A recent blog post by John Cassidy in the New Yorker posed an interesting question – “What happened to the internet Productivity Miracle?”.

The author examined the change in productivity (as measured in output per hour in the non-farm sector) over the past two decades – and found that growth in the 90s and early 2000s was strong, but has tailed off since 2004. Here is the data charted per the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

In a possible explanation for this downturn in productivity growth, the author quotes Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University:

Many of the inventions that replaced tedious and repetitive clerical labor with computers happened a long time ago, in the 1970s and 1980s. Invention since 2000 has centered on entertainment and communication devices that are smaller, smarter, and more capable, but do not fundamentally change labor productivity or the standard of living in the way that electric light, motor cars, or indoor plumbing changed it. These innovations were enthusiastically adopted, but they provided new opportunities for consumption on the job and in leisure hours rather than a continuation of the historical tradition of replacing human labor with machines.”

recent poll conducted by Avanade certainly supports Robert Gordon’s view. Of particular note is the overwhelming adoption of consumer-oriented social technologies for enterprise social collaboration:

Interestingly enough, it appears that BYOD is extending beyond the device into BYOCT – our “Bring Your Own Collaboration tool” (if that terms catches on, please ensure to let me know).

Andy Hutchins, director of content and collaboration at Avanade UK had this to say about consumer social media platforms in the enterprise:

“But a key point here is in the capabilities of these technologies,” he said. “Certainly Facebook and Twitter aren’t integrating with wider collaboration activities. They’re not integrating with documents, with organisational data, with the communications and directory services of an organisation. So you’re not really connecting to bring an organisation together and connect its people and work with real data.”

Bringing the right people together with the right information in the right context at the right time is the key to driving effective collaboration. And consumer-oriented tools are not designed for this task.

The question is – why do enterprise customers continue to adopt consumer social networking in place of enterprise collaboration tools? Is it ease of use that is driving early adoption? Or are individuals, per Robert Gordon’s view – simply consuming on the job?

With individual productivity having been strongly impacted by technology in the 1990-2004, some visionaries argue that the future of productivity lies in enabling groups. Don Tapscott, renowned author (and speaker at last year’s Avaya Evolutions show) notes in his latest TED talk.

The Internet is becoming a giant global computer. And every time you go on it, upload a video, do a google search, you remix something you are programming this big global computer that we all share. Humanity is building a machine, and this allows us to collaborate in new ways”

A recent article by Dr. Charles Law entitled “Do Collaboration Tools Boost Workplace Communication” looked at this topic is some detail, looking at the use of email, IM, Video Conferencing and Virtual Conferencing in the workplace.

“But should organizations continue to rely on text-based, asynchronous communication when research overwhelmingly indicates that there are better options? Clearly, there are better ways to communicate and collaborate if organizations are willing to evolve and adapt, and it is likely that successful organizations will do so.”

While there is no easy answer to which tools the enterprise should adopt in driving better internal communication, it is clear that the search for higher individual productivity is daunting at the very least. With GDP per hour worked stagnating despite the introduction of game-changing technologies (social media, smartphone, apps, etc.) the future leaders will emerge as companies who better enable teams to communicate. How will your organization drive higher productivity through collaboration?