Harvard Business Review 3 Jahre Erfahrung

The Pandemic is Widening a Corporate Productivity Gap


Decem­ber 01, 2020HBR StaffSum­ma­ry.   

Dra­wing on rese­arch from con­sul­ting firm Bain & Com­pa­ny, this artic­le sug­gests that the pan­de­mic has widen­ed the gap bet­ween top per­for­mers and other com­pa­nies in terms of the three main pro­duc­ti­vi­ty dri­vers: people’s time, their talent, and their energy

During the Covid-19 pan­de­mic, most busi­nesses have adopted new ways of working. Many employees have gone remo­te, inter­ac­ting with cus­to­mers and cowor­kers vir­tual­ly. Others con­ti­nue to go to a work­place each day, but per­form their jobs very dif­fer­ent­ly. Ever­yo­ne is doing their best. But how pro­duc­ti­ve have com­pa­nies actual­ly been during the pan­de­mic rela­ti­ve to whe­re they were befo­re Covid-19?

The short ans­wer: It depends on the com­pa­ny. Some have remain­ed remar­kab­ly pro­duc­ti­ve during the Covid-era, capi­ta­li­zing on the latest tech­no­lo­gy to col­la­bo­ra­te effec­tively and effi­ci­ent­ly. Most, howe­ver, are less pro­duc­ti­ve now than they were 12 months ago. The key dif­fe­rence bet­ween the best and the rest is how suc­cessful they were at mana­ging the scar­ce time, talent, and ener­gy of their work­forces befo­re Covid-19. Com­pa­nies that were stars befo­re the pan­de­mic have con­tin­ued to shi­ne. Tho­se with less stel­lar per­for­mance have strug­g­led mightily.

To ela­bo­ra­te, in our 2017 book Time, Talent, Ener­gy: Over­co­me Orga­niza­tio­nal Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Pro­duc­ti­ve Power we demons­tra­ted that three fac­tors best explain the rela­ti­ve pro­duc­ti­vi­ty of lar­ge organizations:

  • The time each employee has to dedi­ca­te to pro­duc­ti­ve work each day, wit­hout dis­trac­tion from exces­si­ve e‑communications, unneces­sa­ry mee­tings, or bureau­cra­tic pro­ces­ses and procedures;
  • The talent that each worker can bring to their job and, important­ly, how an organization’s best talent is deploy­ed, tea­m­ed and led; and
  • The dis­cre­tio­na­ry ener­gy each employee is wil­ling to invest in their work and dedi­ca­te to the suc­cess of the com­pa­ny, its cus­to­mers and other stakeholders.

The com­pa­nies that are the very best at mana­ging scar­ce time, talent and ener­gy — that is, the avera­ge of the top quar­ti­le of com­pa­nies in our rese­arch — are 40% more pro­duc­ti­ve than the rest (the avera­ge of the remai­ning three quar­ti­les). This enorm­ous pro­duc­ti­vi­ty gap is a key source of com­pe­ti­ti­ve advan­ta­ge for the very best companies.

Covid-19 has affec­ted all three dri­vers of work­force pro­duc­ti­vi­ty — time, talent and ener­gy. But the best have felt the impact very dif­fer­ent­ly from the rest.

The best companies have minimized wasted time and kept employees focused; the rest have not. 

Com­pa­nies that were alre­a­dy col­la­bo­ra­ting effec­tively and working pro­duc­tively befo­re the pan­de­mic have remain­ed pro­duc­ti­ve during lock­downs and other dis­rup­ti­ons. Stay-at-home orders libe­ra­ted time pre­vious­ly spent com­mu­ting and crea­ted fle­xi­bi­li­ty in work sche­du­les, enab­ling many employees to devo­te addi­tio­nal time to their jobs. One recent stu­dy con­duc­ted by Raf­fa­el­la Sadun, Jef­frey Pol­zer and others, which included an ana­ly­sis of emails and mee­tings for 3.1 mil­li­on peo­p­le in 16 glo­bal cities, found that the length of the avera­ge work­day increased by 48.5 minu­tes during lock­down in the ear­ly weeks of the pan­de­mic. In high­ly pro­duc­ti­ve orga­niza­ti­ons, employees have capi­ta­li­zed on new tech­no­lo­gies to stay con­nec­ted with cus­to­mers and cowor­kers during this time. We esti­ma­te that the best orga­niza­ti­ons have seen pro­duc­ti­ve time increase by 5% or more.

