Post lockdown, the return to the office hasn’t been as straightforward as many business leaders first predicted. After adapting to a world without commuting and hot desking, with lunches at home and meetings via video call, 77 per cent of the UK workforce say they would prefer a mix of office-based and remote working in the long term. Analysts from McKinsey & Company estimate that more than 20 per cent of the global workforce could be working remotely by the end of 2021.
This shift has plenty of advantages – including increased flexibility, reduced overheads and a smaller carbon footprint – but it also presents challenges. One of the most pressing is productivity: how can we ensure that employees work as effectively from home as they are in the office?
Mathew Phipps, EMEA executive briefing lead at ServiceNow, a leader in cloud-based workflow solutions, believes the answer lies in a new operating model better suited to the age of digital transformation.
“The old way of working is based on a linear process where tasks are assigned to individuals and completed in sequence,” he explains. “But in today’s world, its constant change and complexity don’t work anymore. We need to be able to move faster and be more agile if we’re going to keep up with the competition.”
Phipps says the answer is a “networked operating model” based on a more collaborative and open approach to work.
“In a networked operating model, tasks are not assigned to individuals but to teams,” he explains. “And instead of working in sequence, they work in parallel, which means that tasks can be completed much faster.”
This shift may sound like a small change, but it can greatly impact productivity. Research from McKinsey & Company suggests that companies who have adopted a networked operating model are 25 per cent more likely to be high performers than those who haven’t.
So how can businesses make the switch? Phipps says it starts with taking a closer look at how work is currently organised and identifying areas where a more networked approach would be beneficial.
“It could be as simple as changing the way meetings are organised,” he suggests. “Instead of having everyone in the room, you could have a smaller group meeting in person and the rest joining via video conference. That way, you can get more people involved without sacrificing productivity.”
Another area to consider is how work is assigned and monitored. Phipps says that in a networked operating model, it’s important to think about work not as a series of individual tasks but as a set of interdependent activities that must be completed to achieve a goal.
“For example, if you’re working on a marketing campaign, you might have a team of people responsible for different aspects of the campaign, such as creating the content, designing the collateral and managing the budget,” he explains. “Rather than assigning each task to an individual, you would assign it to the team as a whole and use technology to track progress and ensure that everyone is on track.”
The switch to a networked operating model can be a big undertaking, but the rewards are clear. Not only will it help to boost productivity, but it will also enable businesses to be more agile and adaptable – something that is increasingly important in today’s ever-changing world.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are some key principles that businesses should bear in mind. First, leaders must take a more nuanced approach to managing remote workers. In an office setting, it’s easy to see someone slacking off or not pulling their weight – but that’s not the case when employees are dispersed.
Instead of relying on face time, managers should focus on output and results. This requires clear communication about expectations and regular check-ins to ensure everyone is on track.
Second, businesses must invest in the right technology to enable remote work. This means ensuring that employees have access to the tools and applications they need to do their jobs effectively, whether that’s a secure VPN connection or video conferencing software.
Third, we need to rethink our approach to work itself. The traditional nine-to-five is no longer fit for purpose in a world where employees are all over the globe. Instead, businesses should focus on creating a culture of continuous learning, where employees are encouraged to upskill and develop new skills on an ongoing basis.
Finally, it’s important to remember that not everyone wants to – or can – work remotely. For some people, the office is essential for maintaining a work-life balance or managing childcare responsibilities. Businesses must be flexible and allow employees to choose what works best for them.
The pandemic has forced us to rethink how we work – and that’s a good thing. By adopting a more agile approach to working, businesses can improve productivity, boost employee morale and create a more sustainable model for the future. It’s time to think outside the nine-to-five.
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