This year has taught us a number of lessons. We’ve learned agility, patience, and to always check video settings during work meetings. The global pandemic has caused a shift to a work from home culture for most businesses. But the situation has left many companies wondering about work from home productivity.
Supporting a remote workforce is a big change for some organizations. But it can offer significant business value because having the option to work from home can create a happier and more motivated workforce.
Even when the COVID-19 risk diminishes, many organizations can continue to support remote work flexibility. And the workforce is in agreement. According to a Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers would like to continue to work remotely once it is safe to return to the workplace. Now that companies have the infrastructure to support home-based work, they can reap work from home benefits over the long term. By following a few best practices, you can sustain work from home productivity at your small business.
Is working from home more productive?
Before diving into best practices, let’s dispel some of the misconceptions about remote work and productivity. Some companies fear that household distractions or chores may take employees’ focus away from work. But many studies prove that the opposite is true.
In a recently published study, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 94 percent of those surveyed said productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely.
Another study from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that during the pandemic, 75 percent of workers were able to maintain or improve their productivity on individual tasks.
Perhaps it helps that “home” in “work from home” doesn’t include the dreaded open-concept office layout.
Work from home research also shows that typical remote workers put in more time than office-based colleagues. On average, remote employees work 1.4 days more each month, which adds up to three additional weeks of work each year. This number is likely to increase this year as work-life balance has shifted to work-life integration due to COVID-19.
Another notable study found that work from home employees spend more time on core work than office workers. That means remote employees are spending more time on work that is valuable to the business.
Tips for being productive while working from home
Although most of us have been working from home for most of the year, we can always optimize our work habits. These six practices can help your teams improve productivity while working from home.
1. Equip employees with the right technology tools
Remote teams need technology to perform their work and stay connected. At a minimum, you need to be able to support calls, messaging, video conferences, file sharing, and task management. Remote work introduces new internet-based risks, so you need secure, trusted technologies.
Choose collaboration tools with a proven track record of success and that have a minimal learning curve. Also, look for tools that work across multiple devices so that remote employees can accomplish work any time, from any location.
2. Establish a check-in routine
Inevitably, working from home means less face-to-face time between team members. That’s why it’s vital to check-in with your team every day. Quickly touching base every day is a good idea. You can use audio or video conferencing or messaging to facilitate these check-ins. Have weekly team meetings, and connect with employees one-on-one on a regular basis.
Providing a structure for check-ins can make them efficient instead of burdensome. Ask employees to highlight three to five accomplishments from the prior week and three to five goals for the week ahead. Encourage them to identify any areas where they need help. This process will keep everyone focused and connected.
3. Give employees autonomy
It can be tempting to micromanage teams who are working from home, but it’s better to give them flexibility. According to a study of work from home and work from anywhere employees published in the Harvard Business Review, more autonomy and flexibility leads to more productivity.
Instead of strict 9-to-5 schedules, offer remote employees the ability to work when they’re able (as long as they meet deadlines). This approach has been critical during the pandemic as we’ve all had to juggle multiple, shifting priorities. From working around children’s schedules to getting in a midday workout, being able to work from home provides much-needed flexibility.
4. Encourage dedicated workspaces
At the office, people have their own space to perform their jobs. But employees might not have a dedicated workspace set up at home. (True story: I’m working from my kitchen table.) Even if they don’t have a dedicated room to use as an office, professionals who are working from home should set aside space to work. Guest rooms, basements, or even walk-in closets can make ideal remote workspaces.
Give employees guidance on the basic tools they need. You may already provide the basic technology tools and software employees need for remote work, but consider providing additional support. As reported in Business Insider, some companies offered stipends to help employees defray the cost of setting up workspaces in response to COVID-19.
5. Support relationship and team building
It’s common for remote workers to miss the camaraderie that comes from working in the office. And don’t forget the casual ways employees connect outside of work like grabbing lunch together and team happy hours. Lack of these personal interactions can cause a sense of loss for many remote workers.
Counter this by making relationships a priority. Explore remote team building options. There is no shortage of options for any interest area during the pandemic. Host a virtual happy hour or attend an online cooking class. Another idea: Hold a virtual movie night. Several services allow multiple people to watch a movie or video together and participate in a real-time chat.
6. Promote a positive mindset and self-care
One thing we can likely all agree on is that 2020 has delivered a great deal of stress. Compounded with uncertainty from nearly all factors of life – economic, health, social, family – work stressors were also in play with a shift to remote work.
As part of your check-ins, highlight something positive. If employees focus on good moments of every day, they can cultivate a positive outlook. Also, remind employees of any wellness or self-care programs your business has in place. Encourage them to take time to focus on self-care. Simple activities like a 15-minute afternoon walk can lift employees’ spirits. And a positive, focused mindset can help employees stay productive during the ups and downs of an uncertain time.
Building productive remote teams
Transitioning to a virtual workforce may not have been on your agenda for 2020. But COVID-19 drove unexpected change for all of us. With work from home best practices in place, your teams can reap the benefits of better productivity.
It looks like the current remote work experiences will be around for the near future. Now that the first few months of the pandemic are behind us, it’s the perfect time to take a thoughtful, strategic view of your work from home approach.
Maximizing your technology to ensure that you’re collaborating securely and efficiently will help drive benefits for business and your teams, no matter where they’re located. Read more about Cisco Designed Secure Remote Work, and let’s get to work.
I would suggest another tip: make sure your employees have access to a productivity tool. My team uses kanbantool.com and since we’ve started to use the app, our productivity has increased significantly.
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