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Productivity Paradox: Productivity in the Age of Knowledge Work

How the growth of Apple in the Enterprise is changing the way we think about productivity.
Jan 17th, 2024 10:00am by
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is a familiar refrain among IT leaders in today’s metrics-focused business environment. While the importance of data-driven decision-making in a period of economic uncertainty is undeniable, not every valuable outcome can be neatly quantified, nor does every quantifiable metric truly capture value.

A manufacturer might measure the productivity of their factory floor by dividing the total output by the total labor hours used to produce that output. A farmer meanwhile might calculate the productivity of their farm by measuring their yield per acre. However, when it comes to measuring worker productivity in the digital age, the value of these types of output-oriented metrics begins to falter.

Is a software developer who writes more lines of code more productive than one who writes fewer but more efficient lines? Is a content creator who publishes daily necessarily more valuable than one who releases in-depth pieces monthly? And what role does technology, the engine of innovation in the era of knowledge work, play in the pursuit of productivity?

Recently, we commissioned a survey of 300 IT leaders to better understand how their organizations think about productivity in the context of the technology their employees use. Specifically, we wanted to understand whether the usage of Apple products is changing and whether or not giving employees a choice in the technology they use has improved their productivity.

We sometimes forget that every employee within an enterprise is, at their core, also a consumer.

Notably, 76% of large enterprises indicated that there’s been an upsurge in the use of Apple devices within their organization. Furthermore, more than half (55%) believed that the use of Apple devices facilitated a significantly enhanced level of productivity among their employees.

So what can the rise of Apple in the enterprise tell us about the ways we think about and measure productivity in today’s information-based economy?

Leaning into Choice

Traditionally viewed as a consumer-centric brand, Apple has carved out a highly profitable niche for itself with its hallmark combination of quality hardware and user-friendly software. Yet, as the delineation between our personal and professional lives continues to blur, Apple’s influence has expanded, establishing a solid footprint in the enterprise IT market.

We sometimes forget that every employee within an enterprise is, at their core, also a consumer. Their personal preferences, shaped by daily interactions with personal technology, inevitably spill over into their professional lives. Consequently, the ubiquity of Macs, iPhones and iPads in the consumer market has sparked a growing demand for these devices in the workplace.

This shift has only been hastened by the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) movement, wherein employees sought to use their trusted personal devices for professional tasks, yearning for the familiarity and ease of use they’ve grown accustomed to.

Instead of resisting this tide, more and more forward-thinking enterprises are instead leaning in. For one, IT leaders have recognized that specific hardware platforms matter less these days as they shift more of their applications to the public cloud.

For a new generation of Digital Natives, the freedom to choose their preferred technology isn’t just a perk but often a key factor when evaluating employment opportunities.

Reliability is another major factor, especially for remote employees who don’t have an IT helpdesk at their disposal. And when our survey respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Apple takes enterprise security, compliance, and privacy concerns more seriously than other vendors,” three-quarters of them concurred.

This demand for choice isn’t just a fleeting trend but seems especially pronounced among younger workers. For a new generation of Digital Natives, the freedom to choose their preferred technology isn’t just a perk but often a key factor when evaluating employment opportunities.

With the rise of remote and hybrid work models, device preferences have become even more pronounced. Our survey underlines this trend, revealing that a striking 56% of users felt that iPhones and iPads better catered to the productivity needs of remote workers, a figure that stands in stark contrast to the mere 15% who felt the same for Android devices.

3 Productivity Principles for the Future of Work

Most of us recognize that time spent working doesn’t automatically translate to being more productive. However, if we are not comfortable with the tools we are being asked to use then by any measure, productivity will undoubtedly be impaired. Consider these three principles for reframing how we evaluate and measure productivity:

  • Familiarity Breeds Comfort: At the heart of Apple’s success in penetrating the enterprise market is an often-underestimated consideration: user familiarity and preference. The relationship between a user and their device isn’t just transactional; it’s emotional and habitual. People develop a unique bond with devices that seamlessly integrate into their daily lives. Long-time Apple users have also become acclimated to the iOS or MacOS interfaces, be it the gestures, the applications, and the tightly integrated ecosystem. This familiarity translates to quicker task execution, less time spent troubleshooting, and an overall sense of comfort. When these same individuals enter their workplaces, it’s only natural for them to prefer the same environment they’re already adept at navigating.
  • Outcomes Over Outputs: The economist Charles Goodhart noted that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” In other words, when organizations become fixated on specific productivity metrics or output-focused targets, they can inadvertently introduce perverse incentives that are not fully aligned with their strategic objectives. And when employees are judged purely on output, there can be a tendency to stick to what’s known and avoid risks. By placing a premium on outcomes, you encourage creative problem-solving and innovation, as the emphasis is on achieving the best results, not merely replicating previous efforts.
  • Measure What Matters: Evolving the way we measure productivity is essential in today’s knowledge-based work environment. As validated by our survey, knowledge workers feel a heightened sense of productivity when they have the autonomy to select tools and products that resonate with their creative inclinations. Traditional productivity metrics, which often lean heavily on efficiency-oriented quantifiers, may not aptly capture the nuances of a knowledge worker’s contributions. Instead of counting hours logged or tasks completed, the emphasis should be on the effectiveness and impact of their work. This is not to say that quantitative measures should be entirely sidelined; rather, it underscores the need for adopting metrics that truly reflect the essence of a knowledge worker’s role. By rethinking how we measure productivity, organizations can foster an environment where creativity and meaningful contributions are genuinely recognized and valued.

While we can’t always objectively prove that a new tool or technology makes us more productive, we often intuitively know if we’re not. No doubt the nature of knowledge work will continue to evolve and as it does, we’ll need fewer “productivity hacks” and more substantive ways to measure and benchmark our progress.

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