Three Lessons From The Global Pandemic: Why Purpose Will Make us More Productive in A Post-Covid World

COVID has forced an unprecedented rethink of how we work. Could this be the biggest opportunity in a generation to reverse the productivity crisis?

The best organisations are adapting fast. Spotify’s employees can work from wherever they want: home, office or beach. And continue to get New York salaries.

And it’s not just Big Tech. 86% of UK CEOs see an enduring shift towards remote collaboration. 84% of people feel as effective at home as in the office.

But is that true? Isn’t this just a slacker’s charter?

Not according to Great Place to Work who surveyed 800,000 employees and found stable or increased productivity after employees started working from home.

But is it sustainable? Microsoft saw a large spike in productivity, but this declined over time.

Evidence from the Contexis Index® of Organisational Effectiveness suggests how this productivity can be maintained.

Organisations in 26 countries use the Index to understand the true impact of purpose on happiness and productivity. The numbers show that employees who identify with the company’s purpose are significantly more engaged and productive than average colleagues. But the impact of purpose on commitment and responsibility amongst remote workers can be up to 3x stronger than amongst their office-based peers. Flexible workers appear hypersensitive to purpose.

Purpose drives productivity. Particularly amongst flexible teams. But purpose doesn’t happen automatically. Three factors appear to switch on purpose for employees. Where these are present purpose thrives.

1. Context – making purpose the north star

Purpose is not a set of words. To change how people feel and behave, it must be authentically lived and be the context for everything the company does. Patagonia is in business to save our home planet. It has consistently beat that drum for years in its words and more importantly its actions.

2. Trust – the oil of productivity

If people don’t trust the organisation and its intentions, they cannot act on that purpose. And that stifles openness and innovation. A European bank that had launched a huge purpose initiative found it had no impact on how people behaved.

The Index numbers showed why. Trust, particularly in middle managers, was unbelievably low. Rebuilding that trust unlocked people’s faith in purpose, resulting in a 60% increase in joyfulness – and a 14% growth in revenue.

3. Ownership – the holy grail of performance

And to turn culture into action requires a third ingredient. People must take ownership. Purpose must be theirs. Southwest Airline’s vision is to be the world’s most loved and most profitable airline. So, what happens when ‘loved’ collides with ‘profitable’? How are a thousand decisions across a $26bn corporation made? And who makes them? The answer is they are made by each of the 56,000 employees, because they own the company’s purpose. And that’s why Southwest is regularly ranked No1 in the US for customer experience.

Purpose unlocks productivity and performance, particularly in flexible workforces. But it’s not automatic. Purpose will only transform performance if it’s activated. And that has huge implications in a post COVID world.

Written by John Rosling, entrepreneur, ex-FTSE top 10 companies, and leading thinker on the value of ‘purpose’ to organisations.