In recent years, wellbeing, particularly mental health, has risen high on the business awareness agenda, and the global pandemic has made wellbeing a leadership priority.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor health reduces national GDP by 15%, almost twice the 8% hit to GDP that the pandemic itself has had. Nations with poor health and low GDP typically are unable to compete on the world stage. Investing in health and wellbeing, WHO says, reduces sickness rates and increases productivity. Far from being the sole responsibility of the state, every employer should be interested in the health and wellbeing of a nation's professionals.
So, how can business leaders balance the need to drive productivity yet look after their staff when basic needs of organisations still need to be met? The answer lies in balanced productivity, and it is key to the wellbeing of employees, but only if it's managed correctly.
Remote working and successful management
Remote working is the most visible change to the landscape, but that topic has multiple nuances to consider. Managers are distant from their reports, making managing them and gathering data on their productivity harder. But so too are colleagues remote from each other, which impacts their morale, motivation, and how they go about completing tasks.
Yet, the idea of remote working is still very much in a fluid state and some businesses are still battling with fears over decreased productivity and future growth. However, it is being embraced more than expected. Research by Morgan Stanley finds that only 50% of the workforce in Europe's most important five economies will be working in the office every day of the week. In August 2020, social media business Pinterest paid $90 million to end a lease obligation on its San Francisco office as its workforce became more mobile.
So, what does more remote working mean for productivity and management? Working patterns change when employees blend work and home life in new ways, which may change how productivity is measured. In business, productivity is essential to maximize the value organisations provide to customers, whether in increased output or commercial savings brought about by increased efficiency.
Yet now, finding new ways of doing business with customers is a reality for many organisations, meaning the old metrics used to measure productivity may be irrelevant in today's marketplace. Scheduling and monitoring wellbeing in a distributed business has unique challenges and opportunities that technology such as employee productivity monitoring (EPM) solutions can overcome.
Tools for a success in the digital age
As many organisations set about digital transformation, this strategy is more likely to damage team members' wellbeing. Employees can feel that their concerns and insights aren't listened to or that implementation programs are rushed. Leaders of organisations undergoing digital transformation also report they are not provided with the tools and training to support team members' wellbeing as the business transforms.
However, businesses mustn't stop at technology investment when tackling wellbeing – they also need to implement cultural change in managing and engaging with employees to reap the benefits. Organisations that create a better environment for their team members' wellbeing will see additional business benefits beyond productivity, such as a high retention rate, which lowers recruitment costs.
"Just 15 months ago, it would have been unthinkable for organisations to consider that existing operating methods would completely stop. It was usual for business operations to regularly occur at kitchen tables, garden outbuildings, even spare bedrooms. Yet, that is precisely what happened in 2020. Now that vaccination programs are injecting life into the economy, technology leaders need to plan towards their businesses' return phase. Innovative business technology leaders must take the return to the enterprise as an opportunity to reconsider the dynamic between employees and management."
Yet the remote working isn’t a new phenomenon. The trend towards a distributed enterprise predates the pandemic; in 2017, the American Economic Review published research that showed employees would take an 8% pay cut to work from home.
During lockdown, many workers in the knowledge economy reported that productivity increased, and now that remote working has been proven in the field, previously reluctant management will hopefully seek tools to ensure they can continue to coordinate their teams. This will deliver a new caring form of leadership, which also became a new norm in the pandemic and beyond. Wellbeing is here to stay as a management demand, and that can only be a good thing.