Open Thread: Are the Tools Issued By Your Employer Hindering Your Productivity?


According to a study published today by K2 Advisory, UK employers are hindering corporate productivity by failing to measure their employees’ satisfaction with technology. The report says there is a generational gap between “baby boomer” bosses and their younger, more IT-savvy staff, which leads to frustration around the choice of corporate devices issued to employees.

The report is damning: Only 65 percent of organizations carry out employee satisfaction surveys, and of them, roughly half bother to measure employee satisfaction with their technology devices, despite their importance for workplace productivity.

Dissatisfaction with corporate-issued devices and software has led to employees are bringing their own tools into the workplace. This can cause problems for corporate IT departments; it’s something I wrote about in a recent post for GigaOM Pro, “How to Manage Consumer-Grade Collaborative Tools in the Workplace” (sub. req.). However, it’s also worth noting that the difference between what we consider “consumer” and “enterprise” tools is shrinking rapidly: ????Gartner’s Nick Jones says he expects that there will essentially be no difference between the two within five years.

I’d like to get the opinions of the corporate web workers in the WWD readership about the tools that you use. How do you find the equipment and software (including web apps) that are issued to you by your employer? If they’re not up to scratch and are hindering your productivity, do you go ahead and use your own gear?

Photo by Flickr user SuperFantastic, licensed under CC 2.0.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): How to Manage Consumer-Grade Collaborative Tools in the Workplace



I’m an engineer at a really big computer company, and it’s clear that our tools purchasing decisions are made as part of “we sell you x, and buy y from you” deals, so we end up getting the worst tools in the industry. I’m a multi-discipline engineer, so I get to enjoy the worst of SCM, EDA, and solid modeling tools.

If your employer buys industry-leading tools and is hiring, please speak up.


It’s amusing to read how smart everyone here is. Smarter than management, smarter than IT, in fact some of you think you’re “the smartest people in the company.”

If you’re all so smart, why do you have jobs at such crappy, backward companies? I would think with your brilliance you’d be running your own fabulous company with the happiest employees on the planet and everyone would be lined up to work for you since you know what is best for everyone.

Lou Mason

Management is doomed. Guys with degrees from the sixties following Herzberg into a financial catastrophe. 7 yr old hardware, 8 yr pld software + current operating systems = SLOW. My machine is paused so long by the time it resusitates I am in another office trying to but not succeeding to maneuver around the obsticles to productivity. I don’t make a lot but I make more than my company looses paying me to just sit there. We’d a been fine if we had not upgraded the operating systems but that has to happen.
Its sad, they’ll only hire guys who harumph well. And believe me we have seen um all.

One unhappy worker

I work in marketing for a Fortune 100 company. When I started in 2006 I received a ThinkPad, a docking station and a 17-in. monitor, which I still use. At the time, my job description was limited to basically working with Word, so it was reasonably suited to the task. It originally ran Win NT but after encountering multiple networking issues while traveling (for work) the “help desk” helpfully installed WinXP. Ability to join non-work networks improved, but boot-up times were on the order of 10 to 30 minutes. After suffering with this for some weeks, I complained and they helpfully upgraded my memory from 500 k to its max — 2 MB.

In the last four years, my job has changed, and I do much more than my then-manager expected when I was hired. However, my computer has not changed and is ill-equipped for the new duties. When the Marketing Director asked IT to provide me with a better computer, the IT Director said, “Sorry but to cut costs we’re holding off all computer upgrades for another year.” (However, new hires get much better computers than I have. Figure out how *that* rule helps work efficiency.) Fortuitously, when I need to do something that requires a real computer, my boss allows me to work at home — on my own personal and properly equipped 27-in. iMac. When I travel, I carry my own personal MacBook Air rather than injure myself lugging the 900-lb ThinkPad.

Do I *need* an iMac and a MacBook Air for work? Nope, and I don’t expect to have that. I need and expect a computer system with enough resolution/memory/guts to open & edit one high-res image or an average video clip. I don’t think that’s so much to ask. But our IT group thinks computers should suit the median needs of the business, not the actual needs of the business users. Give me that computer allowance everybody keeps talking about….

