Change is here but change is coming

Since the beginning of March, we have faced uncertainty and change. Tragic deaths, unemployment going up and fearing the worst about another economic depression. It’s probably fair to say that this period, for most, has been one of mixed emotions – that feeling of being “up and down”, hard to put into words, blog or not.

Just as confidence in sectors was beginning to emerge, we have been faced with another lockdown and more uncertainty. However, in the last 6 months we have at least seen some positives come out of these challenging times; people have adapted to new ways of working, new technologies and different channels of communication. Companies have actually and, rather surprisingly, seen an increase in productivity in many sectors.

Speaking with our clients many are pleased to report an increase in productivity since the shift to home-based working, but it is interesting to challenge what is driving this trend, how might we harness this in the long term, and critically how are we measuring productivity, a question that has prompted some interesting answers. Many businesses talk about productivity but what they are actually referring to is utilisation. Essentially, people are replacing travel time (to and from site or office) with work time. Longer hours are all well and good but are people necessarily working effectively in this time? Longer screen time or working hours may bring mental and physical fatigue, which may result in errors, rework or simply tasks taking longer than usual or than required. So, when assessing productivity, working hours alone is not enough, there needs to be a measure of effectiveness to provide meaningful management information.

Typically, people don’t like change, but in recent times many of us have responded positively to the experience of home based working. However, just as we get used to this, it could be all change again as we get closer to a vaccine and businesses prepare to bring staff back to the office. The ‘new norm’ –  we’re not sure! Whatever people’s perceptions are about the ‘new norm’, businesses are looking at how and when we start to transition teams back to the office, when safe to do so, of course. So, given the recent increase in productivity seen through switching to home working, might we now see a reversal of this trend as we return to the office?

Being back in the office could also be good for people’s development and career opportunities. Typically, relationships with senior stakeholders and, arguably, career opportunities are more effectively developed when you are closer to the power base i.e. head office. On the job training, advice and development are quicker and easier to obtain when your colleagues are nearby. Observing and absorbing things around the workplace can be a positive thing.

There are many positive aspects of the experiences over the last 6 months which we need to harness going into next year. There have been concerted efforts by companies to keep people informed, with a greater sense of “we are all in this together” team ethic. This sense of community has permeated through to and from the supply chain as well. We have always been reliant on one another but there has been, in many cases, greater collaboration and a “what can we do to help” attitude. The Nightingale project is an excellent example of what can truly be achieved in collapsed timeframes when we collaborate and focus on one shared objective. There is a clear case for adopting a cautious and balanced return to ‘business as usual’, blending the collaborative benefits of face-to-face work with the waste-reducing benefits afforded to us by the use of technology.

As implementation consultants, our new normal has been to adjust to working remotely on projects in most instances, helping our clients adapt to effective remote working, with the appropriate measures in place to provide management with operational visibility outside of the office. As we look to 2021, it is clear that more change will come, there is a lot to reflect on, embrace learnings and really put the words “back stronger” to the test, but there is a lot to be positive about.