Organisations that bring employees back into the office will likely not see a significant improvement in project performance, especially considering the negative impact this could have on employee morale and retention, as well as operational costs.

This is one of the key findings from “The Future of Project Work: Moving Past Office-Centric Models” the 15th annual Pulse of the Profession report from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Since Covid-19 transformed the world of work nearly four years ago, there has been much debate about the most effective work arrangement, and many studies have attempted to argue the negatives of remote work outweigh the positives.

Results of the survey, which polled 2 246 project professionals and 342 senior leaders around the world, provide compelling evidence that organisations can provide work location flexibility, agility, and empowerment without affecting project execution and performance.

Over 50% of the organisations surveyed in South Africa reported that they had adopted a hybrid work environment, while only 7% reported working remotely.

“The report offers compelling evidence that organisations can provide flexibility and empowerment without affecting project execution and performance,” says George Asamani, MD of PMI, Sub-Saharan Africa. “In fact, our research shows that project teams perform equally well using predictive, hybrid, and agile project management approaches and within onsite, hybrid, and remote work arrangements.”

The research also offers insights into how organisations can drive above-average project performance by providing resources that further enhance employees’ skills and capabilities, enabling them to adapt to different project and business circumstances, challenges, and needs. Equipping employees with the right skills and empowering teams with flexibility can drive stronger innovation, agility, and efficiency.

One of the respondents, Deeksha Singh, head of PMO at Discovery South Africa, comments: “We’ve tried to make it meaningful to come into the office for one or two days by providing a reason to be together — to connect, to exchange ideas or to solve problems. We are cognisant that our office environment should encourage interaction rather than people confined to their desks attending virtual team meetings.”

The research found that enablers – specific supportive programming that helps individuals and teams learn new skills and competencies – play a much larger role in driving project performance than work location. In fact, providing teams with enablers is crucial in today’s dynamic business environment to navigate the demands for flexibility and agility.

The three most common enablers organisations provide are coaching and mentoring, training on new ways of working, and communities of practice to share knowledge and expertise.

Organisations that offer employees at least three enablers reported significantly higher project performance rates. However, those that do not offer any enablers were more likely to experience scope creep challenges and increased budget losses on failed projects.

In South Africa, the survey found that 48% of organisations supported changing ways of working using coaching and mentoring to help project professionals plan and achieve professional development, while 44% supported changes to ways of working through training. This somewhat mirrors the global percentage of 48% and 47%, respectively.

Thirty percent of organisations reported changing ways of working through the creation of communities of practice that enable employees to share knowledge and expertise.

Another theme the research identified is the rise in hybrid management frameworks and how they have gained more ground across all sectors and types of projects. Since 2020, there has been a 57,5% increase in survey respondents reportedly using hybrid approaches.

In South Africa, 73% of organisations anticipate an increase in hybrid project management approaches over the next five years, which is higher than the global percentage.

Its growing popularity demonstrates that organisations see the advantages of using different approaches and combining practices, tools, and techniques to get the job done.

And, since average project performance remains relatively uniform regardless of the adopted approach, this validates that organisations should branch out when considering what skills development opportunities to offer individuals and teams.