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More than a remote work experiment? How productivity has changed

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Six months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, most organisations have settled into new, more digital ways of working and collaborating.

Even though the crisis is not yet behind us, businesses should seize this chance to evaluate their performance through a new lens – and to reshape themselves into more resilient, flexible and productive organisations.

Herein lies the opportunity for business leaders to use the lessons of the successful work-from-home experiment and its rapid shift to digital platforms to create a better business, one that is more human, more effective in integrating technologies, and more ready to innovate and develop.

The starting point is the workforce and how it works. What can we learn from the stress test we have endured as a result of the coronavirus crisis? 

For some organisations, their employees are spending more hours in front of a screen, yet delivering less from a productivity standpoint. Others have seen increases in productivity and performance. The difference, I believe, lies in the level of support from management at a time many people are struggling with the demands of being a productive employee, partner and parent.

The answer lies in a dual strategy that focuses on people and processes.

Suppose a business leader assumes their people are motivated purely by a salary, or their processes don’t need adjustment to create more productive conditions. In that case, they are making significant but common errors. Why? Because they cannot just define processes without taking employees and managers on the same journey.

Productivity is primarily about the output: how many items come off the line, the number of customer calls made, which KPIs are targeted. But focusing only on output leads companies to regard their employees as drones. Though driving employees hard may initially deliver higher output, the quality of the output may suffer; plus, issues such as staff attrition may impact productivity in the longer term.

What’s more, unhappy and demotivated employees will struggle to offer a great customer experience. Happy workforces lead to satisfied customers. In a customer-centric business culture, that satisfaction relates directly to ultimately meeting customer needs. The result is a virtuous circle: satisfied customers lead to satisfied employees lead to happy customers.

Building a productive culture

The synergy between happy customers and a happy workforce is enabled by processes, hence focusing on people and processes will improve productivity. There are several ingredients necessary to improve productivity. One of the first is to recognise the vast importance of culture in fostering customer-centricity, accountability and productivity.

The second crucial ingredient is strategy. This strategy drives how the business defines output and success, then scrutinises the culture and processes – the way business is being done – determining the outcomes it needs. This approach reveals the choices as well as their consequences.

One approach is to change the process, making it more automated. But that may influence an individual’s job, and they’re going to need to be upskilled to take on new tasks and roles. This should be a two-way street. Managers can say what needs to change, but it’s the employee on the ground who uses the process. They should be able to give feedback.

Change isn’t always easy. Some people might resist improvements because it means adapting to change. Many of us can easily conflate the comfortable with the necessary. The secret to high and continued productivity is to be people-centric. This doesn’t mean being led by employees, but to honestly listen to their needs, and invest in their buy-in for the strategy and vision.

Four steps to a productive culture:

  1. Look for inefficiencies: Where are the bottlenecks? Unpack processes and roles, looking for better ways to do things, such as automation.
  2. What are the problems? Are you dealing with a workforce problem, or a process problem, or a management problem?
  3. Growing the business: You need to challenge yourself and ask if you’re still on the right course.
  4. Experiment: Don’t be scared to experiment, regardless of whether you got a positive or negative outcome.

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