The challenge of worker productivity continues to rear its head. Faced with a global productivity slowdown, how should businesses find a stretch from their workforce? The results of a recent study by Workfront points to the potential size of the prize. The study finds that only 43% of a typical knowledge worker’s time is spent doing the job that they were hired to do. The majority is spent performing largely administrative and meaningless tasks and addressing distracting emails that inevitably carry a lower opportunity cost. This is also listed as the top factor that leaves employees unfulfilled at work. The trick therefore for businesses seeking out productivity is to pry these tasks away from their professionals and push them down to more junior resource and automation. Further studies find that we spend most time replying to emails in the mornings, whereas the part of the day that we tend to focus most on our core jobs is mid-afternoon. ‘Task jumping’ (leaping between many small bits of work) is identified as a significant productivity drag. But how do our office environments address this? For most of us, we will sit at the same desk every day, facing off to a live information terminal, which fires new tasks at us constantly. If productivity is more to do with longer periods of concentration (with or without others), then this feels like a very unsatisfactory arrangement. In my first job there was an ‘e-mail computer’ in the corner of the office which was the only way to send and receive emails (a bit like a fax machine). Desks were then left to concentration tasks. Backward progress?