As we cross 2020, most of us are still functioning remotely and preparing for a hybrid work environment where we will be expected to work from home. How can an organization determine productivity? What can we expect from remote working in 2021? How can leaders motivate their employees who are low on motivation? Read this article as I dissect the remote working environment of 2021.

In 2020, this digital revolution was accelerated due to the pandemic outbreak, when most of the global workforce was forced to work remotely from the safe boundaries of their homes. We can witness the change in the work environment when we look at the introduction of various collaboration software, those help employees connect virtually over a meeting and streamline their processes, to cloud-based connectivity, and a data-centric approach to strategic decision-making powered by the synergy between artificial and human intelligence. These have helped organizations reimagine the way to work

The pandemic introduced most of the organizations to the possibility of switching to remote work, partially or in full capacity. Take a look at this infographic I did earlier to understand the change in working habits enabled by the pandemic. 

The extended crisis has left employees wondering about the possibility of a hybrid work schedule – a combination of on-site work as well as remote working and preparing for it. Technological revolution and rapid digital transformation have enabled organizations to change the Social Capital Management landscape. In a study by Humanyze, it was observed that working remotely has extended people’s working hours by an average of 10–20%. These employees also observed increase in work-related & overall mental stress, increasing confidence and focus on well-being, and higher degree of formal & informal interaction with colleagues.

But how do you determine the relative productivity of an organization compared to its competitors? Let’s take a look.

How to determine the productivity of an organization?

In their book, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton mention that “the effect of remote working on productivity cannot be generalized and varies across industries and individual talent”. The book mentions three factors that affect the productivity level of an organization:

  1. Time: Each employee, while working remotely, can be distracted by excessive e-communications, random virtual meetings, and/or administrative procedures and paperwork. This can affect the amount of time the employee spends doing productive work.

While the remote working orders have liberated the amount of time that the employees spent commuting, it has enabled them to invest additional time in their jobs. A study by Raffaella Sadun, Jeffrey Polzer, and others noticed that the length of the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes, across 16 global cities, in the early weeks of the lockdown. Miscommunication among colleagues and inefficient work practices have reduced the time of productivity by 2% to 3% for most organizations.

  1. Talent: Any organization’s best talent must be properly deployed, assigned to a proper team, and led by managers who help them bring out the best in them. The talent of an individual and the team in totality affects the productivity of the organization.

Organizations that have perfected the process to acquire, develop, team, and lead scarce, difference-making talent, have recorded a 20% increase in productivity as compared to their counterparts. But the Pandemic has encouraged a slump of demand for certain products and services that have kept them out of the labor market and forced them to lose their best talent. In a way, it can be said that COVID-19’s effect on talent management has led to a negative impact on productivity.

  1. Energy: Every job involves the amount of discretionary energy and willingness every employee can invest. This can dictate the level of productivity and success of the company, its customers, and other stakeholders.

In a study by Bain and Company, it was found that an engaged employee is 45% more productive than a merely satisfied worker. The pandemic and the subsequent work-from-home orders have forced organizations to find ways to keep their employees virtually engaged. For instance, in our firm senior executive leadership began conducting virtual town halls, a weekly video series for important Covid-19 and business updates, along with tips from fellow employees.

Observations that are defining remote work during the pandemic

As hybrid working arrangements are becoming a matter of safety over convenience, let’s take a look at some trends that have transformed remote work in the present era.

  1. Strong Virtual Human Connections: The market for collaboration software, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, has seen exponential growth in adoption (both in terms of number of users and # of hours spent online). Initially these tools helped in facilitating the work continuity but with the fast pace agile innovation and Artificial Intelligence, these collaboration platforms are becoming more of cohabitation platforms that allow users, who are geographically distributed, to exist in the same space simultaneously. 

With the help of these new tools (cohabitation platforms), we can forge deeper connections that make the virtual world more humane by going beyond simply collaborating – running businesses, visiting family, attending weddings, and educating our children through technology. 

