Despite all the fanfare remote working had received before the Coronavirus pandemic, office work had several benefits its remote counterpart couldn’t dispute.
One of the most overlooked benefits office working had was that it allowed companies to influence their employees’ performance. Whether that means a manager could discuss any employee’s issues or give them incentives to boost their performance personally, remote working creates new challenges for companies that want to increase their team’s productivity.
The recent shift to telecommuting may have changed the way companies approach productivity, but it’s not an end. With that said, there are many productivity and time management hacks that you can apply to increase your team’s productivity remotely. Here’s how you can do it.
Productivity defines the ability a worker has to complete a given task successfully. In other words, it’s work efficiency; the better an employee can fulfill their responsibilities, the more productive they will be.
Since productivity is such a generic and overused word, you need to define what it means to your employees for their respective work responsibilities. Diving deep into productivity stats and facts can help you and your team gain a better understanding of how to be productive. Your employees should know how their work is tracked and judged so you can discuss potential improvements afterward.
The measurement units you use to track their performance should come from the responsibilities defined when you hired them as well as from your business goals.
In a broad sense, your productivity measurements will be based on any of the following aspects of your employee’s work:
- The rate at which a given task is completed on time
- The number of tasks completed in a given time period
- The capacity to complete a given task as explained in a standard operation procedure (SOP)
- Feedback given from managers, coworkers, and/or customers
- Availability during work hours
Each of these attributes should be adopted to each employee’s work responsibilities.
For a customer support agent, their productivity metrics could be customer satisfaction scores, average call time, and the number of resolved tickets. For a developer, their metrics could be the code delivered, code churn, and the time they took to complete a project. For a marketer, you could use cost per lead, cost per acquisition, and the number of leads generated.
Whatever the metrics you use, communicate their productivity measurements before you sit down to discuss their performance.
Working from home may seem like a panacea for some, but reality has shown this work arrangement comes with its downsides. Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report found that the most commonly reported problems with remote working arrangements were disconnecting from work after their work hours (22%), loneliness (19%), and communication (17%).
Instead of overlooking these challenges, you need to tackle them by developing a work-from-home policy. Even if home offices have gone mainstream due to the pandemic, you want to keep a work-from-home policy that defines remote workers’ expectations.
The policy should include what tools your employees should use—software or hardware—what times they should be available for communication, how they should protect themselves and the company, among other things.
Considering the challenges remote working imposes on employees, your policy should address them proactively. For example, your work-from-home policy could state when a day finishes or share public online events where your employees can mingle and connect.
Your policy should show the different communication channels, how to use them, and in which circumstances. For example, you could have Slack for personal and company-wide communications, email for more specific communications, Zoom for calls, and Asana for project management.
As a policy, your company should also pay bonuses for employees who need new computers, faster Internet connections, and office-related equipment (e.g., tables, chairs, etc.).
Due to the abrupt adoption of remote working as the standard—albeit temporary—work arrangement, many employees will feel the challenges it creates more profoundly. As a counterbalance, you want to develop an employee engagement program to keep your employees satisfied with their work.
A recent Gallup poll found that 32% of respondents felt engaged in their jobs, with the other 50% and 17% stating not engaged or disengaged, respectively.
An engagement program aims to connect your employees with your organization, raising their current engagement feelings with the desired, optimal levels. High employee engagement rates have shown to promote retention, a sense of loyalty, and productivity all at once.
To start, you need to run surveys that uncover the current level of perceived engagements. Ask your employees:
- How do you feel about your current role?
- What would be the one thing that you would like to change about your job?
- How satisfied are you with your work-life balance?
Build your engagement program based on a mix of best practices and solutions to fix the issues found in your surveys. Common best practices include developing point-based reward programs, offering wellness programs, and fostering company-wide networking.
Your program should also take your employee’s feedback and show that your company cares about their emotional and professional well-being. Share this program openly with existing and newly hired employees to build the right expectations from the start.
Buffer’s survey shows that work-life balance is an issue for remote workers. A separate survey done on 1,004 full-time US-based employees found 29% of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, while 31% said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health.
Even if your employees could theoretically close their computers at any time, most are responsible people who take their job seriously. For your company, this may sound like great news, but for your employees, this attitude pays a toll on their productivity.
Your company needs to proactively encourage work-life balance by explaining—or forcing, if it’s needed—when your employees should stop working, under what circumstances, and what times they should be available.
The best way to make remote workers happy is to let them define their work hours. Unless they had to face customers at specific time zones—think a customer support agent or a sales rep—most employees can fulfill most, if not all, of their responsibilities at any given time.
Alternatively, you could tell them that they have to be a certain number of hours working at the same time as most work, and let them fill the other work hours as they wish.
Consider sharing productivity techniques that incentivize unplugging from work, like the Pomodoro Technique. They could also use time tracking apps that notify them after they have worked a certain number of hours consecutively.
A study from global staffing firm Robert Half found workers who experience work-life balance are twice as happy, more productive, and show greater loyalty to their employers than those struggling to find balance.
The metrics you use to track your employees’ work efficiency are the foundations on which you base your productivity-enhancing tactics. This is especially important for remote workers who lack any direct feedback mechanisms as location-based office workers use.
Employees like receiving feedback as long as it comes from an objective, transparent analysis, and not personal preferences. Your employees can use this feedback to improve their work efficiency, which in turn affects their work satisfaction and engagement.
Take the metrics you defined, as explained earlier in the article, and specify a target your employees should reach. This target could be based on past data, industry benchmarks, or internal discussions between managers and employees.
Define a timeline for checking each employee's metrics—at least, do it quarterly. Also, break down each target into monthly and weekly targets and ask your managers to track their performance.
Analyze how each employee meets their targets and provide relevant feedback from the data. Develop a plan to improve if an employee or team missed their targets, and offer public support when they exceed them.