Are you Smart-working or Dumb-working?

Working from home can bring great advantages, if done right

Credits: Daryl Ginn on Dribbble

It’s now clear that business as usual will be different in the world of work. It’s hard to overestimate the disruption to work that has taken place over the past several months. The pandemic has forced employers to move an unprecedented share of employees — some 40% — to remote working. And for those still onsite, social distancing and collaborating remotely with colleagues have transformed the workplace experience.

The Productivity Question

Given the speed and scale of the pandemic-related changes and the fact that employers had no time to prepare staff for the shift to remote work, many expected to see a decline in employee productivity.

Surprisingly, employees perceive that their productivity has predominantly stayed the same or even improved

Numerous studies have been made, and while this is a subjective productivity indicator, the data is still striking. According to multiple research from Lenovo, McKinsey, BCG, PwC and Deloitte, 63 to 75% of employees said that during the pandemic they have been able to maintain or improve productivity.

That has also been verified both on their individual tasks (such as analyzing data, writing presentations, and executing administrative tasks) and on collaborative tasks (including exchanges with coworkers, working in teams, and interacting with clients), despite the number is lower. And it’s consistent on a global scale.

Are you really working ‘smart’? Or just ‘remote’?

Here comes the catch. By investigating these data a bit more, I found the confirmation of an extremely important concept:

Remote working is just executing your task somewhere else, Smart working requires a whole new approach to work and different capabilities.

During the lockdowns, organizations have necessarily adapted to go on collaborating and to ensure that the most important processes could be carried on remotely. Most have simply transplanted existing processes to remote work contexts, imitating what had been done before the pandemic. This has worked well for some organizations and processes, but not for others.

Organizations should also reflect on their values and culture and on the interactions, practices, and rituals that promote that culture. A company that focuses on developing talent, for example, should ask whether the small moments of mentorship that happen in an office can continue spontaneously in a digital world.

Balancing Time & Space

Struggle to find where to start? PwC says that executives and employees agree on the top-two requirements remote workers need to increase their productivity — better equipment and greater flexibility in work hours.

Let’s talk about the latter. Some of the biggest changes that we expect are:

  • Shifts: working 9to5 makes no sense anymore, the same goes for “1 day a week in the office”. Fluid time windows will accommodate workers’ needs. If you have a working spouse/partner and a couple of kids going to school, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
  • Commuting & vacation: Flexible times to “clock in & out” of the office to minimize traffic pollution, together with the ability to take PTO anytime during the year. That means you won’t have to schedule your holiday in August, especially for people living in Europe.
  • Location: Focus time, production time, execution time… doesn’t matter how we call it, but it will be mostly done at your place. The office will shift into a collaboration place, where (social-distant if needed) meetings or co-creative sprints will take place. And very likely, those offices evolve from giant offices or campus into smaller spaces, better distributed across urban and sub-urban areas.

Smart or Dumb? Take this quick assessment

If you’re an employer, put yourself in your employees’ shoes. If you are an employee, just answer these few questions:

  • Am I responsible to perform the same tasks in the same way I was before the pandemic?
  • Do I have to go through the same internal processes to get things done?
  • Have I been provided with any new tools that made my work-life easier?
  • Has my company responded to my concerns about health and safety matters?
  • Is my company checking my well-being, physical and mental?
  • Is there a strategy and procedure in place to go back to the office?

If most of your answers are NOs… I’m pretty sure you’re not in the smart club. Sorry.


Smart organizations will boldly question long-held assumptions about how work should be done and the role of the office. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The answer, different for every organization, will be based on what talent is needed, which roles are most important, how much collaboration is necessary for excellence, and where offices are located today, among other factors. Even within an organization, the answer could look different across geographies, businesses, and functions, so the exercise of determining what will be needed in the future must be a team sport across real estate, human resources, technology, and the business.

Yet, less than half of executives plan to take steps to help manage workloads or set clear rules on when people must be available. It’s time to change this.

Dedicated service designers, change managers, process specialists, content strategists, data analysts… and a passionate sponsor to lead them. This is just a preview of a team that can really change your post-pandemic employee experience. Before your productivity plummets.

Additional Resources

Principal Experience Designer @ Facebook 🕹 Striving to envision, design & deliver outstanding experiences for all kinds of users 🔮 FedericoFrancioni.com

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