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Productivity has risen with remote/hybrid working, but trust may pose a larger challenge: new PwC global survey, including Ireland, reveals

24 November, 2021

  • The report suggests that remote or hybrid working has boosted productivity, a majority of global business leaders said that their organisations have performed better against workforce performance and productivity targets over the past 12 months
  • But less than a third of leaders are confident that they are building high levels of trust between workers and supervisors
  • Potential risks of automating work are not very well understood by more than three quarters of business and HR leaders
  • Technological change demands new skills, but barely one in four respondents are confident that they can identify the skills they will require in the future
  • Less than three out of 10 leaders strongly agreed that they can rapidly adjust their workforce strategies
  • Only 26% strongly agreed that the workload is manageable for their people
  • Greater investment needed by Irish businesses in leadership and talent development shown by PwC Irish CEO Survey 2021
A photo of a man talking with a woman at a virtual meeting.

New research on the Future of Work and Skills from PwC shows that many companies have boosted workforce productivity and performance during the pandemic, but cultural and leadership speedbumps have arisen that are inhibiting the creation of robust workforce strategies. It's alarming that only 28% of leaders strongly agreed that they can rapidly adjust their workforce strategies.

The survey draws upon the views of almost 4,000 business and HR leaders from 26 countries and regions including Ireland and 28 industry sectors on current workforce challenges and what the future of work may look like for companies. Respondents expressed concern about understanding the consequences of automation, the impact of technology on upskilling and being able to communicate about these issues with stakeholders. The top reasons for the lack of progress in these areas, and others, are lack of leadership capability, organisational culture and cost. While the Irish data set is relatively small, the trends highlighted in the survey resonate in Ireland where we see many companies experiencing similar trends and challenges.

Remote and hybrid working has provided a short-term productivity boost in most workplaces, with 57% of respondents saying their organisation performed better against workforce performance and productivity targets over the past 12 months, compared to a mere 4% saying their company performed significantly worse in that time.

More to do on building trust

However, productivity and performance gains may have come at the expense of long-term employee trust. In fact, only 30% of the business and HR leaders surveyed strongly believe their organisation is building high levels of trust between workers and their direct supervisors. Burnout may be partially responsible: nearly three quarters (74%) are not fully confident that workload is manageable enough for employees to make full use of personal time.

David Keane Director, PwC Ireland People and Organisation commented: "The challenges that leaders face today are more significant and complex than they've been in generations. As businesses accelerate digital transformation, our research findings highlight leadership, trust and culture as crucial areas when managing teams. Various factors such as the potential for worker distrust, competitive talent markets and changing workforce expectations put a greater emphasis on the role of leaders today, especially the need for inclusive leadership in a hybrid-work environment".

"The survey results also resonate in Ireland where we see similar trends. PwC's 2021 Irish CEO survey revealed that, for eight years running, Irish business leaders are more concerned about skills shortages (75%) than their global counterparts. At the same time, just a quarter (25%) of Irish CEOs are prepared to invest significantly in leadership and talent development. Workforce strategies for greatest attention are in the areas of culture and behaviour, skills, health and well-being and people engagement".

There is a strategic planning dividend

The PwC Future of Work and Skills research found that effective and dynamic organisational planning can pay dividends. Companies that undertook such detailed strategic planning (including scenario planning for multiple outcomes) were 30 percentage points more likely to perform at or above financial and other targets than those who did not.

Ciara Fallon, Director, PwC Ireland People and Organisation said: "Looking more broadly can be particularly beneficial in helping leaders build their forward-looking ability and putting organisations in a better position to thrive financially and otherwise. Yet only 26% of organisations in our survey strongly agreed that they use a wide variety of external data sources and viewpoints in planning. Investing in data will help leaders avoid being caught off guard by the next disruption and will help them build their ability to be intentional rather than reactive in their strategies".

"As we anticipate greater short and long-term uncertainty, the importance of establishing effective planning practices will be critical to address today's and tomorrow's business and workforce priorities".

Few are very confident they know the risks of automating work

Digitisation will continue to be a top concern for leaders, but there is currently a gap between the heightened role technology will play in the workforce strategy and an understanding of the risks. Only 21% of leaders surveyed are very confident that they know the potential risks of automating work. Furthermore, only 25% strongly agreed they communicate clearly and consistently to employees and other stakeholders about the impact of automation and AI.

There is a widening mismatch between the job environment employees want and the one their organisations have. And that mismatch is growing. A focus on skills needs should also be included as a planning imperative. A third of the HR and business leaders surveyed say it's very important to identify the skills the organisation will need in the future due to technological change but only 26% strongly agree they can currently do this.

David Keane concluded: "For organisations to thrive, they need to access their people's full potential and develop and execute new, dynamic strategies. Yet fewer than one third of respondents strongly agreed that the HR function is effective in developing and delivering their workforce strategy. Leaders must act quickly to strengthen their organisations for the most pressing 'people challenges' and to prepare for the future of work.They need to listen to their people and to their desire to work flexibly while being responsive to employee burnout. All of this is critical to retaining and motivating employees".

Notes to editors

The survey suggests six key focus areas for business and HR leaders:

  1. Use data to plan deliberately, scenario-based modelling as well as dynamic planning
  2. 'Walk the talk' and activate culture
  3. Focus on management as much as measurement
  4. Invest in systems and data to assess needs
  5. Be transparent and collaborative
  6. Highlight the benefits of a diverse workforce

About the survey

In September 2021, PwC commissioned a global survey of 3,937 business executives and HR-focused leaders. The survey polled leaders in 28 industry sectors and 26 countries or regions including Ireland: Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean region, the Channel islands, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.


About PwC

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PwC refers to the PwC network or one or more of its member firms or both, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see pwc.com/structure for further details.

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Contact us

Gerard McDonough

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6170

David Keane

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8253

Ciara Fallon

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8857

Johanna Dehaene

Corporate Communications, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6547

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