March 9, 2021
Better measures of engagement, inclusivity and burnout will be hybrid, and remote work's new gold standard, according to members of Protocol's Braintrust.
Good afternoon! We're in your inbox a couple days early with a special edition of Braintrust about the future of productivity. We asked the experts to think about the best data to capture in a remote or hybrid work environment and the best ways to apply those insights to understand their workforce. Questions or comments? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be back in your inbox on Thursday with another new edition on enterprise XR.
Chief Products and Technology Officer at PwC US
The transition to the remote workplace came so quickly that organizations didn't have time to consider how to measure employee engagement and performance in this new reality. Early expectations that the remote work environment would eventually return to "normal" have given way to the recognition that most employers and employees will prefer the emerging hybrid work environment. The limited time employees gather in the workplace will be dedicated to team building, mentoring, allyship and organizational culture.
So if we're working in a new reality, employers' old habits (i.e., focusing only on hours worked) will have to yield to new and improved measures. Employers will need to shift their focus from inputs to engagement, outcomes and quality of work. The pandemic has accelerated use and adoption of remote connectivity and collaboration tools, but there is still much to be done in how work actually gets done.
The digital assets with which employers are empowering their remote workers provide data for new measurements of performance: new skills developed, digital badges earned, automations or tools built and utilized, reductions in rework or turnaround time and quality measures (including colleague and customer feedback). Last, but not least, organizations will need new measures to help remote and hybrid workers reestablish sustainable but flexible boundaries between their work responsibilities and their home responsibilities and personal time. Our new hybrid work environment will require another innovative hybrid: blending a bit of the old with a bit of the new to help better understand employee satisfaction and contribution.
Google Workspace Lead, Office of the CTO at Google Cloud
If we are to be concerned about a new metric, it should be one of inclusion. When everyone is at home, it can feel like there is equity because we are all represented as boxes on a screen. But this isn't exactly true; some have better internet than others, fewer distractions that make it easier for them to focus or roles that require different rhythms of work.
While some leaders may feel that reviewing the volume of emails sent, number of documents created or hours spent in meetings is an indicator of productivity, this approach doesn't answer questions about inclusion. This may tell an individual about their personal working habits but rarely explains overall contributions.
Rather than trying to arrive at a universal productivity indicator, organizations should look at if the tools and processes they have in place allow for collaboration equity, ensuring every employee is set up to contribute to their full potential, regardless of location, role, experience level, language or device preference. For example, does the video conferencing solution provide real-time captioning so those who are hard of hearing or are non-native speakers aren't at a disadvantage?
Leaders should assess their employees' processes and workflows to ensure they've enabled teams to have an inclusive, equitable collaboration experience. After all, the tools we use should work for us, with more inclusion leading to both higher productivity and better business results.
Senior Director at Slack's Future Forum
Remote and hybrid work is all about rejecting the command-and-control approach that pervades office-centric work. Offices first emerged 200 years ago, as a physical manifestation of top-down authority, allowing companies to impose a strict schedule and closely monitor the production of their employees. The world of remote, hybrid and distributed work is the polar opposite. Companies that thrive in this new era of work will prioritize organizational agility, flexibility and transparency. They know employee engagement is critical to their success, and so will focus on measuring three major areas:
1.) Outcomes, not output: Without the predictable 9-to-5, office-focused working cadence, successful companies will stop trying to measure productivity (hours worked, units produced) and will instead focus on outcomes (customer satisfaction, revenue, time to market).
2.) Employee experience: given the importance of employee engagement, companies need to find new ways to regularly assess employee wellness. Key areas of focus should include employee perceptions of work-life balance, ability to manage work stress, productivity, sense of belonging and satisfaction with working arrangements (Note: the Future Forum's Remote Employee Experience Index tracks these metrics).
3.) Diversity and inclusion: flexible working models give companies the ability to dramatically improve outcomes for historically discriminated populations. In particular, companies should be closely monitoring attrition of working mothers and promotion rates of employees of color. They should also measure inclusiveness by evaluating comparative "sense of belonging" among different employee populations.
SVP of Development at UKG
In a remote or hybrid work environment, companies must integrate both qualitative and quantitative forms of machine learning to understand an employee's working experience. Sentiment analysis in an open-ended survey response, combined with data on timesheets, PTO and sick leave, can enable leaders to better understand — and improve — factors like efficiency, productivity and overall wellbeing.
With the help of AI, HR leaders will be able to understand issues like burnout and management dynamics even without the vital cues offered by in-person interactions. Ongoing travel limitations are also impacting burnout, productivity and innovation as employees are less inclined to take time off. By understanding these trends of connected time, leaders can start to prevent the problem of employees working around the clock on computers and devices without an ability to reset.
Tech tools with natural language processing (NLP) capabilities that can detect frustration in workforce language can be leveraged to detect other aspects of burnout such as fatigue. This includes both direct and indirect factors, such as manager feedback language and actual hours worked, like back-to-back schedules or excessive overtime.
By combining quantitative and qualitative forms of data at scale, technology can show an employee how everything from day-to-day activities to major career decisions (i.e. switching roles, applying for a certification) may impact their work life balance, promotion potential and more. In the same vein, feedback can help leaders understand how manager and front-line worker trainings, coaching and certifications lead to promotions and increased retention and happiness.
Americas Technology Leader at EY
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated March 9, 2021).
With organizations enabling remote workforce technologies through the pandemic and contemplating longer-term hybrid models on physical space, the growing desire for more data to inform and measure the impact of new models quickly has become apparent. A recent EY Physical Return and Work Reimagined survey found that 49% of organizations are looking to change how they measure productivity at work. While traditional workforce analytics data has evolved to encompass the employee life cycle (attract, onboard, engage, develop, release), opportunities for improvements in timeliness and in data quality have arisen with broader technology adoption.
New data sources, like Microsoft's Workplace Analytics (WpA), can provide an anonymized view of how employees use prevalent collaboration technologies (Outlook emails and calendars, Microsoft Teams chats and calls) and will continue to grow in importance as the use of remote and hybrid workforce technology stabilizes. With insights like these, organizations can cross-reference employee productivity metrics with engagement/sentiment surveys and view the progression of employee networks to understand their impact on business performance, engagement and wellness. They can take active steps to understand if they are prioritizing 1:1 coaching across all levels of the organization.
Beyond the advent of new metrics though, organizations can segment data by department, generation or workforce characteristics to better manage any variances between workforce populations, like those our recent survey demonstrated between the mental health concerns of Gen Z and Millennial generations and Baby Boomers.
An experience-based approach in applying these insights is critical to driving lasting change, and while the return on investment from expanded analytics capabilities is always proportionate to the number of inflight initiatives the analytics can support and amplify, a robust workplace data strategy principled on delivering low-latency, persona-based insights can provide an organization with a solid foundation for the new future of work.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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