People have been working from home even before the pandemic, but their number significantly increased when the health crisis led to lockdowns and travel restrictions. Companies were forced to send their employees home to work remotely to comply with social distancing measures and keep the workforce healthy. Statista shows that before the pandemic, only 17% of US employees worked remotely for five days or more weekly. However, the number grew to 44% during the outbreak in 2020.
When the pandemic subsided and governments eased travel restrictions, some companies asked their workforce to return to the office while others offered the hybrid set-up. However, most employees still prefer remote work.
A poll conducted by Pew Research Center with 5,889 workers in America in January 2022 found that 61% of those who work from home said they avoid going to work by choice and 38% claim their office is closed. It represents a shift from October 2020, when 64% of people worked from home because their office was closed and 36% did so voluntarily.
In spite of that, 50% of leaders in information worker roles want to pursue getting employees back to the office full-time next year, based on Microsoft’s Work Trend Index 2022 report. Still, 52% of respondents say they highly consider becoming remote or hybrid in the year ahead and 80% claim that since remote or hybrid work arrangements were implemented, their productivity has increased.
How Remote Workers Can Be More Productive
According to the popular job site Flexjobs, one of the benefits of working from home is it increases “productivity and performance” as employees encounter fewer interruptions, have a quieter work environment, and have increased workplace comfort, resulting in more focused time.
In a research conducted in Latin America, they explored the relationship between remote work, work stress, and work-life during pandemic times. Researchers found out that by having flexible work schedules, the employees’ engagement and productivity levels increased because they could work at their most productive time. Privacy also plays a big role in employees’ efficiency. However, the productivity level is negatively affected when the worker is constantly interrupted by children or adults that need assistance.
A case study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine investigated the impact of family-work conflict, social isolation, distracting environment, job autonomy, and self-leadership on employees’ productiveness, work engagement, and stress experienced when working from home during the pandemic. The authors discovered that excellent self-leadership skills and autonomy positively impact the time assessment in a WFH scenario.
Results from a qualitative study by Danielle Tinneveld of Radboud University also show that productivity tracking facilitates the identification of process bottlenecks. The affected staff gets less anxious and annoyed when these difficulties are resolved, and overall production efficiency improves.
How Employees Can Track Their Productivity at Home
On a remote workday, people have to manage work and non-work-related tasks. To be productive, they have to master the art of time planning. Effective time management involves planning each activity in a time frame, considering priorities such as urgent work tasks and eating breaks. Individuals should fit their activities into 16 hours to get 8 hours of sleep each day to achieve great productivity. By monitoring the duration of their tasks, they can observe which actions can be improved.
To see if their time management strategy is effective, remote workers can use key performance indicators (KPIs). Some KPIs they can consider are:
- % To do list tasks achieved as planned
- % Time spent working
- % Time spent walking
- % Time spent relaxing
- % Time spent reading (non-work)
- % Time spent preparing food
- % Time spent eating
- % Time spent doing housework
By monitoring the percentage of tasks performed as planned, individuals can see if they reached their target or not. By knowing the percentage of time spent working, people have insights into the free time left for non-work-related tasks, such as going on a walk, relaxing, cooking, eating, and other housework activities (washing clothes and dishes, drying clothes, cleaning floors).
It’s a different story for employees whose companies have return-to-office schemes. Their organizations should rethink their performance management system to consider the new ways of working that employees gained during the pandemic. Evaluating the relevance of KPIs has become important now more than ever. To better understand KPIs, its nature, characteristics, and implementation, enroll now to The KPI Institute’s Certified KPI Professional and Practitioner course.
What does business as usual mean now? How have last year’s events changed the future of work? How has employee engagement changed? New business models, exponential technology, agile working methods, and regulation are constantly changing how organizations work. Let’s take a closer look at lessons learned through the experiences of employee engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world was shaken, and despite the negative effects of the recent global health crisis, we can all agree on one thing: We learned a lot in terms of organizational change and growth. After businesses were forced to close their offices and manage all their employees remotely, the learning curve for managers was initially steep. Yet this new way of functioning has brought valuable lessons about how to boost employee engagement that should not be forgotten in the new normal.
Employee engagement refers to the emotional commitment an employee has to their organization and its employees, vision, and goals. It is not only about employee satisfaction, high salaries, or benefits packages. Employees who are engaged in their work and committed to their organizations give companies crucial competitive advantages, such as higher productivity and lower employee turnover.
So, let’s see some lessons and how some companies managed their organizations and increased engagement in a virtual environment.
1. Choose a supportive management approach.
Some companies have been allowing their employees to work from home even before the pandemic hit. They already have rules and ways to manage teams remotely. Other organizations were completely surprised when the lockdowns happened, having no procedures or ways to manage and assess employees in a remote work setup. Some common online methods used were daily or weekly team meetings and frequent 1-1 check-ins.
