Anyone involved in motivating and engaging their workforce over the past year has been faced with a number of challenges, principally a widening corporate productivity gap.
Adjusting to new ways of working, implementing makeshift workarounds to temporary tech issues, adapting to a working from home environment, and the countless other interruptions of the past twelve months have tested the most finely tuned businesses.
But as these changes become more permanent and business leaders begin to shape a hybrid way of working, many organizations are aware that a corporate productivity gap is widening.
The productivity gap
Pre-pandemic, working from home failed to become a mainstream practice chiefly because of fears around productivity. As soon as workers became ‘invisible,’ so would their drive, focus, and work ethic. The pandemic proved this hypothesis wrong. Productivity was already in-built; you didn’t need a culture of presenteeism to allay concerns. Those employees who were unproductive in a working-from-home environment were most likely to have already been unproductive in the office.
Harvard Business Review boils productivity down to three main components: time, talent, and energy:
- The time each employee has to dedicate to productive work each day, without distraction from excessive e-communications, unnecessary meetings, or bureaucratic processes and procedures;
- The talent that each worker can bring to their job and, importantly, how an organization’s best talent is deployed, teamed, and led; and
- The discretionary energy each employee is willing to invest in their work and dedicate to the success of the company, its customers, and other stakeholders.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
These three elements were already within many businesses pre-pandemic. They helped organizations hone processes, explore issues and solutions more adeptly, bring a passion to the workplace. Those that had this combination of time, talent, and energy were able to transition through the pandemic more adeptly than those who were scarcer in these areas.
And the pandemic has only widened this gap – those higher-performing companies have been able to flex their productivity muscles in this adverse period, becoming more productive – while the lesser companies have gone the other way.
However, declines such as these are not irreversible. There is a vast range of measures that can be implemented to buck productivity slides in organizations.
How to boost productivity
Productivity isn’t just about how quickly work is completed. It’s maintaining positive remote work culture, clear channels of communication, and a steady focus on achievable targets that keep the team sharpened on their goals and motivated for the next challenge.
Whether your remote teams are a temporary fix or a permanent fixture, keeping them motivated and productive is a challenge most organizations face. In the face of global change, how do you keep your remote teams motivated, connected, and engaged?
Here are X tips to boost productivity in your workforce:
Give them a sense of belonging
In a restricted working from home setting, employees need to feel they belong to their organization more than ever. This sense of community, feeling they are an essential part of a collective goal, and most importantly, valued, means that they have a greater sense of engagement with their organization.
There are many ways of achieving this. Internal communications must work hard to create a remote work culture that provides online conversation.
Provide a clearer set of goals
Does your team even know what they are working towards? Board rooms may have pored over ways to reach their ambitious targets, but without sharing that knowledge to the teams that play a huge role in getting there, these figures are redundant. Ensure your team has a clear idea of the targets they must reach, with access to dashboards, daily or weekly progress reviews, and discussions on reaching the goals more quickly.
Use task management systems
According to research, task completion is quicker at home. But to maintain this productivity, managers need to ensure that their task management is being tracked, given levels of priority, assigned to the right people, and given clear, achievable deadlines. This relies on more focused communication to ensure clear understanding for all parties. That way, employees are aware of what they need to do, and managers feel more in control of the overall direction despite not having the same face-to-face visibility as in-office.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
Be more employee-focused
Working in-office provided organizations with an ease of communication, from quick catch-ups to over-the-desk updates. Over the past twelve months, business leaders have been trying to replicate this online. To build a better communication strategy, it must have the employees as the centerpiece and work to their strengths. Rather than heading up communication channels in the traditional way, find out how your team wants to communicate, with what platforms, and when.
Do you really need that meeting?
Researchers at Harvard Business School and New York University found that the number of meetings increased during the pandemic by 12.9%, on average, and the number of attendees per meeting grew by 13.5%. These not only eat into the time of each individual every day, but they also create a period of disruption afterward, as attentions are diverted to address points covered. Assess whether there are other ways of communicating topics without assembling groups of people online.
Regular virtual contact
It goes without saying that communication is essential in a remote work setting. There is, however, a point where your workforce can start to feel zoom fatigue, so it’s important to strike a balance. Teams should work out a way of keeping in touch throughout the day, often with a morning ‘stand up’ to start the day. Managers should lead by example, setting up one-to-ones and taking into account the feedback from team members.
But to reduce siloing, there is also a need for cross-departmental communication. Channeling these conversations through an intranet, setting up forums for discussion, creating fun challenges and inspiring extra-curricular dialogue, setting up a rewards and recognition program – these are all ways of getting employees engaged with this evolving online version of your business.