Stephen Fishman

Many of the comments belie what is commonly referred to as “old school IT” thinking.

Not the concerns of managing large scale IT stability are wrong or misguided, but that the thought orientation that causes them to be articulated as they are is not aligned with enterprise business strategy.

The best metaphor I have heard to describe the thought process is this:

Why do we have brakes on a car?

To be able to slow down?

Wrong! If you did not have brakes you might drive a car very differently and very slowly.

The actual purpose of brakes on a car is to allow the driver to go fast safely. That is why they exist.

When enterprise IT confuses its obstacles as its purpose we get the dysfunctional relationship between IT and business that pervades a large majority of large enterprises.

It is my belief that IT management and executives should be reminded that their #1 purpose is to allow the business to achieve bigger results faster. When this orientation is foremost in the minds of employees who create and enforce standards, which clearly have usefulness to large enterprises, the need to create a homogenous and fully supportable IT ecosystem can be more appropriately balanced against the drive for agility and change. It is this balance that will help to minimize the tendency to scuttle innovation and productivity.


Wow, it’s clear from most of the comments here that none of these people deal with infrastructure or support any kind of large org.

Developers all each want to use their own favorite tools? Great, when your app takes and dump and you are unavailable, who is gonna fix your crappy code when none of the other devs are familiar with the code or the tools, or even have the tools installed?

Oh yeah, Antivirus software sucks, always slowing my PC down. I don’t know where you people work, but if a good day one virus hit my desktops and took down a large # of my desktops for more than a day, it would impact how we do business enough to impact my company’s stock price. Let’s just let everyone run whatever crappy free downloadable AV that is probably half spyware itself on their PCs.

Oh yeah, IE6 sucks too, lets let everyone use whatever browser they want. You devs make sure your apps work no matter what browser, because some jerk is using the latest dev of Chrome, another guy has a version of Firefox from 2007, and Suzi just installed the IE9 beta, and they all want to be able to see their paystub, and set their benefits, and do their expenses.

Let’s open every kind of IM and Skype, so people can share any kind of info with those outside the company with no evidence. And be sure and allow Streaming Video and Itunes, because our employees can’t find enough ways to waste time just READING stuff on the web.

Really, there is a balance between paranoia and productivity, and it does require a tiered approach in large orgs, but when you are re-imaging some developers laptop for the 2nd or 3rd time because he has admin rights and surfs the internet like a pre-pubescent teen, you gain some insight into why most orgs have standards and protections in place.

George Rivas

The revolution is coming. Corporate IT cannot use the security scare tactic forever. The web 2.o market is developing tools at a far higher rate than IT departments can “approve” them. The end result is that everyone is more productive at home than at work … check that. The REALLY GOOD PEOPLE are more productive at home than at work. Does it make any strategic sense for a company to frustrate/irritate/castigate their best and most advanced workers for the sake of consistency, etc? It is a death spiral that has already begun. Check out “Far From the Factory” on Amazon to see how we recommend that workers use Lean principles to redefine processes and select modern tools — and how to justify them to your risk averse IT, your stodgy management, and your totally out of date accounting principles.

Samuel Driessen

Nice post! My answer would be yes and no. For one I work for a printing company. We get to use our own highly-productive printers. Secondly our IT departments aren’t focused on productivity, but on implementing technology. Employees at our company learn themselves to be productive. I’ve been giving workshops on this topic inside our company. Lastly, we have different computer profiles. I selected one of the most open ones to be able to tweak my computer to be more productive. And I’m pretty happy with that.

Wai Yip Tung

When will company stop providing their employee company issued laptop? Instead I hope they can just issue me an allowance and let me pick the laptop of my choice, which I’ll own myself. Computer is cheap. And being a technical person I’m perfectly capable to setup my computer and handle all the technical issues. The corporate IT is more a hindrance than help for me.

There are 2 issues that with the current company provided computer approach.

