Navigating productivity in a disrupted landscape: insights from nine tech leaders

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In 2020, productivity has taken on a different meaning than in previous years. While businesses typically expect to look for marginal gains, the global pandemic has necessitated more sweeping technological transformations in order to maintain output and efficiency.

Below, nine technology executives reflect on what productivity looks like in the current climate and how businesses should shift their focus going forward.

Krishna Panicker, Vice President of Product at Pipedrive

“Productivity has taken on a brand new focus following COVID-19’s seismic impact on companies and their employees. We still believe that the tools and features we have in place to support salespeople are vital - but we’re actively encouraging our networks to focus more on relationships with their customers at this time. Right now, we need to put empathy and understanding in front of selling.”

“One of the most valuable things salespeople can do right now is really listening to their customers and potential customers to understand their challenges and offer advice and solutions. Many companies have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and salespeople have had to quickly adapt their strategies and focus - so whilst productivity looks very different post-lockdown, the investment in relationships now should pay off, once companies are in a better position to make purchasing decisions.”

Joshua Zerkel, Global Head of Community at Asana

“With the global pandemic turning “business as usual” completely on its head, business leaders need to rethink what productivity means for them and their teams when navigating this new landscape. Remote working is new territory for many organisations, meaning that there’s a risk employees could end up feeling burnt out and disengaged if they aren’t given the right support. Focusing on employee wellbeing and quality of work rather than time spent can help businesses to remain productive despite current challenges.”

“Retaining an engaging and empathetic company culture is the first step to ensuring that employees’ emotional and professional needs are met. Setting up regular check-ins can help identify those who are struggling and provide them with support — something which is crucial when teams are remote. Finally, taking a streamlined approach to notifications and remote working tools can help employees to take control of their schedules and stop their workdays from being constantly interrupted. This is especially important when employees are juggling other responsibilities such as childcare.”

“When every team member feels empowered and has clarity, businesses can amount to great successes. Moving forward can only happen effectively if employees feel connected and reassured that they are working towards a common goal. It then becomes obvious that true productivity isn’t about working long hours, but rather about producing quality output and building an engaged workforce.”

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James Butland, VP of Global Banking at Airwallex

“Businesses often fail to look abroad for opportunities to increase profitability. For those in the UK it’s not always the default thinking - yet, ‘when one door closes, a window opens’."

"It’s not as hard as many, particularly SMEs, might expect - especially the financial management side. Changing, moving, and managing money abroad for buying goods, services, and staffing used to be terribly inefficient. Businesses still using their high street bank might still be feeling this pain. The explosion of fintech innovation has transformed as financial services providers can now provide app or web-driven simple solutions to buy foreign currencies at transparent and low rates, making it easy to manage. Even just holding foreign currency against fluctuations and cashing it back to pounds at the right time can be a productive way to improve margins and make assets work hard for the business. At the very least, businesses should be saving on the conversion fees banks charge by using more modern fintech providers.”

Stuart Templeton, Head of UK at Slack

“The current pandemic has underlined the need for improved communication in the workplace. With many businesses moving to remote working, clarity and alignment have become more important than ever, and directly impact performance and productivity. When planning for the months ahead, business leaders need to shift their focus away from productivity gains as a whole, and hone in on strengthening communication across the organization.”

“Despite its inability to seamlessly align teams, email has been the de-facto form of workplace communication for years. This is changing. Even before the pandemic, channel-based messaging platforms began gaining popularity due to the transparency they provide. Unlike the fragmented view email gives, channel-based communication grants employees easy access to information, whenever they need it. At a time where many teams are distributed, it is no wonder that adoption has surged in the last few months.”

“Businesses which use tools that provide alignment and transparency are the ones best set up for success. Whether employees are based at home or in the office, channel-based messaging will empower entire workforces to remain productive as businesses continue to navigate this next normal.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO at Disciple Media

“Since working from home became the ‘new normal’, many business leaders are starting to realise that the physical locations their staff work from aren’t as critical as they might have thought.”

“What’s far more important is the ways people connect - and how they align around the things they’re all aiming to achieve together. Being a part of a team who share the same goals and talking to those who understand and empower you can make a huge difference to your state of mind.”

