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Up and down: how the pandemic affected corporate performance

This WORKTECH Academy Briefing looks at new research from The Economist Intelligence Unit showing a mixed picture on company productivity – and at designer efforts to go greener

If you’ve been feeling torn about which way company productivity has been heading during the global pandemic – up or down? – then you’re not alone. It seems that business executives are divided on the issue too.

An international survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit of more than 360 managers on the impact of remote work on their organisations, their employees and on productivity has found that there is an almost equal divide between those reporting an increase in productivity (39 per cent) and those witnessing a decline (32.6 per cent). Nearly three in ten (28.5 per cent) report no change at all.

According to The Economist’s analysis, size of company and what you do rather than where you live has the greatest impact on productivity; the larger the organisation, the better the results, which suggests that performance has much to do with the scale of resources.

‘Financial service firms appear to have fared best during the pandemic…’

In terms of business sectors, financial service firms appear to have fared best during the pandemic with 61 per cent of executives in that sector reporting an increase in productivity. In contrast, the figure is only 38 per cent in healthcare/life science firms – and retail, transport and manufacturing companies score even lower in terms of productivity improvements.

Two-thirds of those surveyed believe that some element of remote work will become the norm in the future. But, tellingly, only 12.8 per cent envisage a complete WFH (work from home) model becoming a new reality. American managers are most bullish about a return to a pre-pandemic status quo. Four in ten expect to be back in their offices full-time compared to just 24 per cent in Australia and 22 per cent in the UK and Germany

The survey offers an interesting perspective on the uptake of digital tools by employees – the  greater the uptake, the better the company’s performance.

But in a series of interviews as part of the research, business leaders expressed the view that while remote set-ups have ‘helped to keep the lights on’, it is not necessarily the future they want. In-person working is preferable when it comes to ‘successfully managing teams and fostering company culture’

‘Reshaping Productivity: A Changed Workplace after Covid-19’, a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, is sponsored by Kyocera Document Solutions.

Calls for climate action

Glasgow’s COP 26 conference on climate change may not have satisfied the aspirations of all green activists, but it has certainly encouraged the workplace design industry to  strengthen and renew its commitment to sustainable solutions.

Global architectural practice Gensler, for example, has used a research study of five of its own offices as the basis for a manifesto on creating a circular economy with reusable materials. The firm has also identified ten strategies to combat climate injustice.

San Francisco-based Studio 0+A, the leading firm founded by Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander, has launched the Eco Playbook, which is described as ‘an open-source, digital work-in-progress about how our design practice must change if we are to have a liveable future on this planet’.

The message from designers is clear: buildings and construction emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, business as usual is unsustainable, time is running out, and we need a new approach. Keep the ideas coming.

Race to net zero

Green leadership and the race to net zero is unsurprisingly on the agenda for the in-person WORKTECH London conference, which takes place on 16-17 November 2021 in the Export Building at Republic, near Canary Wharf.

A panel featuring Dan Hanmer of CBRE, Cees van der Spek of Edge Technologies and May Molteno, ethics, sustainability and stakeholder lead at Trilogy Property, will discuss what hybrid working means for sustainability.

Other sessions will focus on innovation in real estate, new directions in workplace strategy and the role of delight in making London a great place to live and work. More information on WORKTECH London 2021 here

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 10 November 2021.
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