Employee Productivity is the lifeblood of all organisations. It doesn’t matter which sector you operate in or the type of products and services on offer, if your team of employees are not productive, then sadly your business is likely to suffer. On the flipside, if you have a productive workforce who are rearing to go and passion, leading to efficiency and effectiveness in their work, your business is likely to soar. Current and potential clients and customers are constantly on the lookout for productivity, innovation and an organisation which stands out from the competition, therefore, honing in on your company’s productivity levels and how to truly measure them, especially during a global pandemic is of utmost importance.
Prior to the pandemic, a large number of employees were already / or were starting to work from anywhere a power-socket became available. The concept of being a 'digital nomad' seems less alien than a decade ago, as on-demand employees are now always available, not only between 9am-5pm, in bricks and mortar. Working out of the office became desirable by many employees due to the flexibility which it offered, as well as that they found it to be more conducive to productivity, after the travel and commuting time were deducted.
With this in mind, the corporate landscape has changed again almost overnight with the onset of COVID-19. It accelerated and leapfrogged working from home and flexible working for many businesses, however it was not a completely alien concept. Employees were almost instantly left with no option other than to permanently work at home, or very socially distanced if a keyworker. With this in mind, many employers are seeking the best ways to measure productivity when everyone is dispersed, there’s little to no face-to-face interaction, topped with a new layer of personal stresses and uncertainties which working from home, home-schooling bring in itself. Gone are the days where productivity was calculated based on the in-office hours clocked.
In recent months and years, there’s been a really big emphasis on the “work-life balance” and for very good reason. Employees were (and still are) feeling burnt out, overworked and underpaid, where the boundaries between their professional and private lives started to blur. Following on from this, we moved into what was known as “work-life harmony.” This is a state in which individuals are able to achieve both personal and professional goals in a satisfactory manner at the same time. Rather than striving some sort of false balance, one can re-arrange their lives so that the different parts can exist and work in harmony. However, as of late, the new catch-phrase is all about "work-life integration" whereby this integration aims to unify your personal and work life way that complements both areas. Employees who practice "work-life integration" often care less about what’s “work time” and what’s “personal, non-work time”, and instead they focus on what’s the best time to do these things, which has become a valuable way to work especially during the pandemic, with the family unit being at home and home-schooling. Therefore, this can play out in many ways, for example flexible working by working later in the day in order to focus on a personal project or schooling in the morning, or checking emails and finishing tasks after hours when it's quiet, but also checking and responding to personal stuff during the work day.
So, with already a shift to a more flexible / hybrid way of working, has the pandemic changed how employee productivity is measured completely, or were businesses already adapting to this different way of working already? Or would a more reserved way of thinking, if employers cannot see their employees working, how can they ensure the work is being done, apply? The overnight shift to online working has created a (forced) opportunity for companies to become very clear on the goals, metrics and results which yield productivity.
The golden question, "do employees who work for longer hours get more tasks done?" This has not changed pre and during the pandemic. While everyone was working in an office, often the traditional indicator of productivity was based on hours sitting behind the computer. However, in recent years the focus shifted to the amount of work completed, rather than time-watching. Promoting a results-orientated culture is more effective and smarter, as often focused tasks can be completed quicker, than if one were to spend 9-5 working on it. Being results-orientated also means that your employees will work their hardest in the hours they are most productive, as long as a task is completed within the deadline. So, some people may be more effective in the evenings when the children are in bed, or some may be early birds and flourish in the morning.
Performance evaluations help companies to measure the achievements of their team against the goals and expectations and therefore, determine performance standards across different roles and levels. These evaluations serve as a useful tool to differentiate between low and high performing employees and to gauge frequency of tasks and skills. In addition they can highlight who is thriving vs. who is struggling and where extra resources should be allocated. However, during the pandemic, possible adjustments should be made depending on how your business is running. For example, if needs be, the focus should move to continuous open feedback and supporting working in unusual settings, instead of using a more rigid evaluation process, as business is not as normal. Particularly during a time of crisis, managers and employees should be encouraged to explore whether it’s necessary and possible to take something off an employee’s plate i.e. deadlines extended, projects postponed etc. During a global pandemic, it may often be necessary to adjust organisational, team, and individual goals, for both workforce and market related reasons.
Especially as Covid-19 prevented most face-to-face meetings and interactions, it's imperative for management to clearly communicate exactly what they expect from their employees while not office based, and this should remain somewhat fluid. Whether that means logging on at a specific time, or sending regular updates. Employees do not want to feel out of touch and somewhat forgotten if they're not physically in the workplace, so ensuring regular check-ins, meetings, status updates, brainstorming sessions can move productivity and performance along in an effective manner as employees do indeed know what is expected from them, and vice versa from the management.
More and more technology and tools are available to ensure management has visibility into employees' progress on tasks, without the need for micromanaging. This can be as simple as a daily / weekly update via email sent to the team to highlight what's already been completed, and if there are any actions for other teams. Measuring results in whichever way is most suitable to your business allows an open conversation for what went well or could have been improved. Some key features to look into include instant feedback, activity tracking and predictable scheduling.
Some technological options to monitor productivity are social media platforms and wearable technology where employees / employers can see notifications from wherever they are. In addition, tools such as Trello, which is a popular collaboration tool which enables you to organise projects onto different boards can be used to track productivity. Online communication platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams and Slack can be used as daily communication tools, either via chat or a video functionality, where communication can continue as normal.
Many employees already worked more flexibility before the pandemic hit, and the traditional ways of measuring employee productivity has been shifting for months and years already. With this in mind, companies need to continue to embrace new technologies, set realistic expectations from the get-go and provide regular two way feedback. Output needs to be measured by monitoring performance, rather than physically seeing employees with their heads down in their cubicles.
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