Three Reasons to Rethink Human Productivity & How will We Experience Work in The Future

November 24, 202010:00 am3401 views
Three Reasons to Rethink Human Productivity & How will We Experience Work in The Future
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This article is a guest post.

Forced to adapt and redesign work to encompass a flexible mix of on-site and remote arrangements, business leaders have now turned their attention to raising human productivity. 

Work productivity can be a controversial topic in Asia, given how many employees here have had to conform to traditional tropes and cultural pressures such as ‘presentism’ and working longer hours to demonstrate that they are doing more, or just enough.

For leaders who are questioning how they can make their employees more productive in a flexible work model, this is the incorrect way of approaching the issue. 

With employee productivity being cited as the most important key performance indicator (KPI) used by firms to analyze their return on investment (ROI) from employee experience (EX) initiatives [1], the  preeminent question when considering the impact of COVID-19 to a workplace should instead be: “is human productivity at work an outdated concept?”

 Here are three reasons why it probably is:

1. A new definition for ‘conducive working environment’

COVID-19 has opened our eyes to the fact that work does not have to be done in a physical office. 

Our creativity and tenacity have helped us to respond in fresh and instinctive ways, with 71 percent of employees now indicating that they are easing into the changes in working style and picking up the skills they need to thrive in today’s new environments [2]. The effectiveness of human adaptation has been proven in Asian countries, such as Singapore, where productivity has improved from April to June [3], when work-from-home was enforced due to social distancing and stay-at-home mandates.

In response, 78 percent of employers are thinking of tweaking their remote work strategy for the longer term – in hope that this enables their employees to be even more productive [4].

See also: Ways to Create Workplace Engagement on a Budget

2. Improvements in technology 

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of technology to connect us and its ability to handle surges in customer demands that humans cannot sustainably deal with.

When call center volumes rocketed, chatbots bore the brunt of the work. When millions transited to a work-from-home arrangement, artificial intelligence (AI) helped with provisioning this change. The transition to remote work has resulted in about 200 million daily virtual meeting participants across the Asia-Pacific region [5] – which have again been facilitated through technology. 

Within firms, everyone can agree that digital tools enhance productivity and strong leadership encourages collaboration. However, human resource (HR) often overestimates the ease of use, availability of needed features and the accessibility of these digital tools. They have their limits when relied on alone [6]. 

In this new context, business leaders should be interested in empowering human value creation and let technology shoulder the burden of productivity. 

3. Humans have fundamentally different strengths from machines

Traditional metrics, such as the number of meetings, calls and documents processed often give us a wrong indication of what value creation is. Was the meeting insightful? Was the customer satisfied with the call? Were insights gained and shared across the employee network? These are some questions that leaders should start asking. Quality is often not captured in these outdated metrics and placing less importance on such outcomes allows us to drop outdated notions of human productivity. 

While it is commonly known that investments in intelligent automation can effectively drive efficient work output, business executives need to recognize that humans create the most value when they are not compared against ‘efficiency outcomes’ generated by machines. Humans create the most value when they use their collaborative skills and creativity, coupled with their experience and judgement to experiment, iterate and innovate. We simply cannot measure these uniquely powerful human abilities in a linear fashion by using binary input-output metrics. 

It is rare that brilliant ideas come into fruition due to more meetings and time spent at a desk. Instead, they emerge in the alchemy of human collaboration fueled by diverse perspectives, while being augmented by technology. With each individual, a ‘eureka’ moment will come from and after a wide spectrum of inputs. 

Employees intuitively understand this. However, creating and sustaining an environment where employees’ opinions are heard is a challenge. It is also the biggest misalignment between HR and employees when it comes to EX [7]. 

How do we move forward from here?

The pandemic has propelled us forward by two to three years. Those grappling with temporary fixes with hopes of returning to ‘normal’ work will find themselves stuck in the past. Forward-thinking business leaders will desert old notions of work and leapfrog to a future where a hybrid workforce amalgamates machine productivity with human value creation.

In a year likely to be filled with more lockdowns and fluctuating consumer behavior, businesses need to fundamentally change their workforce in two aspects: firstly, to automate in response to dynamic demands; secondly, to change how human value creation is driven, measured and rewarded. 

Executives who want to empower human value creation should consider: 

  • What uniquely human contributions will improve product, service or customer experience
  • How should work be done and where can it be done
  • How technology covers different aspects of productivity
  • What people need for them to grow and perform to their potential
  • How the company can maintain equal levels of employee engagement in a hybrid environment
  • How the company will maintain a culture that will be attractive regardless of which ‘mode’ employees work
  • How the company encourages leaders to have a growth mindset, be curious, listen and ask better questions 

In this context, well-being, autonomy, inclusiveness and collaborative opportunities will be key organizational enablers of meaningful and high-performance work. Productivity needs to be intertwined with purpose and EX to drive long-term value. Furthermore, employees with higher satisfaction levels are more motivated to work harder, stay longer and speak well of the company [8]. Customers benefit from this too – 76 percent of employees mentioned their EX has improved their ability to provide a good customer experience [9]. 

The future of human productivity

Now is the time to allow people to do their tasks in the best way possible. By giving them more freedom over when, where and how their work should be done, as well as putting the burden of productivity on technology, people will start uncovering more value creation – which should be rewarded fairly by the company. 

In the grand scheme of things, there is exponential growth and potential to be realized at organizational and national levels when we start combining the merits of human creativity and machine productivity.

Read also: The Effect of 5G for Workplace Productivity & HR


  • [1] 2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP
  • [2]2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP
  • [3]2020 The Resilience of the Singapore Workforce
  • [4]2020 EY Global Work Reimagined Survey
  • [5]2020 Transitioning Asia-Pacific to a New Normal of Work
  • [6]2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP
  • [7]2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP
  • [8]2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP
  • [9]2020 Forrester HXM research for EY teams & SAP

About author

Stephen Koss, EY Asia-Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader

Stephen Koss is an executive with more than 20 years of experience advising large organizations on people strategy and is EY Asia-Pacific Leader for EY Workforce Advisory practice. Prior to joining EY in 2006, Stephen worked with a global technology firm as well as another big four consulting organization. Stephen has been a supporter of Princes Trust Charities and the Prince’s Lead Your Own Business program. He’s also a conference speaker on topics including workforce planning, leadership, and the future of human resources. 

Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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