The brave new world of hybrid productivity

Leaders must spend time shaping their idea of what a hybrid working culture should look like and become a living example of the behaviours that define it, says Agility in Mind CEO, Andrew Jones

Many conversations within businesses have moved from surviving the impact of the pandemic to future planning and growth. Yet over half (51%) of business decision-makers in the UK, for example, were worried about productivity levels in their workforce as we moved into the next stage of the pandemic with hybrid working becoming the norm.

This was according to research commissioned by my company, Agility in Mind, in partnership with research house, Censuswide, which discovered that three in five leaders believed that hybrid working would make it harder to capture the hearts and minds of their employees. This has likely only been exacerbated by current circumstances at the time of writing, with disparate UK workforces following instructions to work from home where – and if – they can.

As seen in global phenomenon, ‘the Great Resignation’, many employees have questioned what they want from their lives and have reflected on how work aligns with that, often changing their expectations of their employers. Leaders must now think differently and challenge their own constraints, placing people back in the centre of what they do and encouraging them to identify with the goals of their business.

Balancing the ends and the means

We all know that employees who feel good about their jobs are more productive and better for the organisation as a whole. Our research indicated that over 85% of UK business decision-makers do want to find new ways to improve employee productivity, motivation and engagement, believing that it’s the key to success – however, many just don’t know where to start.

A starting point for leaders might be considering what they really mean when they talk about productivity; is it the hours someone has worked or the outcomes achieved? Stepping out of traditional working practices – many of which have perhaps already been abandoned in the wake of the pandemic – and allowing flexibility and adaptability in your teams can motivate individuals, driving business success. This comes down to perceiving trust as a key driver among your team.

People, not resources

Recognising the differences between your employees can help you to see them as assets, not resources. It is they who will create the products or services that customers need, so investing in people to ensure that they are developing their skillsets, and are aligned enough with the overall business vision that they are making good decisions, is vital. Now especially, the road to success is one of empowerment.

Unsurprisingly, the ever-adaptable tech sector is particularly amenable to making changes which will benefit their employees, in turn increasing productivity. One such example is Atom Bank, which has introduced a four-day working week for its 430-strong UK workforce. Despite weekly working hours falling from 37 to 34, their pay has been promised to remain the same. CEO, Mark Mullen, commented: ‘With Covid-19 causing vast numbers of people to reconsider how they want to live their lives, anything that leads to more productive, healthier and, crucially, happier colleagues, is a win for everyone.’

Three key questions for managers exploring employee productivity to consider are:

  1. Do you have a culture of continuous improvement where people are not prepared to do things as they’ve always been done?
  2. Do you cherish the skills you have in place and invest in new skills for the future?
  3. Do you celebrate diversity in its many forms and welcome thinking beyond the norm?

Building a positive (hybrid working) culture

A new challenge that leaders are facing is building a positive culture in a hybrid working environment where team members are dispersed. Central to creating an atmosphere and ethos which is inclusive and productive are three factors: employee alignment with the company’s mission, managerial responsiveness to issues, and diversity of thought. Leaders must spend time shaping their idea of what the culture should look like and become a living example of the behaviours that define it.

The success of this can make or break an employee’s perception of an organisation, damaging their productivity. This is something we have seen ring true in the endless stream of high-profile whistleblowers in the media. For example, Chelsea Glasson who left Google in 2019 alleging pregnancy discrimination or, more recently, Frances Haugen who supplied Facebook’s internal documents to the US Congress indicating that the company was failing to remove misinformation or take steps to improve its impact on teenagers’ mental health.

Failures such as these, which are often reflected in the culture of an organisation more broadly, isolate someone from the supporting company’s mission. And this can lead to disenchantment, detachment and stagnation – no doubt this can be said in many of the cases of ‘The Great Resignation’.

The road to productivity

Leaders wanting to harness the power of their teams must have a vision for growth and ensure their organisation understands and identifies with it. While many leaders across all sectors might be nervous about embracing change, true adaptability will be recognised by employees and rewarded with increased productivity. Businesses in all sectors must remember these new rules of engagement as they plan for the future.

Andrew Jones is CEO of management consultancy, Agility in Mind.

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