety of your staff and the competitiveness of your organisation.

For instance, there have been many studies that show working long hours reduces both productivity and quality, e.g. working 60 hours a week does not deliver 50% more than 40 hours a week. Once you factor in potential for poor quality and accidents then you may be getting nothing in return for paying additional hours. Getting hours right has other benefits too; A recent study in Sweden showed that a 6 hour working day reduced sickness by 50%.

Solutions such as Imperago™ enable rosters to be generated that not only meet business demands but also consider suitability for staff, Risk & Fatigue. The result is shift patterns that not only meet business requirements and benefit staff but also reduce costs and risks.

Time and attendance solutions enable organisations to easily manage and monitor worked hours to minimise overtime and breaks between shifts to prevent staff fatigue. Some solutions also come with roll-call options that link to fire alarms and produce real-time muster reports direct to managers (or printers) in case of fire.

One of the reasons why Autotime developed CloudMuster and MusterPoint (Links to fire alarms and 3g eMusterPoints) was the result our office fire in 2015. As a technology company we knew that a clipboard and pen was not an efficient or accurate way of checking the whereabouts of our staff.

Naturally not all staff work in a building or offices, many (for instance care workers) make many external visits a day and this creates its own set of safety issues (Lone Workers) but again there are eSolutions that enable staff to be tracked (via GPS) during working hours to ensure their safety.

Of course, you shouldn’t ever just react by throwing technology at a problem and walking away, but neither should you throw a clipboard, pen and tick box at it either in the hope that this absolves you or your organisation of responsibility for the Health & Safety of your staff.

Above all a positive approach to health & safety comes with the realisation that everybody wins when staff safety and wellbeing is a core part of the business plan not an external imposition.

Connecting people and devices – the key to unlocking UK productivity

After years of stagnating wage growth, The Bank of England has hinted that the UK economy could pick up faster than expected and this could have a positive impact on workers’ pay packets.

With unemployment levels also at their lowest for years, you could be forgiven that thinking that things are looking positively rosy at the moment. But it’s not as positive as it might seem on the surface.

A surge in growth is expected to result in price hikes and an increase in interest rates in a bid to keep a lid on inflation.

The principal cause is the fact that the UK continues to be strangled by a productivity crisis, and remains languishing behind most other key economies, and only just above Italy and Greece who have had their own much publicised problems. To put this into perspective, workers in France produce more in four days than a British worker does in five.

Since the 2008 financial crash, UK productivity – the amount of output each worker produces for every hour they work – has more or less totally stalled. Up until 2008, UK productivity was growing at 2% a year on average. Fast forward ten years to today, however, and the reality is that we are no more better off than we were back then, and 20% worse off than we should be if growth had been sustained at 2%.

So what’s to blame for the UK’s productivity problem?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that it is not so much that the UK doesn’t have productive industries; it is just that more people are now working in less productive industries, with sectors like health and hospitality proving more popular than manufacturing and aviation, which have traditionally been at the heart of UK productivity.

Other research appears to point to the fact that UK workers are only spending a minimal amount of time on their primary jobs. In other words, spending a lot of our time doing things they’re not paid to do, such as endless admin, instead of value-added tasks.

Whatever’s to blame, the productivity conundrum isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

If the UK is to achieve the giant strides it needs to close the productivity gap, boosting the economy and living standards in the process, organisations must take steps to stimulate productivity.

Productivity-enhancing technology

In a digital era, when technology consumes much of our everyday lives, it’s perhaps not surprising that technology offers real cause for optimism in addressing the UK’s productivity crisis.

Yet despite this, technology in the workplace is failing to evolve at the same pace, with many UK organisations continuing to rely on outdated processes supported by legacy systems.

Why is this? Cost inevitably remains the prohibitive barrier to technology adoption in the workplace. For most organisations, implementing a new software solution is perceived expensive and out of reach of most businesses, especially SMEs and startups that have to weigh up the reward against the risk to their bottom line.

Even for larger organisations, the mere thought of investing thousands of pounds on a solution that may or may not deliver on its promise is too big a risk to take, while the time taken to undertake a complex installation project then training staff to use it correctly can be hard to justify.

The challenge facing organisations is to find and invest in technology that not only fuels tangible productivity gains but delivers an immediate return on investment.

While advances in mobile and cloud technology have provided a unique opportunity to rethink how work is done and where, so too are they transforming the way we can manage staff, connecting people and devices in real-time and enabling powerful solutions to be implemented at a fraction of the cost too.

Today’s attendance management systems maximise the opportunity afforded by the latest cutting edge wireless technology to empower organisations to capture real-time attendance and presence data and automatic timesheets from anyone, anywhere using any device.

This provides managers with the convenience to gain on-demand visibility of their workforce, so they can account for their movements at all times and safeguard their wellbeing.

With accurate attendance data to hand managers can better align working patterns to business demand, eliminate inefficiencies and wasteful costs caused by absences, overtime or unproductive time and engage with their staff like never before.

JVM Castings

One company that has seen an upturn in productivity since investing in an attendance management system is recruitment agency Workforce Staffing, who have adopted cloud-based presence and location portal EveryOneCloud to deliver total transparency of its supplied temporary workforce to the Worcester site of metal cast manufacturer JVM Castings.

Transparency of their supplied workers has enabled Workforce to assume full responsibility for the attendance of its supplied staff and proactively cover absences to maximise machine use in order to reduce costly downtime, while streamlining its payroll process.

Oliver Page Account Manager at Workforce says: “Implementing EveryOneCloud at JVM Castings has enabled us to consistently adapt to their fluctuating staffing needs to meet production demands while modernising our invoice and payroll functions by removing disruptive manual processes and freeing up valuable staff time.

“In the past, JVM could lose up to three hours in production time by the time each absence was covered. Now we can login to EveryOneCloud at the start of each shift to identify any no-shows instantly before the client does, chase up the individual to see why they haven’t arrived, and have a replacement worker on site within thirty minutes.”

Staying connected

During his Autumn Budget in 2017, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s productivity plan focused on improving the national infrastructure and plugging the skills gap, but overlooked general people management.

With productivity so intrinsically linked to the performance of people, it beggars belief why so many organisations fail to adopt modern attendance systems.

At a time when technology is revolutionising work and life, there has never been a better time to stay connected with your workforce and integrate technology within your processes to create a culture centred on efficiency, productivity and engagement.

The UK urgently needs to up its game. Organisations can no longer perceive their workforce as simply a cost of doing business but a key driver of performance and profitability.

The UK’s productivity problem is a huge puzzle that needs solving. Of course there are many pieces, but gaining transparency of your most expensive asset, your people, should be the first.