Social Business: Does Collaboration Bring ProductivityDid you know that over the last nine years, for the first time, U.S. worker productivity has fallen?

A recent blog post by John Cassidy in the New Yorker called “What Happened to the Internet Productivity Miracle?" cites a U.S. Department of labor graph which shows this phenomena (Figure 1). According to the same New Yorker article, productivity growth has fallen since the start of 2005 to levels seen before the Web was commercialized and before smart phones were invented.

us productivity

Figure 1: Showing U.S. productivity trailing off since 2004

During the eight years from 2005 to 2012, output per hour expanded at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent -- the same as it grew between 1973 and 1996. More recently, productivity growth has been lower still. In 2011, output per hour rose by a mere 0.6 percent, according to the latest update from the Labor Department, and last year there was more of the same: an increase of just 0.7 percent. In the last quarter of 2012, output per hour actually fell, at an annual rate of 1.9 percent. Americans got less productive -- or so the figures said.

Here is my attempt at explaining this phenomenon: during the time when productivity was at its lowest (1.4%) -- 2007-2009 -- most companies were not hiring. Through attrition or other means fewer and fewer people had to do more and more work … so no wonder their productivity was down!

How Does Collaboration Fit In?

So how do these productivity challenges fit with collaboration? Some of the data from a recent study we did of 200 users of social/collaboration tools shows that bringing social tools into the enterprise does not automatically mean they will increase productivity.

Andy Hutchins, director of content and collaboration at Avanade UK had this to say about consumer social media platforms in the enterprise:

But a key point here is in the capabilities of these technologies,” he said. “Certainly Facebook and Twitter aren’t integrating with wider collaboration activities. They’re not integrating with documents, with organizational data, with the communications and directory services of an organization. So you’re not really connecting to bring an organization together and connect its people and work with real data.”

Another recent article by Dr. Charles Law called “Do Collaboration Tools Boost Workplace Communication?" looks at the use of e-mail, IM/chat and video conferencing in the workplace. From his research he said:

But should organizations continue to rely on text-based, asynchronous communication when research overwhelmingly indicates that there are better options? Clearly, there are better ways to communicate and collaborate if organizations are willing to evolve and adapt, and it is likely that successful organizations will do so.”

One idea I would like to put forward here is that there is no either/or, but that both enterprise-oriented and consumer-oriented social and collaboration tools are evolving in parallel. This explains much of the confusion around “what tools should I pick?” that I often run into when working with end-user organizations. I also propose the idea that productivity is the ability to do work processes better.

How Collaboration is Changing Enterprise Processes

In a recent study we did on both collaboration vendor and end-users, we found that about 60% of management (as opposed to 10% in 2009) were aware of social tools and aware of their benefits.

But this implies the question (not asked in the survey) -- do they really know what they are getting into? My guess is not. Let’s take a look at this in view of critical processes for the enterprise.