Slow PCs are killing productivity: study

Slow, outdated computers and intermittent Internet connections demoralise workers, a new study has found. By Chris Stokel-Walker

It was the third hour of doing nothing that broke James Scott.

The 25-year-old researcher was sitting at his desk at an insurance firm in northern England when the Internet went down. And with it went access to all of his files, which were sitting on a company server.

“Being without the Internet is manageable, just about,” he said. “I’d just work on projects that didn’t require online research. But being unable to access any files for half a day meant I was totally unproductive.”

Scott ended up reading a vaguely work-related book while checking every 10 minutes to see if the company was back online. The three wasted hours? “Infuriating,” he said.

Slow, outdated computers and intermittent Internet connections demoralise workers, a survey of 6 000 European workers said. Half of UK employees said creaking computers were “restrictive and limiting”, and 38% said modern technology would make them more motivated, according to the survey, commissioned by electronics company Sharp.

Scott’s PC runs the relatively up-to-date Windows 8 operating system, but his computer sometimes struggles to handle large spreadsheets and multiple documents open simultaneously, slowing him down.

Others are in a worse spot. One in every eight business laptops and desktops worldwide still runs Windows XP, which was introduced in 2001 and abandoned by Microsoft in 2014, according to data collected by Spiceworks, an IT network monitoring firm.

Half of all businesses have at least one PC running the 16-year-old operating system. And in the UK, thousands of computers used by hospitals are still using XP, according to tech website Motherboard.

“Employers don’t realise they are spending thousands of pounds on salaries but — by refusing to update office IT — are wasting money,” said Mohammad Ali Khan, MD of Pacific Infotech, a London-based IT consultancy. “The stuff employees can probably do in half an hour, they’re sitting for an hour or more because their equipment is too slow.”

Charlotte Robson, 27, works in London’s finance sector. Her workplace computer runs through a remote desktop, connecting to an offsite server — ostensibly to allow employees to work remotely. However, that also means that things load slower than they should, even if you’re in the office.

“The app takes a long time to load up and occasionally it just kicks you out,” she said. “My main gripe is that for no discernible reason it takes ages for me to switch between programs.”

She spends about 15 minutes a day just waiting for her computer to unclog itself. The average British employee wastes 40 minutes a day because of slow technology, the Sharp survey said.

Some businesses can’t help using old hardware or operating systems, because they use specialised software that also hasn’t been brought up to date.

“Not only would they have to spend on the hardware, but they’d have to fork out for the upgrade to the software,” Khan said.

Office workers can take solace in the fact that bad IT annoys computer professionals as much as it does rank-and-file office workers.

Saurav Dutt, 35, was a member of a London-based IT firm that provides services to law firms. He was making a presentation to potential customers at an exhibition in Manchester. His speaking slot came right after a Google marketing executive — a prime opportunity, he thought.

But the system ground to a half — due, Dutt said, to the outdated computers his company was using for its live demonstration.

“It wasn’t just embarrassing, but it also led to a loss of credibility,” Dutt said. “When you’re a business consultancy selling IT services, you expect to have state-of-the-art equipment.”  — (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP

Share this article

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    It’s not the PC hardware or OS. It’s the systems that run on them, and the infrastructure they run on that’s almost always at fault.

  • Jonathan H. Pienaar

    I agree. The Celeron I bought 4/5 years ago came with Windows 8.1, which was unusable. It now runs Mint with XFCE and I’m seldom waiting — except a faster internet would be nice – hey Telkom 😉