Improving productivity in the workplace during the pandemic era

Here Tim Ringo, author, speaker, board advisor, and senior executive, writes exclusively for Business Matters about the importance of productivity and how the sudden need for flexible working proves to be a bonus for people performance.

The pandemic crisis has unleashed a quiet revolution that is transforming our ability to finally address declining people productivity. For the past ten years we have been in the longest period of declining productivity since measurements began over 100 years ago.   Economists are stumped to understand why this is the case.  Recently, I spent time researching this phenomenon to understand the causes and define proven solutions by applying my 30 years’ experience designing and running large scale people and technology transformation programmes.

Among the conclusions I came to, one of the key elements was the importance of the workforce experience inside an organisation. How is work done, who does it, and why. I came up with an “equation” to describe a capability that top performing companies put at the heart of their operating model: People Engagement Innovation and Performance.

Right People + Right Skills + Right Place + Right Time + Right Motivations = PEIP

PEIP is a strategic capability that not only creates a workplace that tries to align people to what they do best.  An engaged workplace is a fun place to work, but it is also a competitive advantage. Some of the highest performing companies like Google, Microsoft, Accenture, IBM, SAP have implemented PEIP strategies to create competitive advantage, and this is reflected in their people engagement scores as well as share price performance.  This is a capability that not only applies to these large enterprises but to small and medium sized companies as well. In fact, it has been my experience that smaller organisations have an advantage in implementing PEIP, as they have fewer legacy processes and technology to contend with, simplifying the efforts.

The energy to implement this new way of working was already underway when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, organisations, big and small were faced with an urgent need to ensure the safety of the workforce, while keeping the organisation running.  This was the beginning of an unlikely confluence of events that has forced a quiet revolution in rethinking the workplace and how work is done. As a mentor of mine said to me after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent crisis: “sometimes a crisis knocks us on to a completely different path than we were on before”.

This is one of those moments, where we have been knocked onto a different path, one where we have a tremendous opportunity to think and do, differently. Unlike 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, this is a human health crisis, focused on keeping people safe and productive in the workplace. Now that the urgent crisis has passed, and we are in state of getting on with the business at hand, many organisations are finding that this enforced flexible working has improved people engagement and performance.  Not having to commute for one or more hours per day, can now be used as productive time.  Many report that more time at home with family has improved people’s quality of life.  So, what now? The following are some questions people have often asked me, recently:

Half of the UK workforce has been working from home in 2020, will this continue to rise in the next year?

It depends on how we define “working from home”.  Full-time working from home, or part-time?  Full-time working at home, I think will be significantly less than 50%, but certainly more than 7%, post-pandemic.  However, part-time working from home will remain popular and much more accepted by managers, than before the pandemic. This category could very possibly stay at or go above 50%.

How would you recommend an organisation getting started with introducing flexible working policies?

First, I would recommend doing a Strategic Workforce Plan to understand the motivations, skills as well as the supply and demand for the efforts of your workforce.  This should be for the short term (next 1-2 months) and medium term (2 to 12 months).  Doing this will help you understand what scope there is for flexible working.  From there I recommend a workforce survey to understand peoples’ attitudes to flexible working. Once these things are established, a program can be designed to test the design and get feedback. If all good, roll it out fully.

Flexible working takes away the pressure of presenteeism – do you anticipate this having a positive impact on performance and wellbeing? If so, how?

I think flexible working will impact and reduce the mindset of “presenteeism”.  I believe that this change in mindset will evolve over the coming months.  I do see people still in the mindset of presenteeism, by using technology to show that they are “on” or “in the home office” during the pandemic.  However, over time, I think managers will relax about this, and people will not feel the pressure to be seen to be “at work” as more trust is built.

So, now that we are presented with this unique prospect, the question: will we make the most of it.  It is a critical time in the history of the workplace, with many challenges in front of us.  Will we turn them into opportunity to think and do differently?

Tims new book Solving the Productivity Puzzle published with Kogan Page is out now.

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