The productivity problem

I was listening to an interview with Seth Godin and he brought up some interesting points about productivity.

First, he defined productivity as:

Productivity is an economic measure of how much you output per hour for the amount of time and resources you put in.

The UK has been talking about a “productivity puzzle” for a number of years. In 2014, the Bank of England said that labour productivity was very weak, around 16% below where it should be.

There are two main hypotheses on why this is the case:

  1. Companies are holding off on firing people because they believe that demand will return, but as there is less demand right now, they are making less per person as a result.
  2. Companies are investing less money into their businesses, meaning that workers are working with old tools and so can do less.

But, I wonder, is this missing the way in which work is changing.

A lot of the work we do now is knowledge work. We can’t build better machines to think better. We just have to start learning how to become more effective at doing the thinking work we need to do.

For many people in the workforce still getting used to digital technology the changes are overwhelming. There is a torrent of stuff coming at them, emails, twitter, video – all kinds of things that just take up time.

We still try and manage the complex work involved in businesses that do knowledge work by having meetings, talking to each other, spending hours moving around in cars to meet people face to face.

How is that productive? While you are doing all that talking and moving, nothing is actually being done that is of any use to anyone.

One company is doing things differently. Automattic runs its billion dollar company with no offices.

From the Business Insider interview with Matt Mullenweg, its CEO and the creator, by the way, of WordPress.

Automattic is a totally distributed company, so everyone works from wherever they are in the world. It could be a coffee shop, it could be their home, it could be a co-working space. We hire people regardless of where they are.

And also

The “Automattic creed” states that communication is the “oxygen” for a distributed company.

Matt’s view is that skill in writing represents clear thinking. If I can become a better writer, perhaps I can become a better thinker.

Perhaps the Automattic way of working is one more companies can learn from.

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