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Hybrid working: how firms can beat the team productivity dip

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 May 2021

With many businesses considering a longer-term shift to hybrid working, new research has flagged the risk of making home-workers into ‘second-class citizens’. So how can you boost team productivity in the new office environment?

On the face of it, working from home during lockdown is a productivity sinkhole. From the distractions of home-schooling and child care to the relentless Zooming, you’d be forgiven for thinking that individual output was just one of the many things to suffer over the last year.

However, research suggests that individual productivity hasn’t suffered as much as some might fear. 55% of more than 1,200 workers surveyed by Deloitte believe their colleagues are just as, if not more, productive now than before lockdown

What should be a cause for concern is the impact on team productivity. In the same study, almost one in three respondents admitted that homeworking was detrimental to collaboration: 31% said they are more collaborative when working in their usual workplace environment. 

Jenny Burns, a partner and future of work expert at innovation consultancy Fluxx, said its own insights suggests rather than creating problems, the growth in home-working carried through any pre-existing productivity or team collaboration issues. “Behaviours that weren’t conducive to productivity before the pandemic can be exacerbated by this remote way of working.” 

With a longer-term shift to hybrid working seemingly on the cards, having the right foundations for productive team working has never been more important, Burns says. Almost 60% of professionals surveyed by recruiter Robert Half in its most recent Salary Survey said they wanted to move to full-time remote working this year, with a further 30% wanting to work remotely at least half the time.

“We want to empower people to make the choice about where and when they work, but facilitating team meetings and ideas creation sessions becomes much more challenging,” Burns says. “The biggest risk with the move to hybrid working is the idea of second-class citizens, where people who have elected to work from home suddenly have a poorer experience from a team perspective than those people electing to work in the office.” 

Boosting team productivity

The answer to encouraging better team productivity hinges on a three-pronged approach, Burns says: having access to the right tools and technology both in the office and at home, supporting staff with the skills needed to work in a hybrid way (especially communication, empathy and facilitation), and switching people’s mindset into this new way of working. “If leaders only promote those people who are in the office or don’t empower their teams to choose where they work and start making demands based on presenteeism, it’s not going to work.”

“We advise shifting the mindset about the office as a place of work, to a place where you connect and communicate with colleagues,” adds Dr Aaron Turner, Co-Founder of performance coaching consultancy One Thought. “This can enable time at the office to be more productive and allow people to achieve much more than just getting your work done."

Former Olympian rower-turned business coach Dr Cath Bishop said despite having more communication tools than ever before at our disposal, poor team-working and isolation continue to grow. “Often, we don't connect as a team because we aren't clear about our common purpose. So the first thing to do is to clarify on an ongoing basis what our shared goals are, how we interconnect in our roles, and how we want to work as a team.” 

Being explicit about 'how' teams work is also important, Bishop says. “Alongside a commitment to carrying out tasks - in the office it might be project-related tasks, meetings or client-related work - it's important to be committed to the approach you want to take as a team. How do you want to share ideas, challenge and support each other, add in broader perspectives?” 

High-performing teams often have a set of agreed rules about how they want to communicate, how frequently, how to give and take feedback, how to reflect and learn, how to keep improving, Bishop adds. “This team charter needs to be regularly reviewed and updated as you start to work more effectively as a team and continue to develop.” 

Andrew Mawson, founder and MD at consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates, says the experience of the past year has served as a reminder of the importance of listening, giving people a voice and being clear about their responsibilities to tasks and each other. “It’s had to be more explicit,” Mawson says. 

“To work in this model requires more of a transformational style of leadership, where they’re much more supportive and coaching in their style as opposed to being supervisory and dictatorial,” Mawson adds.