The workplace has changed dramatically in recent years. Remote and hybrid work has become increasingly the norm across the globe due to COVID-19, and today more than ever, businesses are prioritizing agility and flexibility to thrive in ongoing uncertainty.
As business leaders, we know that what has worked for us in the past will no longer spark success, and so we need to find ways to adapt, to think differently about the workplace.
As part of this, decisions must be grounded in hard data and facts balanced with employee input. A culture of adaptation is critical for sustainable operational performance across our teams and broader organizations.
When the next disruption comes along, business leaders will need to be able to acclimatize with ease and respond with resilience – and laying the groundwork for this requires leaders to adjust mindsets to center on data and the employee, now.
In the lead-up to the turn of the millennium (colloquially known as Y2K), computer programmers and financial analysts feared that the shift from the two-digit year ‘99 down to ‘00 would create chaos for computer systems around the world.
Millions of dollars were spent developing software and IT solutions to prepare for and ‘fix’ the issue. And when the year ticked over, there no massive malfunctions.
The world of technology – and the world in general – did not end. Was this thanks to preemptive efforts and investment in IT solutions and prevention? On the other hand, countries like Cambodia and Thailand spent almost nothing on getting Y2K-ready – yet their systems didn’t crash when the year 2000 arrived.
The takeaway here is that we cannot know whether something is fact until we have solid evidence to back it up.
This is why data is the key to the future success of businesses. What is the data telling us about what’s happening in the workplace today? What are the ongoing shifts in the way we work and how we do business, doing to our workforce and our workplaces? How can we use this information to make the right decisions?
Data-driven insights will allow us to put preventative measures in place to deal with possible outcomes; enabling business leaders to be proactive rather than reactive, and in all of these keep employees happy and productive – which is the key to sustainable success.
Since 2020, we have seen millions of people leaving their jobs worldwide. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, four million Americans quit in July 2021 alone. (In the following months, this number rose, reaching 4.5 million in November.)
A Harvard Business Review1 article noted the resignation rate was highest in the technology and healthcare sectors – likely due to increased workloads and burnout – and in the mid-career cohort, i.e. people aged 30 to 45 years old who have the years of professional experience and financial security to re-evaluate their career prospects and working hours.
The question of the hour is: what can employers do to reverse this trend and retain talent? And how can data help with this?
Offering flexible hours and work arrangements to accommodate employees’ individual preferences will help, as will having the data on hand to support this.
In the current working context, business leaders are facing a tipping point: to mandate a return to the office, or not? Leaders who cling to legacy ways of working are more likely to insist that employees return full-time, or at least three or four days a week.
Many of these leaders believe that when their teams work from home, productivity drops, errors rise, and waste increases – but is this fact?
The data doesn’t substantiate this belief; several studies have found that productivity actually increases when employees are given the choice of working from home. In other words, these leaders are making decisions based on ‘gut feel’ rather than data.
There is a clear discrepancy between what these leaders think about employee productivity when working from home, and what the data actually indicates.
At Enlighten, our metrics tell us that personal choice is critical – employees tend to perform better when they are given the power to decide whether to work in the office, remotely or with some sort of flexible arrangement that best suits their requirements.
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Over the past two years, our clients’ productivity, quality of performance and output have improved significantly when people worked from home during the pandemic – including extremely large back-office operations for healthcare organizations and financial institutions.
Our team has examined thousands of points of measurement in these organizations, comparing performance indicators over time, and on average, productivity is up by approximately 10% for those working from home – if they’re allowed to make that decision.
When people are given the choice to work flexibly and from home, we’ve observed that error rates decrease. Furthermore, there’s less absenteeism and less sick leave.
According to a 2021 study conducted by Microsoft and YouGov in the UK2, more than half of the 4,000 office workers surveyed were happier when given the option to work from home.
But there’s a caveat – the study found that letting employees work from home if they wanted was not enough to boost their happiness, well-being and productivity in the long-term; they also needed the right support services, social connections and infrastructure to be in place.
The key point here is to give people the choice and the necessary support to work in a way that suits them.
Rather than using a cookie-cutter approach and mandating that all employees return to the office for a certain number of days each week, why not ask individuals what they want?
Figure 1: Just over 30% of employees are working from the office five days per week, yet 65% of employees would prefer to work five days from home
When people are given what they want, our data shows that over a six- to 12-month period, productivity increases; waste and error rates decrease, as do overtime and sickness.
Mental and emotional well-being improve because people have choices. They have autonomy and control over their own lives and the opportunity to maintain a better work-life balance.
With improved employee experience comes better employee engagement and hence better performance – which in turn fosters better customer experience and customer satisfaction. What’s not to like?
Figure 2: Our data indicates the best results are achieved by allowing people to work the way they want, and that employees who are forced to work in situations that aren’t their preference, tend to be less productive
In 2022, we are seeing an ongoing transfer of power away from the employer to the employee.
Rather than candidates simply proving their aptitude for a job, employers must work hard to attract and retain talent by developing and maintaining the flexible, supportive, and forward-thinking workplaces that people want.
This means making decisions based on data and facts, and ensuring that individual preferences for working are taken into consideration. We cannot shape the future based on beliefs and decisions that were formed and made in the past.
Rather, businesses must look towards building human-centric, flexible and productive workplaces that will survive and thrive in today’s fast-changing business landscape.