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Smart Working Versus Presenteeism: Enabling Productivity in a Post-Pandemic Hybrid Work Culture

By Paul Walker, EMEA Technical Director, iManage

The pandemic has created a structural change in working practices. ‘Presenteeism’ – the need to physically be present in the office – has ebbed away as organisational attitudes have evolved. Senior members and management have learnt to trust staff in a remote working environment.

In many ways, they’ve done so because they had to: Last year, many enterprises were forced to mothball their offices, and some even gave up their leases. Additionally, scores of professionals escaped the big cities in favour of suburban and country life.

Today, as enterprises plan their return to the office, the pre-pandemic order of being present in the office 100% of the time is unlikely to return – even if Goldman Sachs has announced that it wants all of its workers back in the office now that the chaos of the past year is largely in the rearview mirror.

A recent study of office workers points in a different direction, highlighting the fact that 88% of employees would opt for a 50-50 office/work-from-home model.

This post-pandemic lean towards a hybrid work culture requires some new approaches. Anecdotal evidence suggests that enterprises are classifying staff into ‘Home’, ‘Flex’, or ‘Office’ and revisiting their working policies to align them with this new hybrid model. Many are also redesigning office spaces to cater to the needs of staff in view of changed working practices – for example, having fewer dedicated offices or cubicles and more ‘hot desks’.

Paul Walker

Paul Walker

However, make no mistake: There are challenges to be addressed to make this hybrid model a success. Think about multi-office, multi-jurisdiction enterprises. How can financial services organisations – from accounting and commercial banking, to insurance and venture capital, and everything in between – meet the needs of staff with flexible working whilst also ensuring a business environment that fosters innovation, collaboration, agility, security, efficiency, and productivity?

Rather than getting hung up on ‘presenteeism’, these enterprises need to enable ‘smart working’ to ensure all the above occurs in an environment where some people are physically present in the office and some aren’t.

Evening the Playing Field

There are a few crucial ingredients that need to be in the mix in order for the wheels of finance to continue turning smoothly in this new world. In terms of tech, organisations need to look at technology that is flexible enough to support a workforce that might be at home, in the office, or alternating between the two.

Support for mobile apps for smartphones and tablets is critical because professionals who have settled far outside the city center will be facing longer commutes on the days they do come into the office. During the train ride in, they can securely access spreadsheets to do a little on-the-go number crunching, or take a look at the latest draft of a commercial loan agreement to make sure everything looks right.

Crucially, they need the ability to do these tasks regardless of whether there’s connectivity or not. No one would ever accuse a long train ride of having seamless connectivity from start to finish – the signal will come and go depending on tunnels, natural and manmade obstructions alongside the tracks, and other factors. The ability to continue working uninterrupted while either online or offline ensures maximum productivity as ‘Flex’ or ‘Office’ workers make the longer-than-usual journey into the office.

What’s worth underlining here is that these professionals are not at a disadvantage as compared to their peers and colleagues who are physically present in the office. They are able to stay productive and continue collaborating no matter where they are – all while keeping important files and communications fully secure and governed. That’s the triumph of smart working over presenteeism.

Likewise, smart working can be applied to knowledge management to ensure that no one is at a disadvantage as far as their ability to tap into organisational knowledge to create better business outcomes – and that goes for whether they’re physically present in the office five days a week, three days a week, or zero days per week.

AI is the key tech here, helping analyse existing knowledge assets as well as end user interactions with fundamental business and productivity systems to identify experts and expertise.

Is the new trainee at an investment bank looking to find out who the resident expert might be for copper mining M&A’s? While normally they might just ask the person in the cubicle next to them, AI can help surface not just the best practice template that has been downloaded most often for that niche area, but also the person who has worked on the most deals that fall into that category.

Again, not being physically present in your cubicle doesn’t have to be a disadvantage if you’ve embraced smart working.

Similarly, in this hybrid work environment where some people are present in the office for the Monday morning ‘pulse’ meeting or the detailed sales demo of the latest financial products to offer to customers, no one should feel like they’re at disadvantage from a knowledge perspective.

The ability to capture the knowledge in these meetings – as well as the knowledge contained in new communication channels that have taken on outsize importance over the past year, like instant messaging and video conferencing – and add them to the documents and emails already being captured only serves to enrich the overall knowledge file. Knowledge gained in one meeting or over one chat message is knowledge that can be tapped by all to effect better business outcomes. In this manner, the organisation ‘makes knowledge work’ for the business.

Now That’s Smart

The future has yet to be written as to whether remote work was a temporary aberration for the financial services workforce or a permanent sea change – but until that matter is settled, a hybrid work environment will be the predominant model.

For this new phase, rather than reflexively reverting to presenteeism, organisations should instead focus on smart working. In doing so they can ensure a business environment that is culturally aligned, innovative, secure and productive – regardless of where their employees are physically located.


About the author

As Technical Director for iManage EMEA, Paul Walker drives all the major technical initiatives related to customer and partner organisations in the region. With over 20 years’ experience in the professional services sector, alongside a software development background, he advises clients on areas such as document management, knowledge management, and information governance.

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