Does productivity rise or fall with hybrid work model?

Recent report reveals key factors influencing output of employees

Does productivity rise or fall with hybrid work model?

Recently, productivity has been top of mind at Deloitte Canada. 

While the consulting company has moved towards greater flexibility in its working arrangements for the better part of a decade, the pandemic put a magnifying glass on the situation and pushed it to adopt a “next normal” model, says Kathy Woods, national workforce transformation leader in Toronto. 

“It's not enough just to say, ‘OK, our people can work where they need to work.’ That's not enough. You have to go deeper and consider: ‘But how? How are you going to support everyday life? And hold up that decision? How do you make sure that no one will feel disadvantaged from the choices they are making, based on how they're being evaluated, provided opportunity, provided coaching, provided connectivity to their team?” 

As part of that, Deloitte is delving into how it wants to measure and monitor the productivity of its 11,000 employees in Canada, she says. 

That will include more robust indicators when it comes to outcomes, employee wellbeing, employee sentiment, the energy levels of people, and more dynamic KPIs “that allow us to see that bigger equation when it comes to what productivity really adds up to, as opposed to just the number of hours that our people are working. We want to make sure that there's lots of ways for us to understand where there's opportunity to be better when it comes to productivity across all those dimensions.” 

Looking for answers 

From the moment employees started working from home — whether because of the pandemic or earlier — the issue of productivity has dominated: Can people be as effective at home as at the office?  

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) recently delved into the issue with a global survey of more than 360 business executives. And the findings are mixed, with 13.2 per cent citing a “significant” increase in productivity, 25.8 per cent reporting a “slight” increase, 28.5 per cent reporting no increase, 29 per cent citing a “slight” decrease and 3.6 per cent reporting a “significant” decrease. 

Not surprisingly, larger companies have the competitive edge because they tend to be more digitized and have the funds to invest in information security and digital security, says Naka Kondo, senior editor at the EIU. The type of company also matters, says the report A Changed Workplace After COVID-19, with 61 per cent of financial services executives reporting better productivity, compared to 26 per cent for transport and 32.5 per cent for manufacturing. 

But in looking more closely at what’s contributing to the rises in productivity, reduced commuting times (66.9 per cent) come out on top, followed by flexible hours (52.8 per cent), strong company culture helping with teamwork and communication (50.7 per cent) and the use of digital collaboration tools (47.2 per cent). 

“[It’s about] empowering [employees]… so that they feel like they have some sway and control over how they allocate time,” says Kondo. 

As for culture, many employees rarely cite salary when it comes to their preferred employer; instead, it’s more about having a sense of purpose, she says. 

“That was the engine or the fuel that helped or propelled people to keep on going under these stressful times.” 

When it comes to drops in productivity, these are influenced by collaboration becoming more difficult (70.6 per cent), mental health challenges (68.1 per cent), distractions at home (53.8 per cent) and lack of tools for information management (38.7 per cent). 

While there are great perks to the flexibility of remote work, “face-to-face interactions cannot be fully replaced, even with state-of-the-art technology,” says Kondo. “You can't really ignore the human factor… and employers would benefit from thinking about how it is that they can balance this out.” 

It’s also important to consider not just the availability of digital tools but to educate employees on how beneficial they can be, she says. 

“If you’re not providing the training around those tools, then you're not going to see that productivity, that collaboration.” 

Deloitte looks for solutions 

One of the biggest issues for Deloitte when it comes to productivity is shifting away from the mentality that productivity equals time and effort, and moving towards productivity being equal to the outcomes that it’s driving, says Woods. 

“And the outcomes should be measured on not only the outcomes we're driving for our clients, but the outcomes we're driving as a business, the outcomes we're driving in our communities, and the outcomes that we're driving for our people and their wellbeing.” 

Also important are the digital tools, and making sure everyone has access to the right tools, which means not only the right hardware and software but trying out new technologies and collaboration tools in the quest to keep innovating, she says. 

“Those have to be complemented with really good soft skills, like how to facilitate hybrid meetings really well, how to design for meetings and workshops really well. Even just one-on-one conversations, and how to use [the] digital tooling at their disposal so that they're getting more out of every conversation that they have.” 

But the human side of the equation is key, says Woods. 

“The [employers] that are paying attention to it are the ones that will do well. Because

you can't look at productivity without the wellness of people in mind as part of the equation; otherwise, it's not a sustainable metric to be looking at.” 

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