For many, having frequent check-ins led to a micro-goal setting and allowed employees to receive constant feedback. This coaching approach has led to performance improvement. It also allows management to easily assess and measure progress while also boosting team productivity, which, in turn, keeps employees engaged and gives them a sense of purpose and achievement in reaching goals.
INMAGINE’s remote working environment was quick to adopt best practices in the areas of employee engagement and retention. This creative company founded in 2001 started an anonymous online feedback channel for employees to share anything, assuring them that lines of communication are open. They have also formed peer support groups according to six personality types. It serves as a platform for employees to exchange stories and thoughts not just about their jobs but also their personal lives.
2. Assure a flexible and positive work environment.
For most employees, a change in the environment has become the biggest challenge. It is felt in the transition from being physically present in the office, where one can focus on work, to working at home, where varying contrasts abound, such as being alone or having young children or elderly to care for., All of these could be disruptive to any workflow.
That said, the flexible working environment that most employees experienced during COVID-19 has changed our understanding of work-life balance. Working from home has allowed employees to do their work and attend to personal needs (e.g. taking care of children, elderly, and pets and running errands) simultaneously. This has served as a reminder to managers that several non-work-related factors can affect an employee’s mindset and engagement.
Employees have proven the ability to maintain the balance between work and personal needs, albeit through a forced testing period. In the post-COVID period, management must not forget the importance of constantly creating a positive work environment for their employees. This must include ensuring that work fits into their employees’ lives and not the other way around. When employees feel that their personal needs are valued by management, their emotional connection to the organization is strengthened, and they are more likely to stay.
3. Encourage trust in leadership.
During these challenging times, employees had to trust their leaders to take the right direction and to make tough decisions about the future. A key part of trust in leadership is transparency, which means employees are aware of what is happening within their organization. This is particularly important during a work-from-home scenario, where employees rely on leaders to make crucial decisions for the future of their jobs and the organization. This is why clear, open communication between management and employees on how the organization is tackling COVID-19 is crucial.
At INMAGINE, online meetups with founders and online mentoring sessions with the CEO allowed employees of all levels to engage directly with senior management leaders. In these sessions, employees can freely ask questions and solicit feedback. Having a good collaboration platform is another example of how INMAGINE eases the challenges of working from home. INMAGINE uses Bitrix to keep employees updated on work matters, enable employees to chat live online, and create workgroups for discussions and brainstorming. The tech team advocates extra tools to help manage projects and people, Jira. This ensures that all deadlines are crystal clear to everyone, and the pipeline of each project journey is clearly outlined.
4. Build a virtual office watercooler.
For decades, practitioners have gathered around office watercoolers to catch up with colleagues. Casual conversations run the gambit from professional to personal topics. If you and your team are missing these chats, why not create a virtual watercooler so they can continue even if you are not physically in an office? Establish an “Around the Watercooler” team on the Microsoft Teams platform where team members can start or engage in random conversations throughout the day when they need a break. Add an optional standing “Watercooler Conversation” on Zoom during the week to encourage this type of interaction. If your firm uses Slack, check out the Watercooler app, where bots organize random conversations among team members. Ask your employees what platform is best for them.
5. Make a virtual remix of the firm’s favorite tax season activities.
Bring back the friendly atmosphere from the fun activities you used to have by creating new virtual versions. Incorporate a “crazy hat day” or “wear your favorite sports team attire” in virtual check-ins. Ask individuals to share interesting backstories about what they are wearing, then vote for the best attire. Host monthly lunch celebrations online to recognize your team’s accomplishments. To add to the excitement, have a meal from a restaurant client delivered to the team. How about a bracket selection party for Christmas, New Year Celebration, or other types of celebrations.
6. Reward good efforts.
People want to know that they are appreciated, especially when they work additional hours to help the company achieve its goals. Make it a priority to acknowledge your team members for their hard work. Share success stories during meetings. Pick up the phone, initiate a quick Zoom call, send an email, or write a personal note to say “thank you.” Tell them how much their dedication means to you and the management. Send them a gift card from their favorite restaurant or store, movie tickets, or other types of incentives. Do all you can to make your staff feel appreciated and valued. A little recognition can make the difference between an engaged employee and one that has a foot out the door.
To inspire trust in leadership in the post-COVID-19 period, we recommend having frequent check-ins and transparent conversations between top management, head of departments, and employees to feel included in what is happening within the organization. Moreover, it is also imperative for employees to learn about individual growth opportunities.
Leaders who invest in the learning and development of their employees will be encouraging engagement. Learning can be provided not only through professional education and training but also through constructive feedback, a crucial element in achieving a learning organization status. These practices will boost employee engagement and help organizations to retain their employees for the longer term.
Managing individual and team performance requires up-to-date knowledge and skills. Through The KPI Institute’s Employee Performance Management Professional and Practitioner training courses, leaders will learn how to develop a culture of performance and implement performance systems aligned with the strategic goals of the company. Learn more about the course by sending an email to [email protected] or calling T: +61 3 9028 2223 M: +61 4 2456 8088