2020 will go down as the year when everyone, big companies and small and everything in between, had to participate in the great work change experiment. Thanks to COVID-19 and its social distance requirements to prevent further infection and stop its damage, everyone had to engage in new, and many times unproven, technology and alternative means of work. The results have been anything but predictable.
Many expected work and performance to go down as soon as people left the office. This perspective, Eyal Gutentag notes, comes from a legacy view that most employees at lower levels can’t perform well without being monitored and checked on. It’s an antiquated view that actually comes from the factory floor and the days when the majority of workers functioned on assembly lines versus cubicles.
In reality, what managers found in 2020, Eyal Gutentag points out, is that productivity went up. People were interrupted less, they were able to manage their day better, and work output increased dramatically.
Technology was also assumed to be inadequate to fully address most office needs, requiring people’s presence. Again, Eyal Gutentag summarized 2021 findings in this article; tech worked extremely well, especially where cloud platforms were established or expanded.
Unexpected Leadership Issues
The big surprise for management and leadership was how much more engaged managers had to be to maintain social networking with employees. Many managers and supervisors noted how many extra hours they had to put in for preparation to give remote staff guidance, thinking through every step and documenting versus what would take maybe 3 minutes in the hallway to provide guidance in person.
The new normal and shift in direction has become one of the most demanding factors of leadership challenge that Eye Gutentag has seen. While the physical advantages of lower office space demand and related resources produce immediate savings, the strain on management could cost much more in the long run. A key sign of this new challenge has been the graying of the 8-hour workday.
Eyal Gutentag notes that culturally, the 8-hour workday paradigm gave people separation from work and a means of automatic life balance. Once the shift was over, people’s personal lives began. With telecommuting and the constant barrage of keeping up with digital communications so easily sent by laptop and phone, many have found that while their output has increased, so has their stress to keep up.
Work Building via Collaboration Opens Synergies
On the other hand, Eyal Gutentag highlights the fact that managers produced significant leaps forward with online collaboration. The typical office workflow has been sequential. Someone works on something, someone else reviews it, and someone approves it. Instead, with remote work, collaboration tools have been explored and engaged far more heavily, creating a real-time work product that jumps out of the sequential flow. Eyal Gutentag has seen repeatedly where teams move through multiple stages simultaneously because all levels are engaged in real-time in the build versus sequential flow management. This new approach has been a key factor in productivity gains during 2020.
Do We Give Up New Ground?
Eyal Gutentag shares a concern many do with regards to what has happened in 2020, and that is as workers return to the office and workplaces thanks to vaccination and control of the pandemic, will the tech and collaboration gains disappear? Eyal Gutentag doesn’t expect a full conversion back to the way things were, but the remote workplace approach required very different thinking and management commitment to take on the extra work of additional leadership. It’s easy to fall back to old habits and less demanding environments with the return. Eyal Gutentag believes a lot of the long-term advantage will depend on companies embracing the lessons of 2020 thoroughly and pushing top-down new ways of work. Otherwise, a disparate fallback to less productivity is far more likely, and Eyal Gutentag thinks the social factors of the old workplace will speed that erosion up.