The pandemic has shown that when it’s safe and restrictions allow, the desire for people to travel and meet is there. But everything in corporate life ultimately comes down to profit, performance and productivity.
It’s tempting to see remote working as a panacea, but despite the immediate savings in office costs and travel spend, many business owners have realised that human connections have a huge impact on business success.
In this and subsequent articles, we’ll look at five interlinked factors that enable smarter business connections in a changing work environment. First, we look at the financial impact of human connections on savings and productivity.
During the first lockdown, working from home (WFH) was estimated to improve productivity by 13% but these productivity gains may prove short-lived. Research also shows that better communication and collaboration can increase productivity by 25 - 35%. That’s why organisations need to consider overall costs and productivity.
What is productivity?
The pandemic has been a productivity disaster for workers dogged by home schooling duties, poor connectivity and make-shift workspaces. So much so that two thirds of home workers were requesting a partial return to office after nine months away from their offices.
For WFH to deliver productivity gains, employers need to adopt a flexible approach by offering home workers the option of one day per week in the office, as well as enough room and the right facilities to work at home. Workers also have to be offered the choice to work remotely or from the office. These are the conditions that deliver smarter business connections.
Long-term absence from the office impacts innovation. In-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and face-to-face meetings are essential for developing new ideas and keeping staff motivated and focussed.
Lockdown has raised fundamental questions about how we work and how productivity is measured. Employers need to define productivity in their organisations, understand its value and what causes shifts in productivity
Leveraging resources vs exploring new opportunities
The human tendencies to explore new opportunities and leverage existing resources are overt as companies grapple with the changing nature of work.
Choosing to work remotely helps to utilise what a company has already built through face-to-face activity because it appears efficient and safe. Yet when we look at the nature of the work carried out remotely, it is mainly transactional tasks.
Virtual is not as effective as face-to-face. It’s less so when it comes to exploratory work or transformative, innovative discovery. Performance and productivity are underpinned by social connections and soft skills, so being productive requires organisations to explore rather than just leverage what’s immediately to hand.
A lack of physical social interaction can take a range of psychological tolls on workers, from attrition to burnout. These human costs abstract from financial savings.
Incremental productivity from remote working may be impossible to sustain because long-term remote working decreases opportunities for critical relationship-building.
There is evidence that while WFH can improve productivity amongst employees who are more visible in an organisation, productivity falls amongst the less visible. 64% of UK workers feel invisible within their organisations and have suffered a productivity drop since working remotely.
The cost of not travelling must also be considered. From the hard cost of overrunning projects and deploying staff on those projects to lost opportunities, missed revenue and frustration.
At NYS, we’re working with our customers to understand the true cost of not meeting face-to-face on savings and productivity - as well as finding the right mix of solution to connect virtually and in-person. Get in touch to discuss how we can support.
 Nicholas Bloom, co-director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research.