Whilst total production fell in the UK through 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic, average productivity increased marginally on hourly output measures, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Perhaps neither of these figures are wholly surprising, given the vastly different types of jobs done by people all across the UK.
Retail and leisure for example suffered terribly. Many knowledge workers increased their productivity as a result, in part, of not having to undertake the daily commute and business travel, coupled with the additional concentration accessed through not working in an open-plan office with constant interruption. According to Statista figures for example, 57% of UK tech workers surveyed felt they were more productive working from home. Whilst for some people, working from the spare room with pets walking over the keyboard and home-schooling children may certainly have offset some of these gains, the net effect was a small UK-wide improvement on 2019 figures.
The cost of productivity 2020
More than the statistics though, is the fact that plenty of people who worked from home, many for the first time, found it difficult to maintain formal boundaries and their improved productivity came as a result of starting earlier in the day, ending later, or both. Such blurring of the lines resulted for many, in feelings of overwhelm and burnout. From our conversations with our HR professional community, these were feelings experienced by smart, experienced people, well used to managing heavy workloads, who just found it difficult, amongst the relentless pace of virtual meetings, to prioritise the strategic and important over the seemingly urgent.
And despite a largely positive outlook reported by UK CEOs recently in a PwC survey, the challenges we all face around delivering our KPIs, may get more difficult before the situation gets better because workforces in many industries are shrinking as businesses restructure in order to manage costs. All employees, regardless of seniority, will be faced with the task of achieving more with fewer resources. And not just for the medium-term. The upside of flexi- or hybrid-working that many organisations are set to adopt, will mean making decisions about work priorities from the privacy of your home-office, will be the way a large swathe of the British workforce operates permanently.
Helping leaders and managers prioritise
A recent McKinsey report suggests that productivity could improve by 1% per annum until 2024 if organisation take action now. That action includes increasing automation and a rapid and widespread adoption of digitisation. That seems reasonable enough as a proposal.
But what if organisations could also help each and every person within it, actually to work smarter, more efficiently and in ways that were more focused on what the organisation deemed to be critically important? What would the multiplying effect of that increased engagement and focus be on aggregated productivity? Real and significant, we would suggest.
So, how could such changes be brought about you might well ask? Here are three vital approaches that will help organisations deliver greater productivity without breaking the backs of employees:
1. Invest in developing an outcome-based culture (OBC), which is a medium-term strategy that depends on developing the leadership cohorts to be able to lead in this way. It is not a big deal for many skilled leaders but a huge shift in mindset and skillset for leaders and managers who still lead from more of a command and control approach.
2. Develop a learning culture for all, via a blended approach, using humans and e-learning platforms. Whilst there are a multitude of areas where increasing a learning focus will play dividends for productivity, perhaps there is nowhere better to start than improving data literacy across entire workforces. The ability to see, understand, interpret and respond effectively to data is central to new ways of working, such as lean methodology.
3. Provide each employee with a suite of on-demand digital solutions to enhance their performance. Nearly twenty years ago the marketplace was full of the “leader as athlete” idea, where leaders were seen as analogous to Olympic athletes who should consider their diet, sleep patterns, physical fitness etc. All still highly relevant. And … as you may have noticed if you watch almost any sport nowadays, most elite athletes have real-time digital feedback on their physical condition and performance via smart wearable technology. The organisational equivalent? Smart tech that maximises the productivity of every individual coupled with wellbeing solutions that aid recovery.
From us to you - Coaching Corner
Here are three powerful questions to help you for sustainable improvements to productivity in your organisation:
- What resources do we already have that we aren't leveraging or could leverage more that will support sustainable productivity?
- What additional resources do we need to assign to help employees at all levels of the organisation improve perform consistently?
- How can we support leaders and managers working virtually, to lead in a way that couples support and challenge, resulting in improved sustainable productivity?
It would be easy for businesses to see improvements in productivity and take the eye of that particular ball. We feel that would be a mistake. Primarily because the cost of achieving such output figures has been real and significant for many people and they are now feeling the effects of such an extended 'backs-to-the-wall' effort. Continuing to invest in culture and interventions that will produce more effective, rather than only more, outcomes, will be key if the best organisations are going to thrive. If you need any further advice just set up a short call, we'd be delighted to help if we can. Best of luck.
Exigence works with organisations to deliver full-stack HR leadership development solutions, from Executive and senior team coaching to group and AI coaching. If you would like to discuss how we can help you deliver quantifiable impacts for your organisation, we'd love to hear from you - just contact us here.