16 July 2015 | Martin Read
It's a mysterious, unseen force with a tremendous impact on overall business performance.
It's never been adequately measured, with those who've tried arriving at wildly varying conclusions - and it's an issue that desperately needs tackling if UK plc is to become more competitive.
Facilities management? Actually, no, at least not today. I'm talking about productivity. Because it turns out that the UK is pretty poorly placed when compared to our G7 partners, with the reasons for our stuttering productivity having exercised many economists' minds over the years.
As we went to press we'd just had the chancellor's Budget with its rapidly rising and rebranded minimum wage. But we were also awaiting the government's 'Plan for Productivity', due out on Friday, 10th July. Talk is of new infrastructure projects, which is all well and good, but much more needs doing. There are many macro-economic issues, some of which have been exacerbated by the longest recession since the 1930s, and a recovering economy will doubtless fix some of that. But that doesn't explain how we in the UK lag so far behind our G7 partners.
If productivity truly is a case of 'doing more with less', then investment in new technology offers itself as a pretty straightforward solution. Ah, but has anyone noticed just how much new and theoretically life-changing business technology we've all had to absorb over the past couple of decades? In terms of business performance it doesn't necessarily feel like a brave new IT-driven world. Announcements about ever-faster broadband infrastructure and the software to go with it are not likely to bridge a IT credibility gap that has widened over years. Yes, IT can help in getting more being done with less - but that doesn't necessarily tell us whether what's being done is being done well.
Is this problem specific to the UK? Are we an overtly cynical nation, prone to taking the odd not-very-sickie and otherwise gaming the system? It's a consideration. But into all of this, and surely just as crucial, is a focus on the individual and their immediate surroundings as opposed to the tools on their screens. Happy people in happy workplaces can surely make all the difference in the world to productivity.
A recent visit to Chiswick Park shows just what can be achieved when a vibrant workplace is tended to by a dynamic facilities team. Not every company can provide for its workforce in this way, but ludicrously high survey scores for how workers at Chiswick Park rate their personal productivity - 95 per cent and rising - surely need to be taken seriously.
The working environment and how it is managed is key. And let's face it, we have never lived through a time so rich in well-sourced evidence of how optimised workplaces can lead to at least the perception of optimised output. So many current themes (worker wellbeing and engagement come to mind) can help FM put its case for how it can positively influencing individual productivity. It should surely feature front and centre in the national productivity debate.
Martin Read is managing editor of FM World