Remote working ways do not lend themselves to gauging true productivity. At best, it is about guesswork. Image Credit: Corbis

One of the big surprises to emerge from life under lockdown has been our apparent ability to work effectively from home.

In recent months, as office doors slammed shut and the mass exodus of workers began, employers and employees alike feared that the distractions of home would act as a drag on productivity. But, a string of surveys suggests otherwise.

In fact, a whopping 90 per cent of respondents in one Fortune 1000 company’s survey claimed they were just as productive now as they were before — if not more so. Great news, right? Well, not so fast.

I hate to put a dampener on things, but the productivity picture isn’t all that rosy right now. The facts contradict what employees say. So far, labour productivity has decreased by 2.5 per cent during the pandemic. And according to Gartner, 82 per cent of remote teams underperform expectations.


Let’s start with the glaringly obvious — a perennial problem with workplace surveys, which is that people are biased, often in their favour. Think about it: very rarely do employees voluntarily hold their hands up and confess to their bosses that they are underperforming. Why would they?

Those who want to continue working from home are not about to draw attention to the fact that household chores, noisy kids, and the allure of the back yard on a sunny day are all eating into their working hours. As for those who would rather return to the office, so precarious is the economic climate right now, many keep their mouths shut through fear for their jobs.

After all, if they can’t work effectively within the parameters of the new normal, maybe their employers will take the view that they shouldn’t be working for them at all. So, underneath the veneer of all this effortless, home-based productivity, trouble is brewing.

Survey statistics say one thing, but executives can’t help but feel that something isn’t quite right, and they lack the tools and insight to pinpoint the problem. Now more than ever, companies need productivity to increase margins and boost profitability, but only few are accurately measuring it.

Employees may say they’re working productively, but are employers supposed to simply take them at their word?

A recent research brief from enaible underscored just how big the discrepancy is between the overwhelming need for productivity on the one hand, and the business-critical ability to measure it on the other. In the survey of more than 200 corporate executives, over 60 per cent of respondents said they were pursuing productivity “very aggressively” in order to improve profitability, while an even larger proportion — almost 83 per cent — claimed that employee productivity would play a big role in the immediate future of their organisations.

So far so good, you might think, but here’s where the discrepancy lies: less than 5 per cent of survey participants said that they were using a quantitative, standardised productivity score, with more than 32 per cent admitting that they rely purely on instinct and general observation to measure employee productivity. So, no wonder there’s confusion.

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Manage perceptions

Here’s the thing: even if company productivity concerns are misplaced and employees are working their socks off from home, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the doubt exists, and so long as the boss calls the shots, that perception is all important.

So, while some companies risk their futures by relying on gut instinct the word of remote workers, here is an idea: why not answer your burning productivity questions once and for all with a quantitative productivity score? Thanks to developments in AI and other advanced technologies, solutions are hitting the market that can measure productivity in real-time and provide actionable recommendations on how to help it grow.

As economies teeter on the brink of recession, now is the time to plunge into the world of AI and emerge from this COVID-19 coma with deeper insights and greater productivity than ever.

This new world of ours is full of unknowns, but the productivity of your workforce does not have to be one of them.

- Tommy Weir is CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at tsw@tommyweir.com.