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Maintaining productivity in a remote working environment

Pretending that the shift to work from home doesn’t come with challenges will get you nowhere.

Maintaining productivity in a remote working environment
[Andrey Popov/Adobe Stock]

After two years of Covid, it’s clear that an extended or hybrid remote workforce is here to stay. Now that so many workers have grown used to the benefits and convenience of working from home, it’ll be very difficult to lure them back into a world of expensive city centers and freeway commutes. And faced with a rising labor shortage, companies will have to accept that.

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Many organizations have resisted remote working because they felt it would lead to reduced productivity and innovation. They may have been right. According to revised U.S. labor statistics, in the third quarter of 2021, U.S. labor market productivity fell 5.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis. That’s the steepest quarterly decline since 1960.

I am a collaborator by nature, and my sense is that I produce more work, or maybe higher quality work, when I am able to bounce ideas off of teammates and colleagues. Not that you can’t do that virtually, but it doesn’t allow for those water-cooler moments of collaboration and creativity. That is very hard to replicate in a remote working environment.

However, with some degree of remote working now a reality for most, it’s a good time to share ideas and practices that can help maintain productivity. With a few adjustments, some additional encouragement, and lots of practice, we may be able to stem the tide.

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PROMOTE COMMUNITY

For some, working remotely can be a great benefit. Without the constant interruptions in the office, they accomplish more. But it may leave others feeling disconnected. Address this by strengthening your efforts to promote a sense of community. People work harder to support teams they feel they’re an essential part of.

Even when everyone was in the office, some organizations offered weekly ice cream socials to build community. Today, that kind of event is more important than ever, but you must be creative in finding a mixture of in-person and online versions of it. Some companies are mailing pizza-building materials and gingerbread house kits to workers and making an online party out of constructing them. Some of our teams have participated in online escape rooms. Others meet weekly to play Among Us (a multi-player social deduction game). These can be effective remote team-building exercises.

INCORPORATE TOOLS THAT DRIVE COMMUNICATION

By now, most companies have implemented collaboration solutions designed to drive productivity. It’s important that we continue to adopt these tools, especially in cross-departmental meetings that help keep everyone on the same page. Team ambassadors who regularly attend other teams’ virtual meetings help ensure interdependencies are understood and projects are executed in time to meet deadlines.

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While it would be nice if all teams were working on the same collaboration platform, it’s probably not realistic. Teams like to use the tools that work best for them. We see this within our own organization and with the tools we sell. For example, Zinc is our fit-for-purpose collaboration tool for field service teams. It’s extremely effective, but we wouldn’t suggest customers leverage it across their entire organization. You can use multiple tools; just make sure they all support one ultimate source of truth.

CONSIDER GAMIFICATION TECHNIQUES

Many people respond well to gamification in the workplace. In one study, 72% of those surveyed said gamification inspires them to work harder. And you don’t need to implement an entire platform to reap the benefits—just incorporating a few basic gamification elements can help drive participation and engagement.

For example, if you’re chasing down employees to contribute to the company blog, gamify it. Tell your eligible authors that the person whose articles receive the most hits in the quarter will win a $100 Amazon gift card, and you’re off to the races.

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RETHINK MBOs

Now is a great time to reevaluate productivity. Before you push employees for more, take time to consider whether the projects they’re working on are actually moving the needle. Business conditions change and what worked six quarters ago may no longer be driving results. If some activities aren’t demonstrably benefitting the business, drop them for better alternatives.

Once your MBOs are tied to business outcomes, identify which activities are most valuable and push for additional productivity in those specific areas. Start by measuring current productivity so you have a benchmark with which to measure improvement.

URGE EMPLOYEES TO SET THEMSELVES UP FOR SUCCESS

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Many have never experienced remote working on a regular basis and may need help overcoming challenges. A simple internet search unearths a plethora of articles that offer suggestions for maintaining productivity while working from home. They include setting up a designated workspace, setting specific work hours, and following a daily routine. Just keep in mind that what works for some may not work for others. It’s up to the employee to decide which tips help them stay focused and productive.

ASK EMPLOYEES HOW YOU CAN HELP

Pretending that the shift to work from home doesn’t come with challenges will get you nowhere. We all know some days are harder than others when it comes to getting things done. Discussing this openly and honestly helps people see they’re not alone.

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Canvas your employees regularly and ask how they’re doing, what challenges they’re facing and, most importantly, what the organization can do to help them be more productive in a permanent remote work environment. They may surprise you with ideas you’ve never considered.

While many of us feel we’re in limbo between working from the office and working from home, it’s a new reality we must learn to embrace. Prior to the pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions, a large percentage of my marketing team considered themselves “in-office” workers. That percentage has changed. Most companies will never again experience the percentage of onsite workers they once had. The sooner we recognize that we still need to empower all employees to be highly productive in a remote environment, even as restrictions lift, the better off we’ll be.


Liz Carter is the SVP of Marketing at ServiceMax with experience in high tech, cloud, SaaS, and communications.  

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