Target your messages
A lot of the working day is consumed by wading through unnecessary, irrelevant comms. Send-all emails, updates, news, and information, provide blanket coverage which can often do more harm than good. Using software that provides customized communications, sending correct news to the right parties allows internal comms to be recognized as relevant and not ignored.
Another productivity blocker is an inadequate search function. Even the most digital-savvy businesses across the world are home to badly performing software hampering their progression. It’s essential to ensure that your pages are easy to find within the intranet and make improvements to ensure they’re surfaced in searches. This cuts down unnecessary finding time and creates a satisfactory experience for every worker.
Tasked with improving your internal comms?
Encourage feedback loops
How do you know your methods, software, management styles, protocol, and processes are well received? Listening to your employees is essential – these are the people who have the knowledge and expertise driving your business forward. If something isn’t working, they should have the means to provide their thoughts and feedback on it. This empowers staff to communicate, offer new ideas, or suggest alternative options which can be worked on.
Nurture a culture of knowledge sharing
The age of the company ‘lifer’ is long gone. Nowadays employees are a lot happier to move to a new organization depending on the priorities they need to fulfill. With this transient workforce comes a massive knowledge drain as talent moves from in and out of business taking their know-how, ideas, and discoveries with them. Try and retain this knowledge by creating a culture of sharing and discussion on your intranet or employee engagement platform where ideas are shared and expertise offered up.
Provide career road maps
As discussed earlier, talent retention is key to productivity. However, most people leave businesses when they’ve hit a wall in the development of their role. When employees feel they’re reaching this career cul-de-sac, productivity is one of the first things to slide. Provide your employees with as many career growth opportunities as possible. Online training and developing programs are ideal for a remote workforce. And provide open and honest feedback on their progress. This way, you develop in-house skills, hang on to the talent within your business and develop a professional relationship based on transparency and trust.
Introduce flexible hours
The nine-to-five working structure is slowly being overlooked in favor of a more flexible approach to working. Employees have different working styles, and while some experience their energy peak in the morning, others don’t have a focus until later on in the day. Cater to the differences in your workforce by allowing your workers – where possible – to fulfill their hours at a time that suits them.
Develop your hybrid workplace
Many employees have flourished in a working from home setting. Others have not fared as well, preferring the office environment. It’s now time to develop your hybrid workplace plan and allow workers to choose where they work when it’s safe to do so. Hybrid working boosts productivity as it allows workers to choose where they work on any given day.
Provide manager training
The pandemic saw traditional work turn on its head, and a new way of working develop almost overnight. As a result managers had to respond accordingly, often without adequate training. This continues to be an oversight in most business that underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on employees. Training your managers to deal with a wide range of situations – engagement, morale, mental health and problem solving – can make a considerable difference to the productivity and ambitions of a team.
Consider a remote workspace
While most employees moved from office to home working in 2020, a large percentage of the working population are permanently remote. Many organizations provide a shared space for these remote workers to convene and can be a productivity booster by providing collaboration and enjoying a better-designed workspace.
Choose the right communication tool
Luckily, there are tools designed to overcome communication barriers remote work brings into organizations. And not all of them have a focus on video conferencing. Remote communication can come in many different forms. Simple light touch chat, updates, and check-ins can be done through apps like Slack and Teams. Social tools enable different people to reach out to others in the organization with a ‘like’ or a comment. Intranet software can boost engagement levels with a variety of media, features, and community areas.
Be aware of the soft skills
In business, it’s generally our hard skills that gather the most attention – what qualifications we have, whether we’ve done the right training, the certificates we’ve acquired along the way. Soft skills get overlooked, but it’s these that can be assets in the team – who is able to work under intense pressure, who can communicate to a diverse audience, who can lift the morale of the group. Pay attention to the soft skills in your team and think about how you can use them to spur on your group of employees.
Productivity will drive you to the next stage
Almost everyone will have encountered productivity issues throughout their working life, and particularly during the pandemic. This period of adversity has pushed us to the limit of what we once thought was possible. However deliberate changes can transform how you and your team operates. They can be very easy steps like making online meetings quicker and more efficient. Or they can be more strategic, implementing a new internal communications channel or revising your organization’s approach to hybrid working.
While the pandemic has been an onslaught on businesses, one thing it has taught us is the need to be agile, and adapt to changes quickly. If we can do this, and maintain productivity across all areas of the business, we will have possibly weathered the ultimate storm with a large degree of success.