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Productivity in a Time of Flux

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Has hybrid working increased or decreased productivity in your team and business? It's the question and thorn in the C-Suite's side.

How are you measuring productivity and is this the time to change? And how are you balancing productivity and technology investments such as automation, and mental wellbeing? These questions will be considered in a roundtable for which many business leaders still require the answers.

Miya Knights, Author and Technology Journalist, moderates Max Faun, Head of EMEA Consulting, Okta; Christelle Heikkila, IT Director, Arsenal F.C.; Andy Caddy, Group Technology Director, The Collective; Alison Davis, CIO, Natural History Museum. In partnership with Okta.

 

Modernization factor

Productivity, according to Max Faun, went up during 2020 by what he termed as “modernizations”. Rapid investments in collaborative tools, automation, cloud computing and more, over a period of only a few weeks, meant that teams—when they eventually found their footing—had more time to focus on creative and product design, for example, as processes had been freed up. Of course, technology leaders had been advocating for these sorts of investments for years but the pandemic truly forced business’ hands.

“On the one hand, there was an inevitable reduction in infrastructure, so your cost and maintenance decreases and frees up people,” Max explained, “but perhaps more interestingly, for users, these new, automated techniques really gave them the flexibility to work where they had to and commission new projects faster than ever before. 

“I think hybrid working, at least across 2020, really did improve productivity by its sheer dominance over modernizations.”

Christelle Heikkila of Arsenal F.C. wasn’t as sure. For her, hybrid working in an necessity for some of the company’s staff, her team included, but cultural challenges of hybrid working may stymie productivity, she believes.

“All sorts of questions are being raised,” she said. “Etiquette: how do you manage a meeting with people calling from different places, all the time? Technology: what does this mean for the tools we have in our office space? I agree with Max that we’ve achieved an awful lot in the space of a short time but in my opinion it remains to be seen how the hybrid model will continue to keep productivity high.”

 

Maintaining pace

It’s an interesting point. The industry was in a fight or flight mode and that sort of necessity we know powers some of the most productive inventions. It is, however, not sustainable by definition—continual emergency mode threatens worker’s mental health and also misses out on secondary tasks that combined help the day-to-day functioning of an organization.

The Collective, although small and nimble, recognizes this, as does its CTO Andy Caddy, when asked. 

“I’m also a little concerned about what hybrid working means for productivity and for the business as a whole,” he said. “For us, even as a small business, our head office is important for our culture and we are still yet to understand what losing that, for now at least, means for us. 

“How do people interact with that space and how can technology help with that? When it comes to problem solving, we know we should present the problem first, then come up with the relevant technologies to solve the problem.”

Andy went on to say that remote, collaborative tools do help on a one-to-one, or one-to-few, basis, but for larger teams something is missing when the physicality of debate is moved half online, half offline. For The Collective, productivity is not just the quantity of work created within a given space and time, it’s also the quality, and if hybrid working environments don’t yet support the highest quality of collaboration, and therefore work, there is still much room for innovative technology to lend a hand.

Over at The Natural History Museum, a far larger, more complex, organization in many regards, Aliso Davis had to react quickly to a totally different working environment. 

“I started my role just six weeks before lockdown, which was interesting,” she mused.

“We are a visitor attraction, retailer, science organisation, too, so we have many different types of workers who are on site, or remote or even furloughed. With the technology team I’d have to say our productivity rose purely out of necessity so I’m also interested in how the rest of 2021 plays out for us and how we continue the pace we’ve exhibited thus far. 

“In fact, I’m working on a Future Ways of Working for the Museum, which aims to understand exactly what has worked so far so we can apply it to our office tomorrow.”

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