Bosses hope to extend remote work productivity boost beyond pandemic

07 January 2021 Consultancy.uk
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More than 60% of global firms have enjoyed a productivity increase during 2020’s lockdown months – and hope to maintain it even beyond the pandemic. While the gains of the UK lag behind other leading economies, meanwhile, the less intrusive approach bosses in Britain have taken to remote working may mean the productivity boost of their workforce is more sustainable.

A majority of organisations witnessed strong productivity gains in the third quarter of 2020 by allowing employees to work remotely – even though for a brief window of time, many lockdown restrictions were loosened. According to a new study from Capgemini – which surveyed 500 organisations worldwide – employee productivity grew at 63% of organisations, thanks to less commuting time, flexible work schedules and the adoption of virtual collaboration tools.

In terms of industries which saw the greatest boost to productivity, understandably service sectors less dependent on physical input were the biggest winners. Around 68% of IT and digital functions saw gains, followed by customer service at 60%, and sales and marketing at 59%. However, despite the association of manufacturing with manual processes, digitisation and the use of technologies like artificial intelligence also helped 51% of organisations to see improved productivity in the production sector – while only 26% saw declines in productivity.

Percentage of organizations reporting productivity change due to remote working in Q3-2020 by function

The global average as to how greatly productivity increased ranges between 13% and 24%, with a weighted average of 18%. This was higher in several economies, including the US – where the weighted average was 21% – and leading nation Germany which saw its weighted average hit 24%, and a top rate of 32%. Meanwhile, respondents in the UK reported a more muted 10% weighted average, and a top rate of 14%.

Globally, the improvements mean that the vast majority of organisations are looking to increase remote working – even beyond the pandemic. According to Capgemini, only 39% of executives expect their staff will work fewer than three days per week from home, with 38% of staff saying the same – reflecting a broad consensus between bosses and workers that a major change is on the cards in the long-term.

Range of approximate productivity gains achieved due to remote working in Q3 2020 by country

However, a larger number of staff want flexibility when it comes to how often they work, rather than to simply be dictated a schedule. While only 11% of employers indicate a willingness to tailor homeworking to the needs of staff, 16% of workers believe that is the best way forward. There also appears to be significant conflict between the methods deployed by management to ensure productivity and the welfare of their staff – something which will inhibit the effectiveness of any remote working model in the future.

However, the methods many top economies are deploying to boost productivity under remote working will need to change drastically if the expectations around the longevity of this mode of work are to be realised. Around half of all global employees told Capgemini they felt micromanaged while in a remote setting – something which was highest in India at 68% and the US at 64%.

Meanwhile, more sinisterly, 59% of global workers said their organisation had installed remote work management mechanisms, and feared being surveilled by such technology in a remote environment. This was highest among US respondents, at an alarming 66% – while India was again above the average at 60%.

What will be the frequency of remote work at your organization in the next 2-3 years

The UK was much lower on both counts by contrast, with 37% of staff saying they felt micromanaged, and 48% feeling surveilled. While just 46% of Britain’s businesses might have seen a boost to productivity (and 16% saw no change) – leaving it well behind the likes of India and the US, where close to seven-in-ten firms recorded productivity leaps – the UK may well have better luck at sustaining its improvements than many of the economies ‘outperforming’ it. According to Capgemini, 66% of employees who feel they are being micromanaged also feel burnt out in a remote setup.

At the same time, UK respondents feel more connected with their company, despite their organisation’s less intrusive approach. The majority of respondents did not feel disconnected from their employer or colleagues due to homeworking – the lowest of all countries surveyed, and in stark contrast to the US and India, who both saw more than 60% of respondents say they felt alienated from their fellow staff and bosses.

As the mental health impacts of isolated working have already proven to be a major buffer when it comes to enjoying productivity boosts from remote working, this suggests that many global organisations need to rethink their homeworking strategies if they are to avoid significant declines in performance.

Claudia Crummenerl, Capgemini Invent’s People and Organisation Managing Director at Capgemini Invent, commented, “The impact on the mental health of the workforce in a remote setting can be detrimental. Executives therefore need to actively step in and offer additional support to create an environment where people can openly talk about their concerns and can foster a better work-life balance.”

“Communicating the organisation’s values and beliefs in an impactful way and developing a sense of trust for the workforce are critical aspects for striking stronger connections. All this, backed by a suitable digital infrastructure… can drive employee efficiency, and eventually the sustenance of a hybrid working model.”