We’re well over a year into the pandemic and one of the most significant impacts from COVID-19 is the increase in remote work. Telecommuting was already on the rise before — but now it’s become mainstream. Maintaining productivity was one of the biggest concerns as more workers went remote. Now that many workers are working remotely for good, employers wonder how to maintain and improve productivity.
There are many challenges to remote work, such as preserving the company culture and compliance to performance. One of the major controversies of remote work is whether remote workers are as productive as their office counterparts.
The pandemic may have taken a toll on work productivity in some cases, but remote working, in general, has shown to increase employees’ productivity. According to a study done by Stanford in 2018, remote work boosted productivity equal to a full day’s work. On top of that, a remote workforce makes it easier to recruit, improves employee retention, and supports diversity.
So though there are concerns about remote work productivity, the outlook is already positive. However, if you or your employees are looking to maintain remote work productivity through the long-term, here are the things that impact it and what you can do to improve.
What Impacts Remote Work Productivity
To improve remote work productivity, it only makes sense to understand what influences productivity in general. There have been many research studies on this space, but at a high level, it comes down to four things:
- Environment: The physical environment, such as lighting, space, and noise can influence how we work. But the more intangible aspects of our environment, such as work culture, can also impact productivity.
- Processes & Tools: Work processes and the tools we use, from the technology to platforms to programs, usually make it easier to be productive — but not always.
- Goals: Not surprisingly, goals are strategic ways to boost or maintain productivity. If we know what we’re working towards, it can be easier to produce the results to get there.
- Well-being: The overall health and wellness of employees map back to stress. If unchecked, stress can cause physical and mental ailments that limit productivity.
Knowing what influences productivity can make it easier to look at how these four areas apply to remote work and improve them. But improving productivity takes effort from the employer and employee. So here are some changes that both parties can make in each of the four areas of productivity to improve work performance.
How to Improve Remote Work Productivity
How employees can improve their environment:
- Define boundaries: Working in an office usually means having a desk or workspace. But if employees are working from home, they might not have space or access to these things. Designating a spot in the house where you can spend most of your workday can lend some structure to your working environment.
- Limit distractions: Being at home means being around family, friends, and neighbors. It also means seeing that pile of laundry or dirty dishes you need to clean. Using noise-canceling headphones and getting to home tasks over lunch or before or after working hours helps limit distractions.
- Have the right equipment: Remote work is only possible because of the technology we have. But other equipment, such as headphones and a desk, are also critical. While working from your couch now and then is comfortable, it can take a toll on your body — and eventually productivity — if you’re doing it every day. Employers should also consider home office expense reimbursement as part of their benefits package when they have remote workers to make it easier for employees to get the equipment they need.
How employers can better manage processes and tools:
- Have fewer meetings: When the pandemic hit, many companies used more meetings to check in and maintain business operations while figuring out how to navigate remote work. But now, the processes and tools should be in place so that businesses can limit meetings.
- Avoid micromanaging: A lack of face-to-face contact with employees can make some managers fall into bad habits. While checking in with your employees is great, make sure managers are focused on the bigger picture and overall employee performance, rather than micromanaging. Some companies are looking at specific remote work management training to improve leadership skills.
- Avoid too many processes and tools: The first instinct for employers when transitioning to remote work can be to implement more processes and tools to track time and projects. But research has shown too much of this can hinder productivity. Instead, focus on streamlining processes and finding a few of the best tools for your team.
How employers can use goals:
- Have the right goals: We’ve all heard of SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals. When using goals to maintain productivity, having them fit these criteria is essential. And when it comes to remote work, having goals helps bring people together and makes sure a team is on the same page, even if they can’t see each other.
- Communicate goals: In a virtual setting, employees’ can quickly become disconnected if a company isn’t regularly communicating. Follow goal setting with regular communication and transparency of those goals and company objectives. The more information employees have about their work and the business, the fewer questions they have and the less time they spend worrying about tasks or figuring out how to do their job.
- Reward and recognize employees: Having goals is great, but celebrating the path to achievement maintains employee morale and motivation. Celebrating successes and recognizing employees virtually can be tricky. One approach is to use a communication channel or chat and encourage regular shout-outs in meetings.
How employees can improve wellness:
- Define boundaries in your schedule: Remote employees are constantly connected. For some, it can be hard to disconnect. Employees should define a set schedule of working hours and establish a routine to avoid stress and burnout.
- Practice self-care: Self-care has many benefits beyond the impact on work productivity. Exercising, getting outside, or going to therapy if need be can improve your outlook on life and work.
- Take breaks: Some breaks are mandatory, but employees working from home may forget that they’re allowed breaks too. More frequent, short breaks are scientifically proven to improve work productivity. So workers at home should consider going for a walk, getting lunch, or just stepping away more often.
It takes employees and employers to improve remote work productivity and make remote work a successful outcome. Since remote work isn’t going anywhere, it makes sense to reevaluate our environment, processes and tools, goals, and well-being to ensure it’s a viable long-term strategy. To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of remote, download our guide below.