September 2020

Homing in on the work issue Before the current pandemic, home working was becoming increasingly prevalent within various industry and business sectors. Now, in many cases as a means of necessity, the level of home working has increased substantially. Some industries, of course, cannot function without the physical presence of at least some sizeable level of personnel within the workplace – manufacturing, construction, agriculture, on- and off-shore oil and gas, warehousing, logistics, healthcare and brick and mortar retail being just a few examples (although automation and remote diagnostics and control is becoming more prevalent in some instances). So, with the huge rise in home working, just how effective is this regime proving to be for the individuals involved and the companies they work for? A new study by digital transformation firm, Adaptavist, highlights some strengths and threats to long-term productivity and employee well-being posed by improvised solutions during the transition to remote work. On the positive side, some 82% of people report they are equally (47%) if not more productive (35%) working from home, and company-wide communications have improved during the pandemic. However, the lack of a shared understanding of which tool to use and how to communicate with it, combined with the ‘always on’ nature of working from home, has been highlighted as bringing added stress and motivational challenges for workers. The Adaptavist Digital Etiquette Study, which includes survey responses from 2800 knowledge-workers across the UK, US, Canada and Australia, shows remote-working offers major benefits for businesses, but new digital communication and productivity challenges have also emerged. Interestingly, the study found significant benefits to a 100% remote working approach. ‘Levelling the playing field between in-office and remote workers’ and ‘working in a more agile fashion with faster decision-making’ were seen as key benefits from the transition. Other notable benefits include ‘Learning we can be more flexible in how we work’ ranked as the top benefit. Moreover, 52% agreed that company-wide communication had improved (39% neutral and 9% disagreed) and 48% agreed that collaboration had improved (41%, neutral and 11% disagreed). The reduction in office politics due to the removal of the physical office was also seen as a key benefit and 46% agreed that meeting effectiveness had improved. (42% neutral and 12% disagreed). From a technology perspective, inefficient use of digital channels means businesses lose almost half a workday each week per employee, according to the study. The top 5 greatest challenges in running remote teams were: Technical issues; managing workloads; tracking what people were working on and the status of work; keeping teams motivated; and knowing how people are feeling. Even with the availability of new communication tools, the vast majority are still using email (71%) and spreadsheets (62%) to track work. On average, workers spent 45 minutes each day searching for information between different technology platforms. This increased to 50 minutes a day – almost half a day each week – for those using four platforms or more (42%). Less than half of workers had been given any training to ensure they are using these channels efficiently. Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of Adaptavist, reflects that high-performing teams embody mastery, autonomy and purpose, so he believes it’s natural that people adopt the tools that have proven to work well in their personal lives when faced with new challenges in their professional lives. However, Haighton-Williams stresses that organising the chaos and confusion between these channels is key to maximising the benefits they bring. A sudden, largely unanticipated move to an unprecedented level of home working has become the necessary norm – at least for the time being. Therefore, individuals and companies are having to do whatever they can to work efficiently and productively. Ostensibly, things might appear to be ticking over satisfactorily, but there are likely to be areas where things could be improved, for example in the way people and technology work together. Haighton-Williams believes now is the time to see what positive patterns have arisen that need to be reinforced and what negative patterns need to be changed. “Those that get this right will innovate faster, be more operationally efficient and attract top talent. Those that don’t will likely struggle to survive,” he remarks. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. EDITOR’S COMMENT Ed Holden Editor “Ostensibly, things might appear to be ticking over satisfactorily, but there are likely to be areas where things could be improved, for example in the way people and technology work together.” HYDRAULICS & PNEUMATICS September 2020 3