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Analysis of a recent flash survey from CBRE shows businesses are bracing for a recession while accepting remote working – but will firms end up counting the opportunity cost of letting collaboration slip across thousands of home-working silos?

In a flash survey from CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, the business and professional services sector has been highlighted as the most pessimistic about the economic environment in H2 2020, with 82% of respondents expecting the outlook to be worse than H1. Similarly, 74% expected revenue would contract in 2020 and none expected it would grow, suggesting the professional services industry is bracing for a particularly gloomy outlook as the after-shock of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Economic forecasts backup this expectation of a challenging environment, as it was confirmed in June that western nations have fallen into recession.

All of this has taken place as employees work almost exclusively from home – which has broadly been a success story, with most staff having reported similar levels of productivity to normal. Some surveys and commentators have suggested that remote or flexible working may even enhance collaboration, as the lack of impromptu kitchen chats forces communication to become more deliberate and targeted at specific outcomes.

When combined with employee enthusiasm for increased levels of remote working and the chance to gain a competitive edge in how they utilise and manage property costs, it’s likely firms will embrace a more flexible, remote-working future.

But what are the hidden costs of having a primarily remote workforce? Smart, strategic collaboration, for one thing, may take a hit.

The opportunity costs of remote working

While firms may have the tools to facilitate conversations, they may not have the technology to adequately plan them. And, in fact, communication with colleagues outside of the usual suspects – your closest colleagues – has probably gone downhill: Boston-based startup Humanyze found this kind of collaboration has dropped 15%, and it’s become harder for new relationships to become established without the tools to support them.

Plus, although a lifeline for many businesses during lockdown, many of us are discovering the disadvantages of interacting with colleagues exclusively through Zoom, Teams and phone calls. After a quarter of a year operating this way, it’s clear these collaboration tools have their downsides and frustrations. Firms need to recognise that these collaboration tools are merely communications infrastructure and will need to find ways of leveraging these new utilities to create concrete, measurable outcomes. And for that, they need to apply strategy to their collaboration efforts.

Firms may lose 15% of their revenue to collaboration collapse

As we showed in our webinar with Harvard’s Dr Heidi Gardner, research from the 2008 financial crisis shows cross-practice area collaboration can generate significant revenue boosts of as much as 15%. Losing out on that will be a major concern for many firms in the next few years, and those that haven’t already taken steps to enhance smart collaboration would be wise to do so.

This kind of strategy requires very highly targeted client plans, however, and communication with clear strategic objectives between staff and practice areas. Firms need the tools to do that properly and, although video calling software has undeniably done wonders for businesses trying to stay operational, it has all the drawbacks of overly long, unproductive sit-down meetings – and then some.

In order to stay in front of the economic storm, both in terms of costs and protecting revenue, firms of the future may opt for smarter, more flexible office space, as well as enable and encourage staff to work from home and hotdesk when they don’t. But, without a clear plan of how staff interact and strategise together, the ability to build on one another’s expertise to create value could be in jeopardy, lost to the knee-jerk reactions of lockdown panic.

We’ve seen use of ObjectiveManager’s toolset increase among existing customers during lockdown, with many firms striving to avoid a collaboration deficit and ensure their employees are connected around meaningful and relevant goals. Learn more about how ObjectiveManager’s tools will become essential to protecting firm revenue and profit, here.

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