More than seven months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the future of work has changed forever. We can’t know completely what things will look like 12-18 months after the crisis has passed but one thing is for certain: In a knowledge- and services-driven economy, a lot more jobs than previously assumed can be enabled for remote work.   
Remote work is not new. Knowledge workers have been “teleworking” for well over a decade. A multitude of studies from major universities, research think tanks, strategy and management consulting firms, and government entities have looked at both what it takes to manage these workforces and what the impacts are on effectiveness.    
Now we are able to see the challenges and opportunities presented. From a management perspective, the skillsets needed to manage remote workers have to be taught and mastered by a large number of leaders. Even in the reskilling of leadership, the methods used for training are also pushing the envelope on remote working.     
We are also seeing a need for robust management systems to manage productivity, innovation and drive engagement with remote workers. This has not been without challenges. And while several studies (both before and after March 2020) talk to productivity in remote workers, measuring it is now of paramount importance.

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Remotely satisfying?

Research is showing that employees may enjoy the absence of a commute and like the concept of remote work, but clearly not all the time every day. Data shows people are working an average of 2.8 more hours a day to achieve the same level of productivity. In practical terms, that implies we have had a fall off of about 30% in actual productivity for these workforces. There are implications to employers and there are implications to employees. 

A recent Accenture Consumer Pulse Survey found that 55% of workers feel pressure to be available 24X7 and more than half are concerned that their managers have lost visibility to their contributions. Those numbers carry though to views on creativity and the ability to engage in challenging and difficult conversations. More than 65% are finding it hard to truly take vacations and get away from the daily grind.

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of workers feel pressure to be available 24X7.


of workers are finding it hard to truly take vacations and get away from the daily grind.

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What do today's workers need, and how will you deliver it?

Two key points from research available today highlight what workers long for, and what can make them more effective today:  

  • Working remotely is a skill. Working outside of the office requires time management, ergonomics, focus and support. Technology in an enabler, but leaders also need to give employees training on these softer skills to maximize their people’s effectiveness and value. Research shows that mobile workers are perceived to be less productive and often cannot successfully navigate in a virtual office. Distractions are real as is loss of personal identity.   
  • Workers crave human interactions. Informal discussions can elevate the employee experience. These types of interactions allow for immediate feedback rather than the careful decisions that come out of formal meetings. Leaders must strive to understand the psychology behind collaboration, employee engagement and innovation among knowledge workers. People are social creatures, so what needs to change to make them feel more productive and engaged while working remotely?   

In the mid to long term, people will want to be in offices with their coworkers. That does not necessarily mean five days a week. People need to feel they will be safe in those offices before they return to them. We cannot and should not abandon the idea of people working together in person.  
The need for business travel and the need to collaborate in the room—and not just through technology—will be even more essential in our current and emerging economy. Those that shift too heavily to full-time remote workers will have retention problems and will lose the innovation war. It’s important to plan for a year from now and not just the current and near-term challenges.    
We are at a unique moment in time. Some of the challenges may be temporary in nature—such as the productivity drop. However, how companies treat and respond to workers as they face these challenges is highly visible and can have direct impact on both attracting and retaining employees, but also who will purchase a company’s goods and services.   
It is time to plan for tomorrow while empowering workers today. 

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Russell Klosk

Strategy Principal Director

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