Increasing employee productivity makes a huge difference to company performance, and drives competitive advantage. Over the years, organizations have introduced different initiatives, technologies, processes and even transformation programs to move the needle on productivity, with varying degrees of success.
According to consultants at Bain & Company, the top 25% of companies, who manage employees’ time effectively, introduce robust talent management processes and ensure their employees are sufficiently energized, can be up to 40% more productive than their competitors. These companies are at a significant competitive advantage, and in the fragile post-pandemic global economy, good productivity has never been more essential.
Productivity is important for individual employees, as well as the teams they belong to. Engaged employees want to be able to keep on top of their work, deliver to the expectations of their manager and support their colleagues, for example, to successfully meet project deadlines. They also want to experience effective work-life integration and balance so they can spend time with family and friends. These priorities are all impacted by employee productivity and an individual’s ability to make the very best use of their time to get things done.
But here’s the thing: there’s data to suggest that the hybrid-remote workplace provides an opportunity to improve employee productivity, ticking the box for CEOs, team leaders and individual employees, for all of whom productivity is important.
The implications of this are that any company not actively moving forward with a hybrid-remote workplace could end up with a competitive disadvantage, missing out on a significant opportunity to support better productivity.
Let’s explore five ways that the hybrid-remote workplace supports better productivity.
- Supporting individual employee productivity
The move to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has been highly challenging; previously, only 5% of the US workforce had worked remotely, but this rocketed to 60% almost overnight. While multiple aspects of this move have proved to be a steep learning curve both for organizations and employees, a surprising outcome is that employee productivity has improved as a result.
Numerous studies and surveys have come to this conclusion. A study from Great Place to Work, based on 800,000 employees across Fortune 500 companies, found that employee productivity was significantly higher in May 2020 (87%) than May 2019 (74%), with working from home being the main operative factor. A survey of employers from HR specialists Mercer found 94% of organizations had increased or experienced the same level of productivity compared to the period before the pandemic. Even individual academic studies have shown some fascinating results; a study from Harvard showed that call center workers at a large online retailer who worked from home during lockdown increased their productivity by approximately 7.6% compared to when working in an office before the pandemic.
There are multiple reasons why employees may be more productive when they work remotely. A key reason is the repurposing of time that was spent travelling to work into actually getting things done. Another is the ability to avoid interruptions and maintain focus; a survey of employees found that 90% of people working from home felt they could better concentrate on one activity for longer. There is also a potential link between improved wellbeing caused by remote working and better productivity, a theme we’ll explore in more detail below.
Given these kinds of productivity gains, it’s no wonder so many organizations are envisaging a future of work that is remote and hybrid.
- Offering choice to maximize productivity
Despite the positive results from various studies, it would be a mistake to think that working remotely always equates with increased productivity. There are significant groups where remote work, particularly working from home, reduces productivity and is not even a viable option.
Interruptions from small children, poor connectivity, local noise, cramped living conditions, a lack of air conditioning in warmer climates, other family members working from home – these are all factors which can impact productivity. People renting or sharing housing with others are also less likely to have a suitable place to work; in the UK, two thirds of people renting accommodation do not have access to a private workspace.
It can also be lonely working remotely, and some people greatly prefer having other co-workers nearby. Some people who generally enjoy working from home can also need a change of scene to stay motivated. In a recent post, we covered the different profiles of people in relation to where they want to work; these include the “Take Me Backs” who are desperate to return to the office full-time and as soon as possible!
One advantage of the hybrid-remote workplace is that it gives individual employees the choice to come into the office whatever the reason, either due to less-than-ideal circumstances at home, their own personal preferences or the focus of their current work. This means that each individual can work from the location that is going to be the most productive for them.
- Optimizing productivity for certain types of work
Most people’s roles involve different types of work and activities. They could be spending a morning making phone calls, writing a detailed report which requires concentration, focusing on an afternoon of coding or breezing through a list of tasks. Some work may require more collaboration with co-workers which is best done in person. Some may need to meet online with co-workers from the other side of the world.
Employee productivity can be optimized by aligning the type of work and output required, and the working location. For example, before the pandemic, many of us may have chosen to work from home if we needed a quiet place with no interruptions because we were working on writing a report which required real focus.
The hybrid-remote workplace allows employees to plan their working location based on the task in hand so they can maximize their productivity. Research from a team at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) examined 2,000 tasks across 800 jobs, looking into the kinds of activities that better suit remote work and assessing the potential across fifteen categories, such as “updating knowledge and learning” and “interacting with computers”. The team found huge differences in suitability for the kind of work that can be carried out successfully in a remote location, and the activities that might be better suited to the workplace. The MGI research has some implications for industry sectors like financial services, where more activities suited to remote working prevail.
The ability to optimize productivity by aligning work activity and location is facilitated by a platform like OfficeTogether that enables employees to plan where they are going to work based on what they need to do.
- Helping improve team productivity
So far we’ve focused on individual employee productivity, but team productivity is also critical in areas such as project delivery, customer service and Agile development. Arguably, team coordination and communication can be more challenging when everyone is remote. In fact, a survey from Ringcentral of over 4,000 employees found that 40% had struggled more with “group work” than other kinds of tasks when working remotely.
The remote hybrid workplace can help by allowing team members to be able to plan those times when working together face-to-face makes more sense and where those kinds of group tasks around coordination, information sharing and collaboration can be carried out. In any project there will be different stages and activities when working more closely together is necessary, and other times where tasks are more focused on individual activities.
The combination of a hybrid-remote workplace and OfficeTogether can maximize team productivity by facilitating the coordination of team visits to the office and providing that little bit of “team collaboration magic” that underpins good team productivity.
- Improving employee wellbeing
Arguably, the ability for people to have flexibility and choice on where they work is good for wellbeing and engagement. We believe the hybrid-remote office is going to be essential to attract and retain top talent.
When a hybrid workplace supports employee wellbeing, it has the potential to enable better productivity. Instinctively, it seems obvious that a more engaged, happier and healthier workforce is going to work more productively, but there’s also some evidence to support this. An academic study from 2019 analyzed 339 independent studies from Gallup that covered the wellbeing and productivity of nearly 1.9 million employees, and found a “strong, positive correlation between employee wellbeing, productivity, and firm performance”.
The hybrid-remote workplace and productivity
There’s certainly more work to be done in researching the role the hybrid-remote workplace plays in productivity, and as hybrid workplaces become the norm, we think more good practices will emerge.
However, the evidence from remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, the choice of working location so employees can work where they are going to be most productive, and the general impact on engagement and wellbeing shows the potential positive impact the hybrid workplace can have on productivity. This is a key factor to consider as organizations define their workplace strategies for the short and longer-term.