"These communications are now increasingly digital - and the power of owning your own community data is becoming more and more important. Unlocking insight about how groups of people interact can be incredibly useful when it comes to optimising teams’ happiness, engagement, and, ultimately, productivity.”

“A business isn’t simply a group of people trying to do tasks. It’s a community. And those companies who foster their communities carefully will tend to find their people are happier and more productive, too."

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Spencer Tuttle, VP EMEA at ThoughtSpot

“For years now people have been scratching their heads when it comes to solving the UK’s productivity problem. What’s interesting is that recent research shows that empowering frontline workers to make important decisions in the moment could be key to this. The problem is, in reality, few are equipping their workers with the tools, training and resources to do so.”

“Organisational silos create knowledge vacuums, stopping workers getting the information they need for important data-led decision-making. Where workers are able to self-service knowledge these barriers to productive working are greatly reduced.”

“With modern AI engines and search-driven analytics, workers need not depend on specialised data scientists or remote team members to uncover the insights needed to supercharge their work in the moment. Likewise, the data team can then focus on more complex challenges that really do require their knowledge and expertise.”

Liron Smadja, Director of Marketing at Fiverr

"For the first time in years - making productivity gains has taken the backseat for businesses due to a rapid shift to remote work and a dramatic change to the way we work. Equipping teams with the tools they need to work effectively, supporting employee wellbeing and connection, and finding ways to manage decreasing resources has rightly been front of mind.”

“One of ways we have seen businesses adapt is that well over half (58%) of UK businesses are working with more digital freelancers to support their teams during remote work. According to our findings, digital freelancers have been a life-line for supporting UK businesses who have quickly needed to shift their processes offline to online in a Covid-19 world. From ecommerce skills, to web copywriting and social media expertise - freelancers have become a formidable part of business armoury in remote work.”

“Now, as attention begins to turn back to team productivity for remote teams, it’s positive to see that businesses are continuing to work with freelancers. In fact, 42% of businesses actually found freelancers to inject new levels of productivity into teams who may still be adjusting to a fully online world.”

James Herbert, CEO and Founder at Hastee

“Corporate productivity is linked to workforce wellbeing. The health-work link was made starkly apparent by the preventative shutdowns to limit the virus spread. As businesses look to open up and return to profitability UK PLC needs to strengthen this link with wellbeing programmes that ensure staff can give their best by being their best.”

“Our recent study showed that 27% of workers agree financial stress affects work performance, and 39% missing work from financial stress. These productivity hits can be alleviated with earnings on demand, a flexible pay structure that gives employees liquidity and helps them manage their money, and ultimately boosts productivity. 54% of workers are more likely to stay with employers offering flexible payment. Given that workers may be managing money in new ways to fit the times, like finding disrupted transport costing more, or paying for food for relatives who can’t shop for themselves, flexibility is crucial.”

“For the employer, cloud technologies don’t require painful integrations and some earnings on demand solutions don’t even impact cash flow or charge the employer for use, taking back employees’ drawdowns from employers on pay day.”

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Brandon Oliveri-O'Connor, Head of UK&I at Procore

“The construction industry is a critical part of the wider economy in the UK. Amid this pandemic and the financial challenges felt globally, productivity has never been so paramount in the construction sector. Without it projects become delayed and budgets quickly become overwhelmed. According to our 2020 report with FMI Industry, one of the top three concerns for over half of the construction firms we polled (52%) is maximising field productivity.”

“Contractors and their supply chain face a constant challenge to improve productivity, to ensure every project is delivered on time, on budget, and in a safe manner. Key to achieving this is to ensure that all parties have access to real-time data from a single source, that is understood by all.”

“Another difficulty faced by this sector is its historic dependency on paper and simple electronic records. With data produced and saved across such mediums and platforms, information is often siloed and challenging to source. Platform technology is increasingly recognised as a solution for improving productivity, reducing rework, and saving time, by providing a single-source platform.”

“World Productivity Day offers construction businesses the opportunity to embrace technological solutions that will meet their connectivity and mobility needs.”