Paying for Productivity: is it worth it?


Whilst we’re very used to being told technology is too distracting, and consequently detrimental to our productivity, new companies constantly emerge who claim to utilise technology and the internet to boost focus and end procrastination altogether. However, this help generally comes with a price tag – sometimes a rather hefty one.

The range of products is huge, from equipment to websites to apps – companies utilise all areas of technological advancement in order to sell their productivity-boosting tools to distracted employees.

One emerging product, currently more popular in the US, is the workplace treadmill. These ‘treadmill desks’ combine work with exercise, with some claiming to improve productivity by as much as 10%. However, this is despite some studies finding that output actually dropped significantly due to employees’ fine motor skills being impacted by the movement. Within 2 to 6 months, employees would generally get used to the constant slow walk on the machine, but until then focus was largely shifted to learning how to simultaneously walk and operate office equipment.

Outside of hardware, web-based services like ‘Focus@Will’ aim to improve concentration by producing ‘attention amplifying music’. The idea is that for a monthly fee they’ll provide a library of instrumental music that is neither too relaxing nor too distracting, aiming to oust ‘environmental distractions’. Despite Focus’ figures boasting a huge 400% increase in employee’s attention span, it is likely that every workplace, and every employee, responds differently to stimuli. It’s highly unlikely that attention-boosting music is a one-size-fits-all service.

New advancements in tools for productivity may also blur the line between work and home, with some services allowing access to documents 24/7. This means there’s the potential of tech producing overworked and stressed staff, rather than quick and efficient task management. There are a lot of online services that allow remote project collation and whilst there are detriments, they are only becoming more popular. Scott Myatt, the chairman of NBBJ, the architecture firm responsible for Google and Amazon’s buildings, theorises ‘the social side of work may soon be the only reason we have office buildings’.

On a more unsettling note, new and emerging wearable tech may allow employers such access as tracking employees’ movements and monitoring cognitive activity. These kinds of advancements threaten to undermine the boundary between observing and encouraging productivity, and creating a Big Brother state that invades worker’s privacy.

Whilst it’s clear that there’s a wealth of performance-boosting apps out there, with so many, do they become a distraction in themselves?

Workplaces will never return to tech-free environments, instead, technology will become increasingly abundant which is why it is vital to differentiate between that which is genuinely helping productivity and that which is simply a gimmick. With equipment like the treadmill desks potentially costing employers tens of thousands of pounds, companies are not afraid to charge for their productivity-boosters, which in some cases may in fact hinder more so than help.