One global pandemic, multiple lockdowns, and never-ending strains have reshaped the world — the way we live, the way we socialize, and the way business is done. COVID-19 was indeed the biggest disruption to work as well as life in decades.
Productivity prior to the pandemic was a well-defined metric across companies. Some measured productivity by time, some by deliverables, some by revenue, and most by a combination of the three.
Measuring these KPIs was also relatively easy when employees worked out of the office. Since the environment and other external factors were equal for each employee, their performance was a measure of their skill and efforts alone.
Productivity was measured 9 - 5 when all employees had access to the same resources and were performing under the same conditions. Everything outside the 9 - 5 realm was irrelevant.
Post the pandemic, the concept of productivity has turned topsy turvy. Business as usual had to be redefined as companies had no choice but to implement remote work and restructure HR processes to meet the new normal. It wasn't just internal processes that had to be rethought; with all companies suffering the brunt of the pandemic, processes like procurement, shipping, and others that depended on external players also had to be redefined.
Measuring productivity suddenly became a challenge as employees were thrown into work environments that no one had planned for, and business processes were being modified on the fly.
Redefining Productivity to Suit the Post-Pandemic Era
Moving into 2022, the pandemic isn't over, but it has eased up enough for companies to open their doors so employees can work from the office again. While some employees welcome this, others are not too excited about returning to a work-form-office model. Employees have experienced the benefits of working remotely, and they do not want to disrupt their routines once more. To meet the demands of both, companies have begun implementing a hybrid workplace model.
A hybrid workplace is one where employees have the flexibility to work from the office and from home, and which location they will work from on a particular day is decided by a manager or a team on an as-needed basis.
When an employee will work from home and when they need to be in the office is decided by which one delivers the highest levels of productivity and engagement. And that is why defining what productivity means today in a post-pandemic world where companies implement a hybrid workplace, is important.
But in a hybrid work model, where employees work from the office and from home, there are many variables that come into the picture when measuring productivity.
- Are employees in a work-friendly environment when working from home?
- Do they have the tools needed to get the job done?
- Do they have access to fast and uninterrupted internet?
- Are they getting the social interactions needed for mental health?
- Are employees in the office connected to those working remotely in real-time?
- Are teams in the office in sync with those working remotely?
All of these aspects — business goals AND employee goals, together count for productivity.
So what does productivity mean today? While the business metric is still the same, a measure of time, deliverables, and revenue, it also includes employees and their personal productiveness.
So achieving productivity is a matter of creating a work environment that fosters productiveness within employees and then trusting them to deliver on business goals.
Configuring a Hybrid Work Model for Productivity
Creating Workplace Flexibility Boundaries
At the height of the pandemic, all companies went remote, whether they liked it or not. Now, as offices reopen, we are faced with a question — stick to remote or move back into the office.
The answer to that is not simple. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in his blog, says that a majority of employees want to work remotely, but they also want more in-person collaboration. He calls this the hybrid work paradox.
Hybrid workplaces with flexibility are an answer to this paradox. Employees work a few days of the week remotely and the others from the office, getting the best of both worlds.
How businesses implement this hybrid structure, however, is crucial. People differ in their opinions even when it comes to working hybrid. Microsoft, for example, noticed that 81% of their employees in China worked 3 days a week or more from the worksite post-pandemic while in Australia, this percentage was only 19 percent.
While introducing a flexible workplace is the first step, the second is setting boundaries for it. Managers and leads will need to define how many days a week an employee can work remotely, and unless necessary, the employees can choose which days those will be.
Emphasis on Well-Being
When we put forward the new definition of productivity, we said it needs to include employees, and one aspect of that is their well-being.
An article in Harvard Business Review reported that 49% of Microsoft's employees actually worked longer hours after moving to remote working when the pandemic hit, and only 9% reported working fewer hours. As a result, 54% of employees reported they felt overworked, and 39% reported feeling exhausted.
Both overworking and underworking have a direct impact on productivity, which is why maintaining a work-life balance are now included in the definition of productivity.
Implementing a hybrid workplace definitely creates a sustainable environment, but businesses have to go further when it comes to helping employees with their well-being.
One way is to define how work should be done and what should be achieved when working from home and when working from the office. Office work should be more collaborative and include activities like brainstorming. There should also be an emphasis on relationship building.
When working remotely, employees should be encouraged to create a routine that fosters well-being. They should be encouraged to include fitness, rest, family, and personal hobbies as a part of their day.
Use Technology Exhaustively
Technology is the final and most important piece of the puzzle. For a hybrid model to work, employees have to have uninterrupted access to all resources — data, WiFi, applications, people, and so on.
Technology did not just help weather the pandemic storm; it actually reshaped itself for the pandemic. More innovative solutions were released specifically for businesses to cope with pandemic-related problems.
Companies need to implement technology exhaustively to create a highly productive hybrid workplace. It's just a matter of how the bridge between remote and in-office is built.
Slack conducted a survey in 2020 to understand how the pandemic was affecting workplace productivity. One part of the survey was to compare the experience of new remote workers (who moved to remote working because of the pandemic) with that of seasoned remote workers (who were working remotely even before the pandemic).
One segment of the survey was to measure 'sense of belonging', and how connected employees felt to their peers and the company. 45% of newly remote workers reported that their sense of belonging suffered when they worked from home. They felt isolated and lonely.
When seasoned remote workers were asked the same question, 25% of them said their sense of belonging was not affected, and close to 48% of them said their sense of belonging is actually better when at home than in the office.
The takeaway is that location is not the sole factor for productivity. How business processes evolve to cater to the change in location is more important. In the same survey, people who used Slack reported a greater sense of belonging than those that didn't, simply because Slack created a communication bridge between employees.
Companies should implement applications that foster:
- Communication - Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc
- Task accountability - Asana, Nifty, etc
- Attendance accountability - QuickBooks Time, TMetric, Hubstaff, etc
- The balance between work and breaks - Pomodoro apps, etc
- Customer service - Freshdesk, Zoho, Zendesk, etc
- Security - VPNs, remote logins, etc
- Data transfer - Google Drive, Dropbox, etc
And any other tool that helps businesses create a single ecosystem of remote and in-office workers rather than standalone silos of each.
A record 4.5 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in November of 2021, and the reason is people do not want to return to the monotony of the workplace. But working remotely for extended periods also takes its toll.
Hybrid is the future. It's just a matter of how decision-makers implement it, and hopefully, this article acts as a blueprint.