Good management practices have made it easier for firms to adapt to novel practices such as homeworking and online sales during the pandemic, according to research by the Office of National Statistics.
The researchers say overall, better-managed firms have retained their labour productivity advantage over comparable peers during 2020. It found that larger firms are better managed than otherwise comparable smaller firms.
Similarly, younger firms appear to be better managed. Human capital among both managers and non-managers, as approximated by the share of employees with degrees, also strongly predicts management score. The researchers say that this suggests that some management practices might be embodied in the skills and knowledge of the workforce, or that a certain level of human capital is needed for modern management practices to work. The researchers also said that "type of firm structure, such as foreign ownership or family management and ownership are not strongly correlated once we control for other characteristics". Of course, a firm’s ownership could determine variables such as its size and human capital, and therefore still indirectly influence management practices, they added.
The researchers used data from the Management and Expectations Survey (MES) 2020 to shed light on the role management practices play in allowing businesses to adapt to the challenges of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. MES 2020 gathered information on the management practices, homeworking rates and other firm characteristics for about 12,000 firms in Great Britain during 2019 and 2020 and follows on from MES 2017, which collected similar information during 2016.
Andrew Mawson, founder of global workplace consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), said the conclusions of the research were "no surprise".
Mawson said: "There is a clear geographical contrast emerging in the approach to hybrid work, particularly when you take into account reports of the US banks compared with the UK and Europeans. However, good management may not be enough to support trust in the workforce. Our own research, in partnership with the Centre for Evidence-Based Management, published at the start of the pandemic pointed to six fundamental factors that are scientifically proven to support knowledge worker productivity: social cohesion, perceived supervisory support, information sharing, vision and goal clarity, external outreach, and trust.
“Trust, social cohesion and information sharing seem to be the most potentially vulnerable to damage when people work virtually and must be consciously understood and actively managed – so they can’t be left to chance. For social cohesion, business leaders and department heads must also determine how they can create spaces and support systems that encourage their teams to socialise and collaborate throughout the working week. Over the course of the past 12 months it's been quite easy for individuals and teams to get ‘bogged’ down and left to focus solely on their own individual tasks. Now is the time to support these workers in making connections with people who are outside their specific areas of expertise. It's important that these six factors are intentionally strengthened to enable organisations to maintain their effectiveness when people are working 'asynchronously. Because virtual working is here to stay, and this brings both challenges and opportunities for managing the modern workforce.”