Flexible work can drive productivity—but only when done right.

Flexible work can drive productivity—but only when done right.
Photo by ergonofis / Unsplash

When companies contemplate adopting more flexible work like remote work and hybrid work, productivity is often top-of-mind. Before the pandemic, despite evidence on the contrary, many businesses avoided flexible work because they assumed that their workers’ productivity would take a hit. Yet, during the pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that flexible work can drive productivity gains. Experts have argued that greater opportunities for flexible work will lead to a five percent productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy.

Despite this promise, flexible work is not inherently more productive than traditional office work—it’s only more productive when flexible work is done right. To realize productivity gains for their workforces, companies need to ensure that their employees are equipped with the right technology to do their best work—including hardware, as well as software.

Keep tech hardware up to date

In terms of hardware, companies need to ensure that their employees have access to up-to-date technology. When workers use outdated technology, work is a slog and productivity takes a nosedive. Even worse, this attack on productivity has ripple effects on employee engagement. Research shows that more than half (57%) of employees say that working with outdated technology moderately or majorly affects their job satisfaction. As well, three in ten employees say they would likely look for a new job due to their workplace's outdated technology. In our new more flexible era of work, employers have a responsibility to equip workers with up-to-date and current technology so they can be most productive in their work.  

Don’t forget ergonomics

When thinking about what hardware to equip their workers with, companies need to think beyond technology devices, gizmos, and gadgets. In a flexible work environment, office furniture is an essential part of workers’ hardware stack. While companies tend to furnish their offices with ergonometric furniture, they often turn a blind eye to how workers furnish their home offices. This is a recipe for plummeting productivity, and can also negatively impact a company’s bottom line. According to research by the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), approximately one-third of the money spent on workers’ compensation costs comes from ergonomic injury claims.

Collaborative software is essential

In terms of software, workers need to be equipped with a suite of collaborative technologies that empowers them to effortlessly collaborate across functional, geographic, and temporal boundaries. According to research by Gartner, nearly 80% of workers used collaboration tools for work in 2021—representing an eye-popping increase of 44% since the pandemic began. Companies need to be explicit about what tools make up their collaborative technology stack and be crystal clear about which technologies are used for which purposes. When should employees use Slack? When should they use email? When should they use Confluence or Google Docs?

Trim tool sprawl

But, it’s not just about adding new tools. It’s equally as important to cull your tool stack and subtract software tools that are duplicative or not meaningfully boosting productivity. Research by Productiv has found that the average company has 254 applications, but that employees use only a small fraction of these tools regularly. Each tool should have a distinct use case. If tools are duplicative, they will wreak havoc on your employees’ productivity levels.

A strong documentation culture supports asynchronous work

Even with the latest and greatest hardware and software, workers’ productivity levels will be suboptimal without a strong documentation culture. Strong documentation—especially process documentation—is critical in a flexible work environment where workers can’t always tap on their neighbors’ shoulders for information and help. Unfortunately, companies aren’t yet cutting it in terms of documenting their processes for a remote work environment. Research by GitLab has found that fewer than half of workers in remote workplaces believe that their companies are doing a good job at documenting processes. When documentation processes fall short, this creates a significant search cost for employees as they search for files and information across different systems.

Only with great documentation can your organization transition to more asynchronous communication. Without a strong documentation culture, asynchronous communication will fail because workers won’t know where to find information and will need to ping their colleagues for help. A staggering 70% of people in remote work environments continue to ping their colleagues for information. As well, if employers don’t trust their workers to manage their work with autonomy, workers won’t feel empowered to work asynchronously and will feel pressure to respond in real-time to pings and other requests.

Invest for success

Flexible work can be more productive than traditional office work. But the relationship is far from causal. Equipping your employees with great up-to-date hardware, and software, and focusing on building a strong documentation culture are key to reaping productivity gains from flexible work. When you optimize for your workers’ productivity levels, they’ll have more time to do their most important work—maximizing profitability, developing new business strategies with agility, and serving customers in the best possible way. As management guru, Peter Drucker, once said, “Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”