Once an organizational boon, hybrid work productivity is on the wane. Many CIOs see more time in the office, new leadership skills, and streamlined collaboration offerings as part of the answers.
CIO Ted Ross believes the honeymoon is over for breakneck productivity when it comes to hybrid work, and he’s not the only one. Tech employees at the City of Los Angeles IT agency who were forced to work remotely in the early pandemic days were very efficient, Ross says.
“Fully into the pandemic we had a 34% increase in project delivery,” he adds. But since then, productivity and innovation have waned, in part because of fading relationships between once in-person teams, along with a slew of new IT employees — 45 in the past year — who haven’t yet built those relationships.
“We’re actually very supportive of hybrid telework,” Ross says. “It comes down to finding a balance” of what can be done effectively remotely and what needs to be done in the office, he adds. In response, Ross started training supervisors on how to create those relationships with digital “checkpoints” to keep productivity humming.
At insurance company National Life, CIO Nimesh Mehta says his IT team saw productivity increase 26% during the pandemic “because I think people didn’t have anything better to do than work,” Mehta says. “Now I’m seeing productivity drop.”
The same goes for innovation. “We’re a team that likes to work together, likes to whiteboard and solve problems,” he says. “When we lost that, I asked my team to tell me one thing we came up with that was innovative during COVID that we actually executed — not ideas that we had in the past that we just did faster — and there was dead silence.”
Hybrid productivity on the wane
It’s a familiar scenario for many CIOs. Productivity increased markedly during the shift to remote work, but it is now lagging behind what many leaders want it to be, bringing about a reckoning on how to remain productive in hybrid times.
In the first half of 2022, productivity — the measure of how much output in goods and services an employee can producein an hour — plunged by the sharpestrate on record going back to 1947, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When it comes to hybrid productivity in the tech and services world, perception and reality are often misaligned. In a recent survey of more than 20,000 people, Microsoft found that 87% of employees say they are productive at work, while only 12% of leaders have confidence that their workers are being productive. The company also analyzed trillions of anonymous productivity signals from its products and found that for the average worker, meetings, chat, and after-hours and weekend work have all increased over the past two years.
Indeed some types of IT task-based work can be done productively from home, but relationship-based tasks — innovation, strategic planning, relationship-building with customers or stakeholders — are difficult to do remotely.
To reset the productivity and innovation scales, companies are recalling workers back to the office a few days a week, giving team leaders extra latitude with managing their own teams, and streamlining a glut of collaboration tools brought in hastily during the pandemic, ensuring productivity can return to pre-pandemic levels (or higher) and innovation can get back on track.
Here are a few examples of adjustments IT leaders are making to help hybrid workplace arrangements work better for their organizations.
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