Festival of Work 2019 roundup: Three secrets to a more productive workforce

Charlotte Nicol
Published on 18th June 2019
3 min read

What’s does the future of work look like?

That was the question organizers, speakers and delegates at CIPD’s first ever Festival of Work set out to answer.

Throughout the two days, there was one word that kept popping up around the future of work: productivity.

It was clear that HR and People leaders know that there’s a productivity problem. Solving it, however, is a far harder task.

The challenge seems to stem from everyone being ‘too busy to get things done’. Whether it’s getting lost in emails or sitting through irrelevant, time consuming meetings, it’s having an effect on both organizations and national output (GDP).

In fact, we found in our recent research a staggering one-third of employees are productive for less than 30 hours a week. That’s one whole day a week they’re in work but aren’t working.

There might not be a simple answer to a more productive workforce, but here’s three themes experts shared at this year’s inaugural Festival of Work on the topic.

1. Tailor your onboarding program

What’s the best way to get from ‘yes to desk’?

Stephanie Davies, Chief Happiness Officer at Laughology, a training and consulting organization, chaired a lightening talk session on successful onboarding. She opened the session asking: “What’s the best way to keep onboarders engaged and productive?”

She explained that whilst you might not need to give new or pre-boarded employees support with productivity in itself, setting them on the right path from the start to enable them to be productive is vital.

Rob Ashcroft, Head of Learning, Strategy and Development at Santander, explained it’s about tailoring experiences – not just based on role, but focused on the individual.

He shared how his organization had moved from a ‘one size fits all’ onboarding model to a one-to-one model, through online coaching and tailor-made online training courses, that could be sped up or slowed down depending on individual needs.

2. Instill a culture of work-life balance

“There’s a definite link between flexible working and wellbeing to engagement and productivity”, explained Lynda Thomson from Scottish National Heritage in her case study talk on the implications of flexible and remote working in enhancing performance and productivity.

It’s a no-brainer really. If employees feel empowered to work when – and where – works best for them, then their output is going to be significantly higher. When we asked, we found the same thing: 81% of 3,500 employees we polled on what drives them at work placed value on flexible working, too.

However, good work-life balance goes beyond flexible working. Professor of Organizational Psychology at Manchester Business School, Sir Cary Cooper, explained in a panel session on reducing digital stress to increase productivity, that there’s a delicate balance to strike – and everyone has different ways of working, particularly in today’s always-on world.

He discussed how line managers can be part of the problem when it comes to wellbeing, such as sending and receiving emails outside of hours.

In the case of flexible working, it’s important to strike a balance with emails out of hours. Yes, some employees may work in the evenings if it works best for them. However, that doesn’t mean that their approach works for someone else. Employees might feel like they need to respond, even if they’re officially offline.

HR and People teams should encourage line managers to understand that one approach doesn’t fit all when it comes to flexible working and productivity.

3. Embrace technology, but don’t forget humans

“Computers can tell us answers, only humans know what answers really matter,” Garry Kasparov, world-renowned chess player, famous for his defeat against IBM’s Deep Blue computer, said in his opening keynote on where machine intelligence ends, and human creativity begins.

His message? Computers are a tool that enable humans to do the work, and they’re not the answer to a more productive workforce without the human element.

In fact, many of the speakers over the two days reiterated the need for balance between humanization and embracing technology. Peter Cheese, Chief Executive at CIPD explained: “You can’t just invest in technology, you have to invest in your people, too.” With AI and automation helping to free up time for employees, re-skilling and upskilling will play a vital part in the evolution of the workforce.

For Chris Giles, Economics Editor at Financial Times, technology is the answer to part of the productivity conundrum, freeing up time usually spent on admin for more complex tasks, he explained in his session on whether the new era of technology can solve the UK’s output puzzle.

When it comes to productivity, no one size fits all

Ultimately, building great workforce experiences are your organization’s chance to boost productivity. Our research found that it’s vital for 92% of employees to enable them to be productive in the workplace.

However, those experiences might look different for each employee. Whilst it’s a challenge to craft new employee experiences that everyone will be happy with, 50% of employees we spoke to said they’d never actually been asked what drives them in the workplace. So before anything, ask your employees what would make them happy in the workplace.

The next step all boils down to data to really understand what gets your workforce working. A whopping 90% of HR and People leaders said that they struggle to gain strategic insight from their data, yet it’s vital in really understanding what your people need.

So, if all organizations created better experiences, could that be the turning point in boosting, not only organizational, but national productivity? Peter Cheese explained in his session it’s the entire workforce’s responsibility.

“What we can do about our own organizations is one question. What we can do about the economy is something we must take on collectively.”

Want to build fantastic experiences for your people? Find out why your workforce isn’t working with our research from 3,500 employees. Or, discover more about using technology to free up your HR and People team to concentrate on building better experiences for your people. Why not schedule your demo today?


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