The Internet has changed how we shop, communicate, collaborate, and do “research,” but it hasn’t been clear whether the combined result makes corporate employees more productive or less.
Because time is finite, any additional time spent on work activity must have come from time previously spent on other activities, according to Scott Wallsten, researcher at the Technology Policy Institute, who just published a paper analyzing changes caused by online leisure activities.
How much time employees spent using company-owned computers and networks for non-work activities has been a hot topic between IT and end users for decades, but has receded a bit since BYOD became more common among major corporations. That doesn’t mean BYOD eliminates productivity-wasting online play, or that employers have forgotten about the issue.
It probably means that top managers are satisfied BYOD is an advantage based on studies that use fuzzy criteria to define what amounts to an increase in productivity, which overestimate the impact and may produce results not applicable to all organizations, according to an April analysis from Nucleus Research.
Ninety percent of the cost of mobile computing comes from the cost of the network, data and voice services, application development, support and mobile-management software, according to the Nucleus report. Those are all hard, quantifiable IT costs that could help create accurate estimations of how good a return BYOD provides on the investment put into it.
Those calculations tend to be fogged by “feel-good claims around productivity and vendor proclamations that lack a financial foundation,” according to Hyoun Park, lead author of the study. (PDF)
In March Intel Corp. claimed an increase of five million work-hours per year resulting from its BYOD program; Cisco claimed its BYOD program saved it $2 million per year.
Intel’s claim is based on an estimated daily time savings of 57 minutes for each of the 24,000 employees in the program.
“This is a difficult estimate to believe,” Park wrote. If true, it’s a key differentiator to which Intel investors should pay attention. If not, it would undercut a lot of the credibility of BYOD’s contributions to productivity.
Traditional, managed corporate IT environments make tech tools easy to find and limit choice to those that can help employees accomplish goals set by the company, yielding an average productivity gain in the low single digits, Park added.
BYOD productivity is based on an employee’s judgment about which tools will increase productivity rather than reduce it, as well as the ability of the device and its apps to do anything to help. Devices that crash a lot, lose a lot of data or just don’t accomplish much aren’t likely to add working hours to an employee’s day, according to Park.
The upshot is that even the most productivity-enhancing device won’t actually enhance productivity if the things end users use them for are not things related to work.
Wallsten used results from eight years of the American Time Use Survey to calculate that American consumers spend 0.27 fewer minutes working for every minute of online leisure. They also lose about 0.05 minutes of socializing and 0.04 minutes of relaxing and thinking. They also spend 0.29 fewer minutes in offline leisure for every minute of online cruising.
So, if Americans are spending that much time online, businesses should be losing (on average) many minutes of work per day. However, that doesn’t include any additional time added by BYOD or ubiquitous access to both work and work colleagues with demands – another hazard of BYOD programs.
A report published in May by British Telecom found that, of more than 2,000 IT people interviewed from 11 countries, 60 percent said they already use a personal device connected to the corporate network and 80 percent thought BYOD would give the company a competitive advantage.
Only 42 percent of employees in the same survey said their participation in BYOD had improved their productivity.
Image:Shutterstock.com/ Nagy-Bagoly Arpad