  1. Encouraging a flexible professional life: Most of the employees are favoring flexibility when it comes to their work schedules. More and more professionals are choosing the hybrid work setting – a healthy mix of both on-site and remote working. But in the case of Gen Z employees, employees favor on-site work as they look to the workplace as a source of socialization, network, and learning. Leaders must understand the importance of minimizing the screen time, allowing parents to be part-time teachers, and enabling a professional life that supports their personal life. 
  2. Technology as an enabler of inclusion: Virtual meetings are the greatest equalizer. Companies are increasingly facing the pressure to be diverse, equal, and inclusive, and technology proves to be the biggest enabler for such situations. Virtual meetings on collaboration software make it difficult to engage in office politics or show-off. Additionally, these software give organizations the privilege to capture, record, and analyze meeting data, and enable them to evaluate Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in real-time.
  3. Social Capital Management beyond borders – The pandemic, along with the forced remote working, has encouraged organizations to rely on talent residing in a different corner of the globe. The field of Software development saw this shift in social capital management way before the pandemic and other industries followed them. This was further fueled by the record of high unemployment in many areas of the world. The main enabler of this is technology – it has untethered talent from the location. However, this is limited to specific industries that have the luxury of collaborating over video conferences.

Negative impact of working remotely

SAP, Qualtrics, and Mind Share Partners conducted a global study in 7 countries that found that over 40% of employees in these countries reported a decline in their mental health since the pandemic outbreak. In the same period, workers reported an increase in anxiety, stress, and fear related to the COVID-19 pandemic

In a study titled ‘Cybersecurity in the Age of Coronavirus’, conducted by Twingate, it was recorded that 40% of professionals have experienced mental exhaustion from virtual meetings. Additionally, 59% of employees felt their office was more cyber secure when compared to their home.

A survey by Doddle cited symptoms of burnout among employees. It was observed that a full week of video conference meetings left 38% of employees feeling exhausted while 30% felt stressed. Employees experienced performance anxiety as 63 % of employees said that they were likely to record and evaluate their virtual meetings to help them become better presenters. 

Employees end up spending extra time working from home which drives them towards burnout. This overworking behavior has been mockingly called “Sleeping at work”, as employees start their day by opening their laptop screens and end their day by closing them. The willingness to be accessible after work hours has, in turn, increased their screen time, often related to an increase in stress and anxiety. 

How can leaders motivate their employees in a time of extended crisis?

While the world is gradually inching towards normalcy, many of us are still working from within the walls of our homes. This stagnation in professional, personal, and social life is bound to flag motivation, performance, and well-being for many. In such times of extended crises, it is up to the leadership to keep their employees’ morale high. Leaders can provide structure, guidance, and regulation, and provide a healthy work environment where individuals can foster internal motivation by implementing the following

  1. Be transparent when it comes to demands and provide a rationale behind them. This will encourage your employees to put in their full effort and take up responsibility.
  2. Validate your employees’ emotions as well as their reactions and foster collaboration.
  3. Try to reduce team size to the number necessary, allow each member to shine in their capacity, and make them feel involved in decision-making processes.
  4. Minimize coercive controls, like unrealistic deadlines and micro-management. Find ways to engage your employees and increase their motivation through encouragement and positive feedback.
  5. Start emphasizing employees’ well-being and not just their productivity.
  6. Define New Productivity Metrics for Hybrid Work.
  7. Regularly discuss progress on individual goals and help your employees create a roadmap to meet them. When problems arise, get full feedback from the involved parties, and identify the biggest issues and obstacles.
  8. New Performance Management for Hybrid Work.

No-one knows what the future holds for us or when we will go back to on-site practice. But, in such situations, the onus lies on the leaders of the organization to look after their workforce. They should invest more in untethered social capital management and cohabitation platform usage. Productivity is an important aspect of the working environment, but it should not trump an employee’s well-being. This means that they should encourage the employees to set boundaries when it comes to work timings by educating them that more online/screen time does not relate to increased productivity. This is also the time for leadership to reimagine the social capital management landscape, the opportunity for hybrid work and the possible innovations in the field of composite AI.

What other measures can managers take to help boost their employees’ productivity in these uncertain times?