Saturday, 26 September 2020

Efficiency of Home Working

There have been lots of comments about how well the transformation to home working has gone - with many firms claiming that productivity has remained steady or even increased.  Employees seem to value the flexibility and the lack of commuting time. So - a real win-win situation?

More recently the shine seems to be wearing off. Dig below the surface and there is increasing evidence that home working is taking a toll on employees emotionally, as interpersonal contact diminishes and this lack of contact builds anxiety about job insecurity. 

There is also a reasonable probability that some of the productivity gains being claimed  by employers do not actually exist - with employers misjudging positive employee comments for positive contribution and performance.

Research by 451 found that only 11% of employees felt more productive and more engaged with remote work than working from the office. Not surprisingly, these positive respondents tended to be more senior within a company, had prior experience with remote work, and were generally more tech-savvy, said Chris Marsh, a principal research analyst with 451, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

So, the good performance by a small number of important employees may have skewed overall views.

This is typical of much change.  There is initial enthusiasm which gives a lift to performance but the novelty soon wears off and ‘the cracks in the surface’ start to emerge and widen.

Some companies will have benefitted from the change - but this is much more likely for certain industries and tasks than others. Lack of regular intra-team and inter-team communication can be very damaging for some tasks and processes.

So, look at the figures - and keep looking over time. Home working may work for your organisation - or for part of it.  But other parts may need to get back to the office.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Balancing Productivity & Privacy

Productivity measurement takes many forms but increasingly it involves monitoring of employee attendance and performance.  So, data entry operators have long had their keystrokes per minute monitored, call centre operatives are used to being judged on the number of calls they handle ... and so on.

Since these operators are being paid by the employer, this mostly seems reasonable... though one might argue that the measures used are naive or incomplete. We want call centre operators to resolve customer problems, for example, not ‘get rid of’ customers quickly.

Does the present situation, where many of these operators are working from home, change the situation?  The operators are in a much more fluid and flexible work situation where the line between ‘presence’ and ‘absence’, and between ‘working' and ‘resting’ are much less clear.  Is it reasonable for an employer to closely monitor the employee in such a situation?  What about the right to privacy? Do we want a surveillance work culture?  Remember, this kind of situation is growing at the same time as people are crying foul over the monitoring of their behaviour by the technology big 4 - Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook.

If employers want the benefits that accrue from more flexible, home working, they must accept the responsibility for maintaining very strong security over the data collected, and show that they respect the right of employees to self-manage their ‘work/home’ regime. Employees who feel respected and trusted are likely to be more productive, more satisfied and more incentivised.  Invasive monitoring and tracking tools will cause frustration snd annoyance - and result in lower performance.

A win-win situation is possible!

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Do you believe it?

83% of employers say that, even after today’s crisis has passed, they plan to put more flexible work policies in place, such as allowing more people to work from home or letting them adjust their schedules.

That’s according to a recent survey of nearly 800 employers by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm.

I have warned against such surveys before - those that show what the sponsor of the survey wants to hear.  I am not suggesting that those sponsors are faking the results .... just that they ask the right questions in the right way to get the results they require.

But let’s address the claim.

I cannot believe that all, or even the majority of, home workers produce the same level, and quality, of outputs/outcomes that they would have done in their normal office environment. Especially as at the strrt of the pandemic most firms did not have ‘working from home’ protocols, procedures, controls or measures.

So, why do companies plan on more home and flexible working?

I think the truth may be that the savings on office space costs may more than make up for the loss of labour productivity.

I would like to see some robust and rigorous research look at this issue.... until then I’ll stick to my (admittedly personal) view.

The productivity of the workforce has probably dropped ... but total productivity may have risen, when taking into account all cost factors.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Step off the treadmill

 Many businesses are naturally trying to ‘get back on track’ after suffering the effects of the pandemic - uncertain staffing levels, regulations on physical activity, distorted supply chains and so on.  This means that’s the leaders and managers of those companies are working very hard on all sorts of fronts to rebuild an effective and efficient organisation - taking decisions ‘on the hoof’, applying skills they did not know they had, improvising where necessary.

This is exactly the kind of situation where sometimes it is worth taking a little time to stop, reflect, think and plan.  I know lists of necessary tasks with impossible deadlines keep appearing and lengthening but working flat out without a plan is likely to result in poor decisions and ineffective working systems and procedures.

Take a deep breath - or a cup of coffee. Talk to others in the company. Reassess priorities.  Reassess skills. Make a plan.

It will be imperfect ... but the time you take to think, reflect and plan will hold you in good stead when you have to make swift decisions and take fast actions.

You will find yourself on a better treadmill.