Where we’ll work?

In my last blog - Good Decision Making in a Crisis - I looked at the key role of data in decision making. In today’s blog, we look at what the data is telling us about the impacts of home working on operational performance. This is key insight as you think about the future and begin to make decisions on whether to return to office working or not.

A life in operations centres

Lockdown life is making me nostalgic for the most bizarre things. I miss commuting on the train, I miss being stuck in a traffic jam on a bank holiday weekend. I even miss visits to shopping centres.

Office life is also one of the things I miss. The interaction with other people, queuing at the coffee machine, the energy, the buzz. Humans are profoundly social beings (even my fellow introverts).

I've spent most of my working life in large operations centres and have even built one.

They are built as very resilient things. They have multiple dedicated fibre connections coming into the building from different directions so that data traffic is uninterrupted (even if someone digs through the cable in the road outside). They have Uninterrupted Power Supply with huge banks of batteries that keep vital systems running once the power is cut and giant ship generators that kick-in after a few minutes. Physical access is tightly controlled. Comms rooms are protected from fire through inert gas systems.

All of this resilience is necessary given the scale of the work undertaken in the centres. Soberingly, all of this resilience has not helped at all in the crisis we face. It's the people walking into the building that's the problem, not the building itself.

Work from home is also highly resilient. Whilst one individual may lose their internet or power, an outage is unlikely to affect many. Homes very rarely burn down, but if they did it would only affect one person. Physical access is controlled by a thousand front doors rather than a single main entrance. When it comes to crises affecting people rather than simply the buildings in which they work, home working is proving more resilient.

There are risks and concerns that need to be addressed, but many organisations have been processing sensitive transactions from home-based workforces for a long time. Solutions are available.

There is, therefore, a real choice to be made. Do we return our people to large operational centres? Do we keep them working from home? Do we move to work near home, using local offices or bank branches? And if we decide that we need to do all 3, who goes where?

How will you make your choice?

There are a number of questions that you'll be thinking about across all areas of a typical balanced scorecard for operations

  • Risk - can I ensure data security in home working
  • People - how do we maintain engagement, teamwork, development and purpose? Will I be able to attract the right people? Will people stay with me? Will they be happier and healthier or miss the contact with colleagues?
  • Service - can I ensure my service levels remain as they were? Will I be able to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right work and working at my planned rate so that I can get work done on time? Will I be able to control and direct work as I did before?
  • Financial - will I need more people to do the same work, less or the same?

We're going to help you with the last one. What's happened to productivity since teams have moved to home working and why?

The Productivity Change that we've seen

Across our client base we have seen a 9-10% fall in productivity in each week since the move to remote working. That's a big change. To do the same amount of work that you did before you'd need to hire 10% more people.

But we need to get behind the "ate my hamster" headline to see what's driving this.

Across our client base, we see the number of people working has fallen by around 20%. This is partly caused by increased sickness (rates have increased from 6% of your staff complement to 10%) and the remainder due to the inability to get people working due to systems or equipment restrictions or regulation.

Business volumes have, however, fallen even more dramatically - around 25%, so on average an individual will have less work to do than they did before.

It's the availability of work that seems to be driving the fall in productivity rather than the impact of the move to home working.

Whilst this is true on average, when we look at a lower level at departments whose volume hasn't fallen, we do see some variation. There are departments whose productivity hasn't changed (and a few where it has risen), but in a few, there does seem to be an impact on productivity that can't be explained by volume variation.

We're tracking the data closely and beginning to see business volumes rise. We're expecting productivity to rise as a result.

In conclusion, we're not seeing that a move to home working is, by itself, impacting productivity. This is consistent with the experience of clients who made the move to home working prior to the crisis. There may be teams where the physical IT environment (e.g. the need for multiple large monitors) is important and the ability for team members to recreate this infrastructure in their own homes will be variable.

As the weeks progress we'll continue to provide data-driven insights to help with your decision making. For clients of ActiveOps, we'll be providing more detail to help with your decision making and showing you how you're comparing against your peers.

“Stuart has over 28 years of experience of leading change in service operations. His career has spanned project and programme management, strategy, consulting and leading operations divisions and functions. After 17 years with HSBC working in the UK and India, he moved to Abu Dhabi heading operations for ADCB.

Stuart joined ActiveOps in 2016 and leads its Customer Success function.”

Stuart Pugh, Chief Customer Officer, ActiveOps