For com­pa­nies that strug­g­led to col­la­bo­ra­te pro­duc­tively befo­re the pan­de­mic, work-from-home orders only made mat­ters worse. To begin with, the time con­su­med in vir­tu­al mee­tings explo­ded. Rese­ar­chers at Har­vard Busi­ness School and New York Uni­ver­si­ty found that the num­ber of mee­tings increased during the pan­de­mic by 12.9%, on avera­ge, and the num­ber of atten­de­es per mee­ting grew by 13.5%. While the avera­ge length of mee­tings decli­ned, the total time con­su­med by mee­tings increased sub­stan­ti­al­ly. Sad­ly, for most orga­niza­ti­ons, this invest­ment of addi­tio­nal time yiel­ded very litt­le. The Har­vard Busi­ness School and New York Uni­ver­si­ty data is con­sis­tent with what we have obser­ved at many com­pa­nies: Poor col­la­bo­ra­ti­on and inef­fi­ci­ent work prac­ti­ces have redu­ced pro­duc­ti­ve time by 2% to 3% for most organizations.

The best have capitalized on changing work patterns to access difference-making talent.

Excep­tio­nal talent ― peo­p­le with the abili­ty to bring crea­ti­vi­ty and inge­nui­ty to their work ― is a scar­ce and valuable resour­ce. Our rese­arch sug­gests that the best com­pa­nies are 20% more pro­duc­ti­ve than the rest due to the way they acqui­re, deve­lop, team, and lead scar­ce, dif­fe­rence-making talent.

The pan­de­mic has had both posi­ti­ve and nega­ti­ve impacts on talent as a source of pro­duc­ti­vi­ty. Remo­te work has crea­ted oppor­tu­ni­ties for orga­niza­ti­ons to access talent that may have been out of reach pri­or to Covid-19. Phy­si­cal pro­xi­mi­ty to work is no lon­ger a pri­ma­ry fac­tor in deter­mi­ning the pool of available labor for most com­pa­nies. Soft­ware deve­lo­p­ment or big data ana­ly­tics can be done as effec­tively from Cedar Rapids as from San Jose. The best com­pa­nies are capi­ta­li­zing on new and dif­fe­rent sources of talent to build the capa­bi­li­ties they will need to win in the future.

Remo­te work has also enab­led an organization’s most skil­led workers to enga­ge vir­tual­ly in a broa­der ran­ge of initia­ti­ves and teams than they could phy­si­cal­ly — mul­ti­ply­ing the influence the­se indi­vi­du­als have on per­for­mance. For the best com­pa­nies, we esti­ma­te that Covid-19 may have had a small posi­ti­ve impact on productivity.

Most com­pa­nies have strug­g­led to tread water during the pan­de­mic. A dearth of demand for pro­ducts and ser­vices has kept them out of the labor mar­ket, unable to capi­ta­li­ze on oppor­tu­ni­ties to acqui­re new talent. Mean­while, their cur­rent employees have faced moun­ting pres­su­res at home, as they jugg­le work and fami­ly. As a result, some orga­niza­ti­ons have seen many of their star per­for­mers lea­ve the work­force — at least tem­po­r­a­ri­ly — redu­cing over­all pro­duc­ti­vi­ty. We esti­ma­te that Covid-19 has had a slight nega­ti­ve impact on most com­pa­nies’ abili­ty to attract, retain, and mana­ge top per­for­mers, lea­ding to a slight decli­ne in over­all productivity.

The best have found ways to engage and inspire their employees.

