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In New Zealand we’re great at using our trademark “Kiwi Ingenuity” to establish businesses, get projects done, serve customers and sell. We’re busy and get stuff done, but does this make us productive?

Statistics say not so much.

Productivity is focused on the outputs – what we’ve got to show for our efforts. Here in New Zealand we are hustling harder than most, but have less to show for it. In fact, we work 24% more than those in Denmark, and produce 40% less! With all this talk of a four day work week it’s brought productivity to centre stage. Producing more with our effort is key to achieving a better bottom line, and work-life balance.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks us 21st on a list of 35 developed countries – we produce US$40.9 of GDP per hour worked over a working week of 33.8 hours on average. Denmark, chosen for this comparison for its similar size, is ranked 6th, producing US$67.6 of GDP per hour worked, with an average week of 27.2 hours. France and Germany are ranked 7th and 8th.

Our GDP looks good for our size, but diving a little deeper shows that it’s likely the net gain of around 70,000 people a year (2015-17) artificially inflating this. Our unemployment rate is low at 4.4%, according to the OECD; but more people and more work doesn’t make us more productive. We cannot rely on working harder alone.

So how do we do it? That brings us on to the topic of using technology to support productivity.

Over the next few blogs we are going to be talking about how a better use of technology can support us becoming a more “sustainable and productive economy.”

Some say technology is the knight in shining armour for our productivity and economy, while others pour cold water on this and say it’s going to take our jobs or just get in the way.

But before we enter a debate, let’s talk about why productivity is important in the first place.

Why is it so important to focus on productivity?

We’ve always been gutsy in New Zealand, making our voices heard from a small island in the middle of the pacific doesn’t come from sitting back and riding the wave. The thing is, according to economist Shamubeel Eaqub, over the last four decades we’ve worked harder, not smarter to stay competitive on the global stage. We can’t flip a country’s work ethic on it’s head over night. It’s going to take long term reform to address the productivity issue we face, but if we do it will make a happier and healthier society. Sounds good right?

Productivity is not just an economic concept. It is centered around humans and has real implications on society when done well, or in our case, when there is a shortfall. When a country is more productive, everyone benefits; from commercial organisations to schools, hospitals, Government and other public or community sectors. It gets investors thinking with their checkbooks both domestically and overseas. This is important to counter our geographic isolation. It becomes a virtuous circle; more productive companies, lead to more investment and more productivity. Societies like this attract and retain people, ideas and capital.

Better productivity is far-reaching in it’s effects and leads to higher average standards of living and improved well-being. This is not only important for our current standard of living but for future generations.

The Productivity Commission of New Zealand says: “The higher the productivity of a country, the higher the living standards it can afford and the more options it has to choose from to improve wellbeing. This can be increased by things like quality healthcare and education; excellent roads and other infrastructure; safer communities; stronger support for people who need it; and improved environmental standards.”

The difference between working hard and being productive

Time is one of the most valuable elements in any organisation. The old saying, “Time is money,” is highly relevant when talking about productivity. While our economy has improved over the recent decades we are working harder than ever and not reaping as much as we could.

Productivity is all about getting the most out of every minute you put in. But change is hard, often organisations face the issue of employees digging their heels in and grasping onto their current practices, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Gently un-digging heels is an art, and often reassurance is needed to make the switch in the way people work.

With the right methodology, attitude and tools we can take control over of productivity and work together across all industries to improve the way we do things.

The most recent two yearly review of New Zealand by the OECD concluded: “Labour productivity remained an Achilles heel for New Zealand – and well below leading OECD countries. Improving productivity growth is a major long-term challenge for improving inclusiveness and living standards,” the report said.

We are well-known internationally to be low on the productivity scale – not a sought after reputation. That is another good reason it needs to be addressed.

So bring on the technology

Emerging technology has huge potential to grow productivity in the longer term. This is already happening through having increasing access to these tools, due to the scalability of cloud infrastructure.

Consumers will drive the change – one look at Uber, AirBnB and the like confirms this. But it’s not all robots and automation; better productivity also means having more time to innovate. Tools such as G Suite underpin this productivity push, by empowering your employees to collaborate more efficiently. In the end, your productivity benefits your customers; through faster response times, more ways to communicate, and better prices.

On the flip side, there’s a huge volume of commentary about technology taking away jobs with warnings that we should embrace it at our peril. Even the World Economic Forum says: “ICT and other new technologies may actually have some negative side effects that undermine productivity and GDP growth” due to aspects such as time to learn, adapt to new ways of working, deal with security and manage interruptions.

Technology is shifting the goalposts, it is changing the way we live and work, and it’s not going away.

Moving forward

The first step towards increasing productivity is prioritising it as a business goal, and evaluating your current standing. Review your practices and models and consider how these can be amended in a sustainable way.

It’s safe to say most people are expecting technology to play an increasing part in our lives in the future. Embracing this, and riding the wave will be key to harnessing the productivity advantages it will inevitably bring.

However, to change our way of living and working, so we are more productive based on our use of technology, will take time. Just as it took time to realise the value from the steam engine, electricity and computer power in the previous three industrial revolutions, it will take time for us to adapt to the current changes under the umbrella of Industry 4.0.

Bring on more playtime.


Join Dynamo6 and Google on October 3rd in Auckland for our event, “Get more done with Google.” We will be discussing how G Suite enables businesses to be their most productive. Find out more here >