more efficiency less creativity, management

“Don’t force your employees to return to manual labor! The call of economist Nicholas Bloom in July 2021 in the “Harvard Business Review” was widely reported. Large technology companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon…) and financial (JP Morgan, Bank of America…) have introduced a hybrid work organization that allows its employees to work remotely 1 or 2 days a week. About a third of American employees have encountered this model of work organization, and this figure is close to estimates published in France in 2021 (27%).

And even if there is a slight erosion, four-fifths of employees who have tried it say they want to continue working with the hybrid. Intensive research was carried out to assess the consequences of this revolution. There are two initial lessons.

A sharp decrease in the number of work stops

The first lesson is that hybrid work is fast becoming the standard. In intangible services for white-collar workers, this is a crucial competitive advantage, as it greatly contributes to employee loyalty without penalties for productivity. Stanford teams have recently developed a protocol of experiments that allows it to be accurately established with the support of an airline based in Shanghai.

The company offered 1,600 volunteer employees a hybrid model deployed at the Apple Group (2-3 days a week at home). He drew lots for the first beneficiaries of the scheme for six months. Comparisons between the treatment group and the control group showed an impressive reduction in depletion (-35%) and sick leaves (-12%). Hybrid work significantly increases job satisfaction and does not harm productivity in any way.

The screen narrows the “cognitive sphere” of exchanges

The second lesson is that remote work reduces creativity. The study, published this week in Nature, is the subject of all attention. He compares double-blind working pairs in face-to-face and video conferencing. The research teams (Stanford and Columbia) first conducted a laboratory experiment (620 participants), supplemented by the company’s experiment (1490 employees). A number of tests are being conducted. Measures the “effectiveness of ideas” of employees, ie the ability to offer new ideas.

The study shows an impressive regression in creativity after video conferencing. She explains it this way: the screen filter narrows the “cognitive perimeter” of exchanges; even if eye contact between people seems less altered than one might think, employees spend much more time focusing on their peers while sharing videos and less time allowing themselves to be entertained by others; but entertainment is an elementary part of creativity!

Re-invent the format of meetings, creating unexpected …

There is a “revolution of attention” in companies. Ignoring this would be a serious mistake. It is comparable to the one that turned the world of media upside down after the advent of social networks. In this area, everything needs to be rethought to change the format of meetings, to recreate entertainment and surprises, to allow attention to be sustainable, to structure knowledge bases, articulating physical and virtual …

What needs to be invented is ultimately the equivalent of what was in the world of education, pedagogy, invented by Maria Montessori in the early 20th century, which promotes creativity and skills in the use of student autonomy. Make a place for Montessori for life!

Etienne Grass, Executive Vice President Capgemini, Professor of Sciences Po Paris.