September 11, 2020
Just 25% of the UK workforce feel comfortable about returning to the office on a full-time basis. While it may seem that there is pressure from multiple sources about returning to the workplace, (in fact, 60% of employees feel there is pressure to return to work due to a ‘presenteeism culture’); it seems that remote working is here to stay. So much so that 74% of industry leaders intend to make remote working permanent for some employees.
So, with remote working seemingly part of the new business normal, the concern that many employers now have is to make sure their workers remain productive at home. With remote working becoming more formalised, many employers may now have to consider adopting a remote working strategy to ensure high quality, effective outputs from their dispersed teams.
While there have long been studies about remote working improving productivity, the events that have unfolded this year have been like nothing else experienced.
With the Coronavirus pandemic, not only did workers have to adapt very quickly to remote working, but with schools closed and isolation in force, many workers found they had more responsibilities to juggle during the working day. Not to mention dealing with an issue that has severe health implications, increased anxiety levels and took a huge toll on mental health.
However, in spite of this, the latest Okta survey revealed that just 31% of respondents believe their productivity levels took a hit, while 62% of people are thriving by working from home. Many people state that the flexibility of remote working gave them more free time during the day. This includes having the opportunity to go for an invigorating walk so that they could return to work with greater levels of focus.
So, while productivity seems to be thriving according to employees, for businesses, the answers may not be as clear-cut as this.
Productivity can depend on several factors, and all of these may play a part in how productive your business is with a remote team.
1.The Free Rider Effect
If your team is split between office staff and working from home, there is a perception that remote workers have an easier life. If office staff believe remote workers are coasting through, rather than working hard, this can actually cause a drop in productivity for your office workers too.
Put simply; no one wants to feel like they are the only one doing hard work, so they will adjust their output levels accordingly.
2.The Task At Hand
Studies show that productivity at home increases with creative tasks. Many people believe the structure of an office environment can stifle creativity, meaning these tasks are less productive in the office. However, for ‘dull’ tasks, workers perform better in a controlled cubicle setting.
So, if you have dispersed workers focusing on repetitive tasks, their output may drop. However, your creative team may find their productivity soars.
3.The Productivity Tax
There is data to suggest that workers become less productive the longer they remain in a remote working set up. A significant reason for this seems to be the IT resources that remote workers need in order to be productive. During the beginning of lockdown, 24% of newly remote workers said they were unproductive as they were unable to access the software that they needed.
However, for employees, it is not simply enough to have the right software at home. Employees require fast response business-critical applications. Furthermore, they need access to the right collaboration tools that ensure effective communication. One of the biggest productivity killers for remote workers is connectivity. Without this tech support, employers will find they have to pay a ‘productivity tax’ to ensure effective business continuity.
Invest in Business Continuity
While these are turbulent times for many businesses, it has never been so important to choose business investments wisely. For cost-effective remote working, investing in technology and IT support will be vital, especially for long-term remote workers.
There may be financial decisions that will come down to the business alone. For example, should employers pay for heating, internet, display screen equipment, when staff work from home? There are currently no rules as to what businesses have to pay for. Many businesses argue that money saved on the commute will pay for these home expenditures. However, under employment law, employers do have a duty to protect the health and safety of their workforce.
In the long-term, we may see some repercussions for businesses that have neglected their home workers. For example, if an employee develops RSI due to their home working set up, it is possible a court could rule in the employee’s favour if it appears that a business has abandoned their health and safety duties for remote workers.
As a result, it may be a budget decision to determine what you can provide to your team that will provide a return on investment when it comes to productivity. For example, supplying each employee with a home working toolkit (mobile, laptop, ergonomic chair) can be a worthwhile investment for some employers, but not others.
It can be tempting for employees and business leaders to continually check in on their teams to see how work is progressing. However, this can be a productivity killer in itself. Your employees will be taken away from the task to reply to your message. Having to deal with unexpected interruptions can significantly impact focus. This means it is harder for your employees to reach their state of flow again.
Furthermore, by giving your workers more autonomy, employees feel a greater sense of job satisfaction which, in itself, increases productivity.
Instead of dropping update requests throughout the day, set clear rules for updates, goals and deadlines. For example, this may be a start of the day check-in where employees tell you what they have to complete that day. You can then have an end of the day results session. This is where employees can list their accomplishments for that day.
Create Best Practices For Communication
49% of remote workers say they miss the work relationships they have forged with their co-workers. With this in mind, establishing best practices for remote communication can not only enhance work relationships, but it can make it easier for new recruits to feel part of the team too.
For example, it may mean dedicating five minutes at the start of each Zoom call for catching up about non-work matters. Alternatively, it may be respecting the ‘do not disturb’ function on Slack. It may be that there needs to be advice as to when a phone call or email is best practice. For your support teams, communication tools like Loom can really help to talk employees through issues as you can add voice commentary to screen recordings.
Another issue is ‘Zoom fatigue’. This is where many remote workers become tired of the number of video calls they have in a day. Zoom fatigue can be exhausting and can seriously hamper productivity. It may help to set a limit on the number of Zoom meetings your team has per day.
Consider Your Numbers
If productivity from some of your team is low, could it be that there simply isn’t enough work for them to complete? It can be well worth considering restructuring your team to become more efficient. In some cases, this may mean having your core workers and then recruiting temporary staff during peak business times.
Lockdown has forced many businesses to reassess their workforce and the numbers they really need for efficiency. In fact, two in five employers planned to make redundancies after furlough ends. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research predicts that 1.2 million UK workers will be unemployed by Christmas.
Restructuring may not be a comfortable task for your business, but in terms of business survival; it can be critical.
Every business team is different. Consequently, it helps to experiment to work out exactly how to get the most from your team. From time-tracker software to social media blocking, flexible working hours to hybrid offices, mental health days to Pomodoro breaks; there are lots of options to consider for your business.
The more you implement, the easier it will be to find the productivity solutions that work best for your whole workforce.
If you need support with increasing your remote workforce or managing the business troughs and peaks with temporary staff, CMD Recruitment can help. Please contact our team to find out more.