Rising to the challenge of remote productivity in the smart city space

- Posted on August 29, 2020

The return to work has begun in many cities and regions around the world but employers and managers are having to deal with a number of changes as well as changing employee expectations.

In normal times, lack of productivity costs companies throughout the world an average of $7bn dollars per year. In times of crisis, uncertainty and fear can further increase this figure. It prevents employees from staying focused, can drive down engagement and zap energy levels as well as reduce receptiveness to change.

Leaders around the world are facing huge logistical and interpersonal challenges in deciding how remote work is best organized and sustained in the long run. The academic research on remote productivity is mixed, with some saying it declines while others claim it increases. The reality is that it all depends on how well it is managed. Some teams are able to rise above the rest in times of turmoil, regardless of the challenges, and gain competitive edge and market share. Others,
however, lose focus, become disengaged with their company’s strategy and disconnect.

Going fully remote was a big change for most people, and yet it was largely a positive one. According to the latest Predictive Index study, 77 per cent of respondents worldwide would like to work remotely either full-time or part-time on a permanent basis after the crisis is over.

In the IoT and smart city space, many companies and cities have already recognized that they need to reach out to top talent wherever it is in the world. It is no longer about location but rather remote collaboration and management efficiency.

The skills gap is widening and, to stay in the smart city race, cities as well as solution providers are looking for experts that have hands-on expertise and have successfully deployed similar projects elsewhere. Cities typically lack talent that can bring a holistic and big picture thinking as well as design skills and a good level of understanding of the various IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

Solution providers to smart cities frequently struggle when sourcing qualified technical profiles such as embedded software engineers, data scientists, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity specialists. As there is an ever-wider choice of possible technologies and architectures, the level of in-depth understanding of these options is becoming key to deploying successful smart city projects that enable interoperability and long-term sustainability. There are a limited number of people worldwide that combine an up-to-date understanding of these technologies coupled with a “big picture” vision of a smart city outcome and some level of knowledge in the areas of data protection and ethics. Once you find them, the question is: how do you manage their integration and collaboration without necessary relocating them;

The current crisis has revealed how massive home working suddenly became possible, especially in developed countries where the service industry represents up to 70 per cent of GDP. We are looking at a global trend with projections pointing to potentially 1 billion people working remotely worldwide by 2035. The benefits for employers are huge in terms of infrastructure cost reduction, energy savings, employee’s safety and, if well managed, productivity. But so are the
risks.

The remote workplace of tomorrow is as much a threat as it is an opportunity. Managers are more important than ever in this transition but their roles are changing. To a certain extent, they may feel that their workload has increased as they need to schedule more frequent and transparent calls, brainstorming and working sessions, while at the same time reinforce and share the vision and the team mission in a more systematic way.

Furthermore, they need to do this with a good level of empathy as they are also expected to reinforce trust, care and confidence in their team and in the company strategy. This dual approach requires them to get to know their team members much better – not only from a professional skills point of view – but also from a behavior assessment standpoint so that they can keep a constant pulse on engagement level.

For instance, behavior assessment results show us that those with analytic profiles tend to feel much happier working from home than those with social profiles. Dominant profiles need opportunities to influence the work to be done but they find it harder to have their voices heard during remote meetings. On the contrary, non-extraverted personalities feel more heard at remote meetings than they do at in-person meetings.

Managers must gain an insight into the drivers and needs of their team members as well as understand how comfortable they are with video calls, leading webinars and multitasking with various technologies and tools. This will enable them to personalize their communication and management style working remotely, reinforcing co-responsibility and a sense of a joint future.

The success of your remote working organization will depend on how much you invest in aligning your people, your communication and your processes.

While traditional offices might see the opportunity to downsize, they will need to become even more appealing and offer an improved employee experience. Employers will need to follow the trends in co-share working spaces and even take inspiration from hotels by offering well- designed meeting rooms, restaurants, coffee shops and gaming and brainstorming areas.

At some point in the future, the challenge will be how do you get employees back to check-in regularly and safely into the office.

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