An international Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey on employee sentiment reveals that productivity can be maintained surprisingly well in a virtual or hybrid work setting, according to a new BCG article, What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work. The survey, conducted in the US, Germany, and India, also shows that there is significant appetite for flexible ways of working among employees, as well as increased openness to this from managers. As working methods become increasingly remote or hybrid in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a key question for companies is how to maintain and improve this productivity in the workplace of the future.
Despite both the speed of the shift to remote working and its scale (the survey found the pandemic forced employers to move about 40% of employees to remote working), some 75% of employees said that during the first few months of the crisis, they have in fact been able to maintain or improve their perceived productivity on individual tasks (such as analyzing data, writing presentations, or executing administrative tasks).
While employees were working on collaborative tasks (such as exchanges with coworkers, working in teams, or interacting with clients), the number was lower, though still more than half—51%—of all respondents said they have been able to maintain or improve their productivity. This applies across geographic areas and both to employees working remotely and to those onsite. “It turns out that social connectivity is a critical element of what enables us to be productive when collaborating in the workplace,” said Debbie Lovich, a BCG managing director and senior partner. “So, for any company looking to adapt to new virtual or hybrid virtual/onsite workplaces, promoting virtual social connectivity between colleagues is going to be critical.”
Key Factors for Enhancing Productivity
When analyzing the data, BCG found four factors that correlate with employees reporting continued or even enhanced productivity on collaborative tasks: social connectivity, mental health, physical health, and workplace tools.
Of these, social connectivity emerged as the most powerful force. Respondents who reported satisfaction with social connectivity with colleagues are two to three times more likely to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks as those who are dissatisfied with this (for mental and physical health and workplace tools, it is about twice as likely).
And employees who experience satisfaction or doing better on all four factors are almost five times as likely to say they have felt able to maintain or improve productivity on collaborative tasks as those who are dissatisfied or doing worse on at least three factors.
A New World of Work
Equally striking in the data is evidence of a seismic shift in the way employees are thinking about their workplace, which is important for how companies recruit and retain talent. In the survey, 60% of employees said they want some flexibility in where and/or when they work. “In the future, we’ll see an increasingly distributed workforce in a workplace whose physical footprint will have shifted beyond recognition and will serve very different needs,” said Adriana Dahik, a BCG managing director and partner.
What all this means for employers is that they will have to work to implement new systems, norms, and technologies that will enable them to continue to support and increase workplace productivity. Key interventions include:
- Identifying ways to maximize social connectivity among employees—whether work happens face to face or remotely
- Creating awareness, tools, and benefits that support the mental and physical health of all employees
- Investing in and building capabilities to use the technologies, tools, and systems that enable employees to work and collaborate remotely
- Measuring employee productivity in conjunction with employee perceptions
- Ensuring that the transitions between respective team norms for onsite and remote are as smooth as possible, giving employees a cohesive experience that feels designed, not random
“While COVID-19 has caused great personal, health, and economic hardship, it has also presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace,” said Lovich. “And doing so will be essential if companies are to meet employee desires for flexibility while harnessing their potential for productivity and remaining competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent.”
Those that get it right will not only position themselves for business success—they will also enable everyone to contribute to the creative, innovative, collaborative, and productive workplace of the future.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The BCG employee sentiment survey ran from the end of May through mid-June. It surveyed more than 12,000 professionals employed before and during COVID-19 in the US, Germany, and India. These employees work in roles such as analysts, engineers, HR personnel, teachers, and health care providers (but not jobs that must be performed onsite such as cashiers or assembly line workers). The survey explored their attitudes toward flexibility, their relative productivity on various tasks (individual, collaborative, and managerial), their well-being, career security, social connectivity, culture, learning and development, and the work tools they use.
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