1. My personal work is thoroughly mix up with my professional work. Theoretically I should do my professional work in day time on company computer, and personal work in evening with my own computer. But the time partition is often blurred. And who doesn’t reply a personal email during day time? And the line between personal contact and business contact is not a clear cut one anyway. And it is just not possible for me to carry two computers for separate purpose. I bet most people probably do lot of personal work on company issued computer.

2. Secondly I’m doing a lot of thing on the company computer that’s clearly not directly related to business, like making comments on Will this come back to bite me as an abuse on company resources? Our company’s culture is to trust the employee to do the right thing rather than monitoring them like a big brother. Still it is the company’s computer. (And ironically we are making a product for enterprise to monitor and control network use within a company.)


I have never worked at a company where the “tools” caused productivity problems. The usual cause for lost productivity: Human incompetence, whether it be endless meetings, stupid policies, laziness, ignorance, or just plain stupidity.


Most definitely the devices, tools and applications provided by my employer hinder productivity. I often find myself using my own software that I will purchase out of pocket, as well as hardware to allow me to be more productive. A Blackberry from two years ago wouldnt allow for me to review urgent documents that required immediate response to C-level contacts, and the company unwilling to “upgrade” my phone for fear others will want their phones updated, I turned to my own personal phone to allow me to work better.


These stories are always amusing because they presume that the tool the employee prefers is the best tool for the job. Often the employee thinks they are “more productive” with their preferred tool simply because they have more experience with it. Employees will often dig in their heels and resist learning something new because it is more effort than just doing it the way they know how. How many times have you seen someone use a piece of software in a very inefficient way, show them how to do the task in a simpler way, and as soon as you leave they go back to doing it the old way because that is what they are comfortable with.

Sure, things like IE6 should be updated, but not every piece of technology is crap just becuase it’s more than a year old. Don’t forget that buying one of something that is a little bit better (read more expensive) for yourself may not be a big deal, but when you need to buy 500, 1000, or 20000 of them, suddenly you’re talking about real money.

And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that all employees would use the time saved by using “more productive” tools to start doing other productive work. Many employees would just finish their tasks quicker and then goof around during the extra time. So the claims of “increased productivity” should be viewed skepitcally.

Corporate devices and policies are in place for a reason and you would be better off finding out why and trying to work out a compromise with IT rather than finding workarounds or using other tools. In many corporations, bypassing corporate security is a quick path to getting fired.


“Corporate devices and policies are in place for a reason”

The people who pick these devices and policies are usually clueless, spreadsheet driven, CYA types. They are driven by risk avoidance and cost control. Productivity is hard to measure, so it rarely is. Easier to just cut costs and lock things down so you can cover your ass.

Andres Galindo


Presuming that “often software developers are the smartest people in the company” is a huge underestimation of the intelligence that it takes to run all the other aspects of a successful company. That being said, I’m a Lead Developer.

Simon Mackie

that’s a fair point, Peter, thanks for the useful comment. I would note, however, that for many people (developers, for example), forcing them to use tools that they know aren’t as good as the stuff they use at home is likely to lead to resentment (see comments above!). Corporate policies may be there for a reason, but I feel that many organizations would do well to listen to their staff on matters of software and equipment choices.


I would also add, software developers know what tools are the best much more than any IS person who probably doesn’t write code.

Don’t forget, often software developers are the smartest people in the company. And in a software company, they are the ones creating the products. They should be treated as such.


I’m not defending IE6, but there are practical concerns for a corporate IT department tasked with supporting a large user base with a wide variety of job descriptions and technical skill levels. Open up the controls enough so that highly skilled users don’t find their productivity cramped, and then you’ve got the risk of every random temp and production assistant loading up their browser with adware-infested toolbars and installing fake antivirus packages. Try for a tiered approach to provide different levels of control for different users, and you quickly find yourself with a massive tangle of desktop configurations that is impossible to support across a large company.

I’ve heard suggestions where I as a corporate user can get elevated permissions to use different OS’s or install my own software, but only if I waive the right to technical support. That seems reasonable, except the corporate IT people generally have the information security group breathing down their necks about how any devices on the corporate network must be secured.