Employee enga­ge­ment and inspi­ra­ti­on mat­ter. Accor­ding to our rese­arch, an enga­ged employee is 45% more pro­duc­ti­ve than a mere­ly satis­fied worker. And an inspi­red employee — one who has a pro­found per­so­nal con­nec­tion to their work and/or their com­pa­ny ― is 55% more pro­duc­ti­ve than an enga­ged employee, or more than twice as pro­duc­ti­ve as a satis­fied worker. The bet­ter an orga­niza­ti­on is enga­ging and inspi­ring its employees, the bet­ter its performance.

Of the three pro­duc­ti­vi­ty fac­tors, Covid-19 has hit ener­gy the har­dest. Rese­arch by Achie­vers Work­force Insti­tu­te sug­gests that most orga­niza­ti­ons have strug­g­led to enga­ge their employees during the pan­de­mic. Logi­cal­ly, then, pro­duc­ti­vi­ty is likely to have fal­len con­sider­a­b­ly for most companies.

Not every orga­niza­ti­on has seen employee ener­gy levels decli­ne. Exe­cu­ti­ves from Ado­be, for exam­p­le, have told us that they have found ways to keep peo­p­le enga­ged throug­hout the pan­de­mic. The com­pa­ny was one of the first any­whe­re to issue a “no lay-off pledge” — easing employee con­cerns and signal­ing the company’s unwa­ve­ring com­mit­ment to its work­force.  In March — just days into shel­ter-in-place — seni­or lea­der­ship began con­duc­ting vir­tu­al town halls, from their homes, to keep employees infor­med about the spread of Covid-19 and Adobe’s respon­se. Short­ly the­re­af­ter, the com­pa­ny laun­ched a weekly video series cal­led “Take Five” to help its employees keep abre­ast of important Covid-19 and busi­ness updates, along with tips from fel­low employees (e.g., chef’s from the company’s cafe­te­ria shared ide­as for how to cook gre­at meals with can­ned goods on hand).

As Covid-19 and work-from-home orders per­sis­ted, regu­lar pul­se-check sur­veys reve­a­led that employees were gro­wing tired, balan­cing the new rea­li­ties of work and home. In respon­se, Ado­be gave all employees an extra day off — the third Fri­day of each month — to unplug and rech­ar­ge. The com­bi­na­ti­on of the­se — and many other — efforts has enab­led Ado­be to tap into the dis­cre­tio­na­ry ener­gy of its work­force during Covid-19. In fact, enga­ge­ment scores at Ado­be, accor­ding to the com­pa­ny, have actual­ly increased sin­ce the begin­ning of the pandemic.


The pro­duc­ti­vi­ty gap bet­ween the best and the rest has widen­ed during the pan­de­mic. We esti­ma­te that the best com­pa­nies — tho­se that were alre­a­dy effec­ti­ve in mana­ging the time, talent, and ener­gy of their teams — have grown 5% to 8% more pro­duc­ti­ve over the last 12 months. Addi­tio­nal work time, access to new star talent and con­tin­ued enga­ge­ment have bols­te­red pro­duc­ti­vi­ty at the­se com­pa­nies. Most orga­niza­ti­ons, howe­ver, have expe­ri­en­ced a net reduc­tion in pro­duc­ti­vi­ty of 3% to 6% (or more) due to inef­fi­ci­ent col­la­bo­ra­ti­on, was­teful ways of working, and an over­all decli­ne in employee engagement.

The impact of this widening gap is signi­fi­cant. If the best were 40% more pro­duc­ti­ve than the rest befo­re the pan­de­mic (as our rese­arch sug­gested back in 2017), then they may be grea­ter than 50% more pro­duc­ti­ve now. This boost should enable the­se orga­niza­ti­ons to out-team, out-inno­va­te, out­grow, and out­per­form their com­pe­ti­tors for many years.

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Read more on Moti­vat­ing peo­p­leor rela­ted topics Pro­duc­ti­vi­ty,Talent manage­ment and Time manage­ment


Corporate Productivity


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