Covid-19 calls for a collision of workplace and people analytics

Higher-value interpersonal work has suffered unnoticed in the pandemic. Do we need new measures for effectiveness and productivity in the hybrid world of work we are now entering?

Never before has the crystal ball been so murky. Organisations have to put together plans based on knowledge of their own people and culture, fully knowing that ‘adjustments’ will be made along the way based on how the environment evolves. Is this the beginning of ‘agile workplace strategy’?

The list of questions appear to be never-ending. What really happened to the effectiveness and productivity of our people while working 100 per cent from home? And how do we assure increased effectiveness and productivity while finding a new balance between office and work from home? How much office space is really needed? Let’s put the current decisions we face in context:

Memories…of the way we were

Thinking back to the beginning of 2020, what was happening? Organisations were working on becoming more collaborative, cross-functional and implementing new technology platforms to enable that. Organisations were shifting to more activity-based workstyles and workspaces, all this paired with increased people density and increased space-utilization.  And then, all of a sudden, the wheels fell off.

What just happened? 

Somewhere in March (depending on where in the world you were) almost all knowledge-based office workers were told to continue their work remotely from home. New tools were deployed, bandwidth increased, and people made a huge shift to digital. This forced many to develop new skills and abilities – they discovered that regular, scheduled, in-conference-room meetings where participants had to travel could easily be accomplished online. But what really happened to effectiveness and productivity?

When asked, the majority of people respond that they are effective and productive when working from home. My company, Collabogence, has developed a measure which is a reflection of the breadth, depth and strength of an individual’s network and the work they do. It captures changes and shifts, like interdependent work versus independent work.

Amid the pandemic, people are also not making new connections like they used and not benefiting from the experience of other people. What is significant is the change in the number over time when there are changes in the environment within which the individual works. This change in number is therefore a proxy for a change in effectiveness and productivity. In the case of our current Covid-19 world, what happened? Which groups, teams or departments faired best? Which lost the most?

Developing plans and solutions with an ‘organizational average’ runs the risk of it not being suitable for anyone. In geek speak, the standard deviation is very high – another reason for supporting the case for an ‘agile workplace strategy’.

Our measurement enables and make a series of steps and scenarios possible, as described below. All data is extracted or accessed via APIs from application activity logs or archives and building systems, then aligned and anonymised. No personal information or content is used.

Impact-of-change measurement: What was the impact of the move to work from home on effectiveness and productivity? Who fared best? Who lost the most? Who would benefit the most from returning to the office first?

Determining space capacity: Existing space, for both assigned desks and activity-based work, has capacity limitations. Applications like FastOffice’s WRxSafe allow for fast and cost-effective assessment of your space’s capacity while maintaining six-feet physical distancing.

Determining groups or ‘office bubbles’: When people head back to the office, the expectation and the value comes with being there at the same time as others you work and connect with frequently. Configure groups or ‘bubbles’, based on who works with whom. The goal is that people get value from and stay within their ‘bubble’.

Space Utilisation: Wi-fi tracking has seen a dramatic increase in accuracy, and reduction of cost. Companies like Locatee can deploy their solution through accessing the existing LAN wi-fi networks remotely and meet GDPR and privacy regulations. Solutions of this nature provide the ability to establish, in real-time, whether or not the capacity limit of a particular space has been exceeded.

Organisational Covid alerts: As employees return to the office, organisations are considering deploying enterprise solutions. These can be either driven off of an app, wi-fi or even a wristband worn by individuals. In the case of organizsational ‘bubbles’, one can also see how much inter-bubble activity takes place.  If an employee reports having tested positive, employees who may have been exposed are notified and encouraged to be tested. With the first workplace Covid-19 lawsuits filed in the US, it is not only critical that all measures to assure a safe workplace are in place, but also that the organisation has the data to show that all guidelines were maintained.

Workplace dashboard: To date, organisations have primarily relied on percentage capacity utilisation as the measure of space effectiveness. Now with data on both your people and your space, you can measure and track the effectiveness and productivity of both, by space, building, location, or by group, project, department or function. Ultimately, in a post-vaccine, stabilised world, space can be optimised, performance boosted and space right- sized. This dashboard becomes the foundation of an agile workplace strategy.

Having this data environment in place brings bonuses – it allows other challenges, highlighted during our Covid-19 experience, to be addressed. Worldwide, there has been an upswing in the sensitivity to addressing diversity and inclusion within our organisations. Measure how inclusive the organisational culture actually is. The importance of coaching and mentoring has been highlighted. Applications such as GetApy provide a clean and well-structured coaching and mentoring platform which can easily and quickly be deployed. Again, measure to assure the success of the programme.

In summary, higher value interpersonal work has suffered along the way, mostly unnoticed. New thinking and new tools can provide important insight. Evidence-based scenarios can be monitored and bring along a higher degree of confidence of outcome. Flexibility and agility are crucial – supported by insights and dashboards from Collabogence. We are constantly interested in organisations seeking insight into their people, spaces and tools.

Peter Smit is the founder and CEO of Collabogence, a Toronto-based analytics company focused on measuring collaborative performance. He has 35 years of global experience and has lived in seven countries. A fuller commentary by Peter Smit on agile workplace strategy is available in the Innovation Zone
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