Reimagining the path to productivity

by Mark Mader

The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in significant changes for organizations — including a tenfold increase in the percentage of employees working remotely.* While some organizations were prepared to respond to this dramatic change, many have struggled to find the right approach and the right tools to make sure their employees can remain aligned, accountable, and engaged.

Last week I hosted a webinar on rethinking workforce productivity and collaboration with Chris Marsh, Research Director at 451 Research. We discussed the current state of organizations and employees, what employees feel they are lacking  — including clarity around goals, alignment within and across teams, and effective collaboration* —  and how organizations' technology investments in the right tools could greatly improve employee morale, engagement, and productivity. Here are my key takeaways from that conversation, and what I see as a path toward productivity for organizations. 

The human dimension is the key to success

The rapid shift to remote work has been a challenge for many employees, even those who work at organizations that were best prepared for the changes. Yet the research reveals that distinct and differing experiences exist across the workforce today, with just over 10% of workers thriving in our new reality.* 

State of workforce


On the other end of the spectrum, over half of all workers surveyed report feeling less engaged and less productive than they were pre-crisis, and they’re facing very real productivity challenges. Distractions from too many voice, video, messaging, and email conversations; distractions in their personal lives; not having the right tools; changing priorities; lack of clarity and alignment — all of these have very real impacts for workers and their organizations.

To solve these challenges, many organizations are over-indexing on email, virtual conferencing, and other team collaboration tools. Yet as we see, these solutions may actually introduce more friction into an employee’s day-to-day work. It’s not enough for organizations to focus on the tools they’re providing to employees. They need to ask employees what they are thinking and how they’re feeling about their level of engagement and their ability to be productive, in order to truly understand the human dimension before they solve for it with more tools.  

Digitization does not equal digital transformation

The rapid shift to remote work has made it clear that there’s a difference between being connected digitally, and undergoing digital transformation. For instance, we’ve digitized face-to-face conversations through virtual meeting software, and more virtual conversations are happening, but that’s not what employees believe will maximize their productivity. 

There’s a paradox here in terms of digitizing the old way and finding a new way to work. Employees report their number one challenge is the absence of daily in-person face-to-face conversations.* At the same time, employees report that the number one improvement to their productivity would be to have more focused time not spent conversing with others.* Over three-quarters would prefer doing fewer work calls, and 74% would prefer doing less email and messaging.* 

While employees are perhaps having more conversations than ever, the ability to actually do work is being lost in the grand scheme. Companies assume that their quick fixes will scale, but not many are looking at the changing fabric of work and what they need to do to drive their organizations toward success. Organizations prepared to win in this new world of work are more likely to be tech early adopters who were already executing on their digital transformation strategies.* They’re also significantly more likely to have elevated workforce productivity and collaboration tools as a priority since the COVID-19 pandemic.* These organizations are going beyond mere digitization to a reassessment of how to support their employees to make them more engaged and productive. 

Organizations must provide a path toward productivity

The likelihood that we will return to what was deemed “normal” before the pandemic diminishes as we forge ahead. So what’s the way forward? I believe that humans are resilient. A positive state doesn’t have to mean a return to what was; we can find better ways of working that help us build a path forward to greater engagement and productivity.

Digital transformation isn’t going anywhere. In fact, enlightened organizations are leaning in during this uncertain time. Organizations who aren’t already doing so would do well to embrace and execute on their digital transformation strategies, re-think their longer-term workforce productivity technology strategies, and make workforce productivity and collaboration tools a tier-1 priority. 

As part of these initiatives, organizations should focus on finding the right mix of tools to support an engaged and productive workforce. Employees want transparency, clarity around goals, alignment, access to information, insight into the work that’s being done, and effective conversations that help them drive work forward.* I believe that tools that can provide for these needs will greatly improve employee morale, engagement, and productivity.

Ultimately, I believe that people choose to persevere. Organizations who were on the front foot going into this crisis are well positioned to face what lies ahead. But it’s not too late for those who were on the back foot. They have options, but must move quickly to show their workforce the new path to productivity. 

If you’re interested in hearing my full conversation with Chris Marsh, you can watch the webinar recording here

*Source: Based on a survey of enterprise professionals conducted by 451 Research, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence, and commissioned by Smartsheet in May 2020. The survey was conducted by 451 Research among a sample of 800 U.S. workers at enterprise companies with 1,500+ full time employees and three or more office locations. It was live from April 16 to May 1, 2020.