BCG Henderson Institute

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Since the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, the business world has been undergoing an extraordinary live experiment. Virtually overnight, millions of employees around the world left their offices and workplaces and have been working remotely from home.

By most accounts, the experiment has been a resounding success. Productivity at companies that have shifted to remote work is as good as or even better than before—increasing as much as 15% to 40% in some organizations. And according to a recent BCG survey, there has been a major shift in employee attitudes in favor of remote work. Some executives, however, worry that the changes aren’t sustainable and that, over time, remote work will undermine cohesion, trust, and the kind of serendipitous collaboration that is often critical for innovation.

Executives can learn a lot from the current moment about how to make remote work work. Our focus here, however, is on another—far broader—lesson they can draw from their experience of working in this time of pandemic, one that is relevant to work in any situation, irrespective of where it takes place. Paradoxically, the challenges posed by the pandemic have revealed considerable untapped potential that can be captured by any organization to achieve major improvements in productivity and performance. Realizing that potential, however, depends on a fundamental change in how managers approach their relationships to and interactions with their people.

We like to put it this way: the lockdown has unlocked real work.

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