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Productivity Trends and COVID-19: Lessons Learned and a Roadmap for the Next Normal

8/24/20 9:00 AM

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our lives, businesses, and the global economy. Many organizations had to switch to a remote, distributed workforce practically overnight, and business leaders had to quickly re-examine workflow processes, try to maintain department productivity, manage new staff scheduling needs, and assess new ways to service customers. At the same time, employees have faced the new realities of staying home, working in a remote environment, adjusting to new deadlines, and new relief legislation.

In this turmoil and uncertainty, productivity has suffered. In recent studies, both business leaders and employees have reported issues with productivity. In Arizent's June 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Survey, 62% of accounting firm leaders reported that their firm's productivity has decreased due to staff working remotely. According to Globant's report, Supporting Employee Productivity During COVID-19, almost half (49%) of full-time employees surveyed indicated their work output had decreased.

How then have some firms increased staff productivity?

Firms that had previously migrated to cloud technology and implemented workflow technology tools have fared much better during the pandemic. According to Mike Sabbatis, CEO at XCM Solutions: "We are seeing those firms who made prudent investments into cloud-based technology and implemented standardized workflow processes to allow for remote and flex work prior to COVID-19 adapted with minimal interruptions to operations. Meanwhile, firms that had delayed making these decisions were forced to act fast and experienced significant delays."

Key Factors for Enabling and Increasing Productivity

Staying connected and being able to communicate and collaborate across teams is especially challenging in the new normal. And, for management, ensuring that work is getting done and knowing where specific projects are within the process is more difficult. Workflow technology can streamline and automate complex business processes, and the right tool can enable you to gain greater clarity, control, and accountability over your team's projects, tasks, and deliverables.

Best Practices to Optimize Business Process and Workflow

Changing and unforeseen priorities are unavoidable, especially in today's environment. Identifying the most effective business process and using technology to embed that process in your day-to-day can help you optimize and enhance team collaboration, give you full visibility and control, and enable accountability.

The following areas are key for effective workflow:

  1. Visibility – Having a 360° view provides the insight you need to make resource adjustments or changes.
  2. Control – Identifying departmental bottlenecks and implementing process efficiencies lets you deliver quality results.
  3. Flexibility – Enacting continuous process improvements helps deliver increased efficiency.
  4. Accountability – Gaining a real-time and single-source status for every assignment, task, and deadline supports greater accountability.

The Road Forward: Agility is the Key to Future Success

Business leaders not only need to navigate the challenges with the pandemic now, but they also need to consider what reopening and recovery might look like, and start planning how to lead their organization into the next normal.

According to McKinsey's article Leading with Purpose, the element of speed and agility, in particular, is crucial because this once-in-a-generation challenge is likely to have a profound impact on who is left standing when the crisis finally abates.

So, what does business agility look like? It is centered around three key actions:

  • Sense and react quickly to market changes, both internally and externally
  • Respond rapidly and flexibly to client demands
  • Adapt and lead change productively and cost-effectively without compromising quality

Roadmap for the Next Normal

In planning for the next normal, the most effective leaders have a mental model to rapid recovery built around "SHAPE" – an approach with five core elements:

  1. Start-up mindset
  2. Human at the core
  3. Accelerate digital, tech, and analytics
  4. Purpose-driven customer playbook
  5. Ecosystems to drive adaptability

Business productivity has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. Despite the initial issues with productivity, 77% of business executives expect the trend toward remote work to continue, even one year after COVID-19 substantially subsides.

Cloud-based workflow technology can streamline and automate business processes and improve collaboration, visibility, flexibility, accountability, and control. As we move into the next normal, the ability for businesses to be agile is key not only to survive but to thrive. And finally, organizations will need to not only respond to the current crisis but to plan for recovery and renewal to succeed in the future.


XCMworkflow° can help with productivity enablement. It is a scalable, cloud-based system that helps tax, accounting, and finance professionals be more productive, through process and technology, and it can help your organization in both the new normal and into the next normal. Learn more about XCM and what it can do for your business.

Mike Sabbatis

Written by Mike Sabbatis

Mike Sabbatis is XCM's CEO. He has extensive experience leading fast-paced, customer-focused organizations leveraging innovative, forward-looking technologies that disrupt the norm while sustaining long-term profitable growth. He has led and inspired global teams comprised of more than 2,500 employees, as well as divisional start-ups and joint ventures.