It’s a no-win situation for the IT department, and as a result, they generally default to overly centralized solutions that minimize the change they have to deal with.


Ditto what jack said. My Fortune 25 (US) employer wants me to develop LAMP-based products from a fully controlled and locked-down Windowz XP laptop with only “IE6” as an approved browser. It’s a joke.

The real developers skirt the policy and install the OS of their choice (Ubuntu, Suse, Fedora, CentOS, whatever) are 5x-10x more productive. But now the managers have had enough of the defiance, and are cracking down. Bye bye productive employees, hello mediocrity.


I’m working currently for a company with about 200k employes around the globe, I’m forced to use whatever software/hardware is placed in front of me. I’m slower in my own opinion and not as productive as I could be as a network engineer.

The last company had another rule: you have a budget for your personal hardware and software that you think will work for you, but there is no support from internal IT for these devices, during on-call or off site work it is your task to have it ready an running, no excuses.

Simon Mackie

I like the idea of getting a “digital allowance” for your own gear if you’re willing to waive technical support, as long as there’s also an option for less tech-savvy people who don’t want o pick their own tools with full access to support,


I’m a software dev at a big enterprise software company.

Yes, the company hinders productivity. They give us crappy Dell laptops running Windows XP overrun with virus checking software that kills performance. Outlook/Exchange is a terrible email system and they ban Google Desktop so we don’t even have a decent way to search Outlook. IM is banned. Skype is banned. Our VPN routes everything through the corporate network which is super slow (~2 MB/s). iTunes is banned. Video streaming banned.

they don’t care about productivity, they care about risk mitigation.

Simon Mackie

Wow, that sounds overly nanny-ish. Maybe the problem is that in larger companies there is more likely to be someone who considers their job to be IT risk management, which is more likely to result in draconinian policies like this being pushed through. Thanks for comment, jack.

Wai Yip Tung

Oh, virus checker is so horrible. I can’t count how many times it fires up itself to do a disk scan while I’m trying to do a demo. It brings the whole machine to a crawl and there is no way for me to pause it.


I would aruge that this is the case for any and it has more to do with the lack of skilled folks to identify productivity beyond tools and processes in many enterprise settings, or tools that work to the level of effort required, not skill of users.

There is no difference in enterprise and cpnsumer software outside of the politics needed to get and support it.

Karen E. Lund

I’m a Boomer, one of those supposedly stuck in old technology. However, I’ve been doing some temp and contract work lately and am stunned that even large firms are still using Internet Explorer 6. Some websites won’t even work with it anymore! (Or is that the point? Security through obsolescence….)

On one assignment we were given access to a corporate SharePoint site. It could have been useful, but nobody gave us any guidance on how to use it! I had to hit up the public library for a couple of manuals so we could make even limited use of its features. Even so, one of the remote users we were trying to share files with downloaded a 2 MB spreadsheet from from SharePoint, made a few changes to it–and then e-mailed it to me to upload again! Yikes!! That’s what non-support will do.

Somebody, not sure who, needs to realize that even the net native millennial generation were not actually born knowing how to use technology. (The younger folk are more comfortable experimenting than most of the older set, though.) We need up-to-date tools and then we need at least a little training in how to use them.

Simon Mackie

Your point about training is a good one.

One of the reasons (and it’s not really a good one, but still) that some big firms make employees use IE6 is that they have expensive intranets or other internal web apps that were designed to work with that version and will break if they upgrade to other browsers (or even newer versions of IE). Corporate IT sees the cost of upgrading the intranet and decides to make everyone use IE6, without considering the cost to productivity (not to mention the horrendous security problems with it, which could introduce massive costs)


I work in a major technology supplier and the tech we are forced to use is both antiquated and not fit for purpose. Everyone is still forced to use windows, which is the first stumbling block as 90% of technical staff don’t use windows at home.

Then we’ve got the push to use enterprise web apps, which are universally awful. In particular the expenses system and timesheet system cause so many wasted hours it can in no way represent value for money, regardless of how cheaply they picked it up from a dodgy snake oil salesman.

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