IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity: Task Level Evidence


  • Sinan Aral
  • Erik Brynjolfsson
  • Marshall Van Alstyne


In an effort to reveal the fine-grained relationships between IT use, patterns of information flows, and individual information-worker productivity, we study task level practices at a midsize executive recruiting firm. We analyze both project-level and individual-level performance using: (1) detailed accounting data on revenues, compensation, project completion rates, and team membership for over 1300 projects spanning 5 years, (2) direct observation of over 125,000 email messages over a period of 10 months by individual workers, and (3) data on a matched set of the same workers' self-reported IT skills, IT use and information sharing. These detailed data permit us to econometrically evaluate a multistage model of production and interaction activities at the firm, and to analyze the relationships among key technologies, work practices, and output. We find that (a) IT use is positively correlated with non-linear drivers of productivity; (b) the structure and size of workers' communication networks are highly correlated with performance; (c) an inverted-U shaped relationship exists between multitasking and productivity such that, beyond an optimum, more multitasking is associated with declining project completion rates and revenue generation; and (d) asynchronous information seeking such as email and database use promotes multitasking while synchronous information seeking over the phone shows a negative correlation. Overall, these data show statistically significant relationships among technology use, social networks, completed projects, and revenues for project-based information workers. Results are consistent with simple models of queuing and multitasking and these methods can be replicated in other settings, suggesting new frontiers for IT value and social network research.

Suggested Citation

  • Sinan Aral & Erik Brynjolfsson & Marshall Van Alstyne, 2007. "Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity: Task Level Evidence," NBER Working Papers 13172, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13172
    Note: IO PR

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sanjeev Dewan & Kenneth L. Kraemer, 2000. "Information Technology and Productivity: Evidence from Country-Level Data," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 46(4), pages 548-562, April.
    2. Anandhi S. Bharadwaj & Sundar G. Bharadwaj & Benn R. Konsynski, 1999. "Information Technology Effects on Firm Performance as Measured by Tobin's q," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 45(7), pages 1008-1024, July.
    3. Eric von Hippel, 1998. "Economics of Product Development by Users: The Impact of "Sticky" Local Information," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(5), pages 629-644, May.
    4. Dale W. Jorgenson & Kevin J. Stiroh, 2000. "Raising the Speed Limit: U.S. Economic Growth in the Information Age," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(1), pages 125-236.
    5. Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2000. "Beyond Computation: Information Technology, Organizational Transformation and Business Performance," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 23-48, Fall.
    6. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-1284, December.
    7. Ichniowski, Casey & Shaw, Kathryn & Prennushi, Giovanna, 1997. "The Effects of Human Resource Management Practices on Productivity: A Study of Steel Finishing Lines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 291-313, June.
    8. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    9. Breusch, T S & Pagan, A R, 1979. "A Simple Test for Heteroscedasticity and Random Coefficient Variation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(5), pages 1287-1294, September.
    10. Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin Hitt, 1996. "Paradox Lost? Firm-Level Evidence on the Returns to Information Systems Spending," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(4), pages 541-558, April.
    11. Tridas Mukhopadhyay & Surendra Rajiv & Kannan Srinivasan, 1997. "Information Technology Impact on Process Output and Quality," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(12), pages 1645-1659, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Benoit A. Aubert & Blaize Horner Reich, 2009. "Extracting Value From Information Technologies," CIRANO Burgundy Reports 2009rb-04, CIRANO.
    2. Tobias Böhm & Nadine Riedel, 2013. "On Selection into Public Civil Service," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 59(1), pages 34-71, March.
    3. Beland, Louis-Philippe & Murphy, Richard, 2016. "Ill Communication: Technology, distraction & student performance," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 61-76.
    4. Luis Garicano & Paul Heaton, 2010. "Information Technology, Organization, and Productivity in the Public Sector: Evidence from Police Departments," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(1), pages 167-201, January.
    5. Mohamed Kossaï & Patrick Piget, 2012. "Utilisation des technologies de l'information et des communications (TIC) et performance économique des PME Tunisiennes :une étude économétrique," Brussels Economic Review, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles, vol. 55(3), pages 305-328.
    6. Liu, Ting-Kun & Chen, Jong-Rong & Huang, Cliff J. & Yang, Chih-Hai, 2014. "Revisiting the productivity paradox: A semiparametric smooth coefficient approach based on evidence from Taiwan," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 300-308.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D2 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty
    • J44 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Professional Labor Markets and Occupations
    • L8 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services
    • M0 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - General
    • O30 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - General

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13172. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.