Microsoft says it's true: Cat videos, mails and tweets distract employees

Impact of technology on productivity depends on company culture
Economists have been puzzled in recent years by the so-called “productivity paradox,” the fact that the digital revolution of the past four decades hasn’t resulted in big gains in output per worker as happened with earlier technological upheaval. Many developed economies have actually seen productivity stagnate or decline.

A survey from Microsoft Corp is bolstering one theory about this disconnect. In a poll of 20,000 European workers released Monday, Microsoft, which became one of the world’s most profitable companies by marketing office productivity software, acknowledges new digital technology can, in some circumstances, make businesses less productive.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft joins a growing number of prominent Silicon Valley companies and entrepreneurs that are starting to question the social benefits of the technology they once championed. Facebook warned in December that its social network might, in some cases, cause psychological harm.

Microsoft identifies a number of possible reasons for this negative impact, including: workers who are too distracted by a constant influx of e-mails, Slack messages, Trello notifications, texts, Tweets — not to mention viral cat videos — to concentrate for sustained periods; workers who aren’t properly trained to use the new technology effectively; tech that isn’t adequately supported by the business, forcing workers to lose time because “the computers are down;” and workers who suffer burnout because, with mobile devices and at-home-working, they feel tethered to the job around-the-clock.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t saying that technology dampens productivity in all cases. Instead, it says that tech’s impact depends largely on the culture of the business. Those with a “strong digital culture” saw productivity gains from technology while those with what Microsoft termed a “weak digital culture” didn’t.

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