August 5, 2020   |   HR

How to maintain productivity with working from home arrangements

Maintaining productivity when employees are working from home has likely been on the minds of many business owners and leaders of late.

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has impacted all aspects of society in Australia and around the world, including how we work. Social distancing guidelines have resulted in the largest mass experiment in remote working in history, as businesses attempt to keep operations running while keeping as many employees at home as possible for the foreseeable future. This, however, hasn’t eliminated many of the concerns that have prevented businesses from adopting flexible working arrangements in the past. So how does a leader maintain productivity when their team are working from home?

There are many pros and cons to working from home. Some workers find being out of the office and in their own quiet space leads them to be more productive than before, however for others, keeping productive when they aren’t physically at work is an issue when distractions and personal responsibilities surround them. Often their attention will be divided throughout the day between their work, household chores, children and pets, making it more difficult for them to be productive. To compensate, many will attempt to work during out-of-hours, leading to burnout and even lower productivity in the long term. Businesses can easily fall into the productivity trap and can make the situation even worse when trying to gain control of the situation.

Skip the Monitoring Software

In an attempt to ensure that workers are in their seats and working, businesses might opt for employee-monitoring software that tracks digital activity or clicks, or even opens a video feed to watch employees work through their webcams. This kind of monitoring is relatively common in offices, but it’s a poor choice when it comes to remote work. While it might offer employers peace of mind, it’s important to remember what it means to track people’s activities in their own private spaces.

While it may be legal to use workplace surveillance tools to monitor employees—even at home, companies can quickly get into grey areas when it comes to how invasive these can be. Tracking keystrokes and recording an employees’ screen is likely to do more harm than good. Invasive employee monitoring has been repeatedly shown to have devastating effects on worker morale. It may drive increased turnover, and not by helping employers to identify and lay off low performers, but rather by motivating the most valuable employees—those with better, less humiliating options—to quit.

Ultimately, remote working is founded on trust and should be assessed against outputs or the achievement of goals, key performance indicators or targets.

Avoid Micromanaging Employees

It’s common for managers to experience a sense of loss of control when they can’t interact with their team in person. Unfortunately, many react to this by continually following up with team members to check in on them, or to ensure that they’re working. This can quickly get out of hand, to the point where too-frequent interruptions can adversely impact productivity, and eventually even harm morale.

Instead, managers in a remote-work setting should do their best to remain practical. That means scheduling check-ins and meetings with team members in advance as much as possible and minimising other interruptions. Primarily, managers’ efforts are needed to coordinate team members, manage workloads, and serve as a point of contact with other departments and teams. This helps to ensure that everyone is working together to meet targets and that communication doesn’t break down within the organisation.

Focus on Deliverables

The core mistake that business leaders often make concerning remote work is to attempt to monopolise their employees’ time, rather than focusing on the work itself. It is also typically the errant motivation behind the use of monitoring software.

Workers who are physically present at the office do not spend the entire day creating value for their employer. Nobody, no matter how productive, works in a machine-like steady manner all day. Instead, they may take small breaks, talk to co-workers, grab a coffee, and prepare for and attending meetings that, while required, aren’t relevant to their actual day-to-day work.

Demanding that remote employees should then suddenly spend their entire 8-hour workday on task is as unrealistic as it is unnecessary. Instead, businesses need to identify clear deliverables and track employee productivity by their ability to produce, rather than the amount of time they spend being busy.

Set and Track Clear Goals

Productivity tools like Evernote, Trello, Asana, or similar apps can help managers and employees track tasks to ensure that the day’s productivity goals are tracked. These allow people to coordinate tasks easily without continually interrupting each other with calls and emails. Most importantly, they make it easy for managers to track which employees completed what tasks, and at what time those were assigned and completed.

By focusing on productivity holistically, rather than ensuring employees are spending every minute on tasks, businesses can eliminate the need for monitoring entirely. More importantly, it’s much easier to determine the profitability of an employee to a company by understanding what they deliver than by how they divide their attention during the workday.

HR Expert Australia Viewpoint

Here are six ways you can keep your team productive while they are working from home or in the field.

  1. Equip your team with tech and productivity tools;
  2. Establish daily check-ins with direct reports;
  3. Encourage dedicated workspaces at home;
  4. Provide emotional and steady support;
  5. Dress for success. Don’t work all day in pyjamas! Keep to your daily routines; and
  6. Don’t forget about non-work interactions and team building.

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Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. HR Expert Australia does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

This article was originally posted on HR Expert Australia, one of Australia’s leading HR resource and compliance websites. To view the original article, click here.


Mat PaineAbout Mathew Paine

Mathew Paine is an HR practitioner with 20 years of senior HR experience across Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. He is currently the Managing Director of HR Expert Australia and Non-Executive Director at Definitiv.

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