HR pros: Your nightmares have finally turned into dreams. After a year when everything seemed down, employee productivity went up.
While we all might have thought – at least, on instinct – that employees couldn’t have possibly kept up with their usual rigor, we find the opposite is true.
More than 80% of employers say productivity increased or stayed the same since the pandemic started, a Mercer study found. In a separate Skynova study, nearly 80% of employees agreed: They are more productive than they were a year ago.
Employees didn’t exactly hit the ground running when their roles changed suddenly – regardless of whether they moved to remote work or stayed on site. But they adapted sooner and much better than expected.
Still, they weren’t unfazed. People were laid off and demoted – and nearly 80% of employees still working had to absorb their colleagues’ work, according to the Skynova study. But most employees agreed: The changes helped them improve their ability to multitask, think creatively and work ethically.
Now’s the time for HR to help front-line managers fuel the momentum, boost productivity and find better ways to work in 2021.
Here are seven ways to keep employee productivity moving in the right direction.
Encourage ‘visibility strategies’
Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a horrible way for employees to manage productivity – and their careers. Instead, remote and on-site employees would want to stay visible, accountable and promotable.
Yet, just 36% of remote employees have a so-called “visibility strategy,” according to research from Joblist.
Joblist experts suggest a visibility strategy include tactics such as:
- a defined way to make sure all of their projects kept moving
- sincere and timely efforts to help colleagues, and
- a plan to take care of small details each day.
Then employees want to share their progress with managers and colleagues who are affected by their work. That’s not about bragging. It’s about good communication and effective workflow.
Change meeting cadence
Meet less, work more. The concept seems so simple, yet many managers don’t embrace it. Many continue to meet more or longer than necessary.
At Brex, a financial service and technology company, managers switched from a biweekly, longer meeting to a quick check-in three times a week. That helps team leaders get the right balance to communicate, gauge progress and get quick feedback, according to Marco Mahrus, VP of Payments, who recently shared the successful approach in TravelBank’s blog.
Then, managers can add optional “office hours” devoted to ad-hoc conversations or additional feedback.
Build a more transparent ‘library’
People can – and will – do more when they don’t run into roadblocks. In the working world, most roadblocks come in the form of gated information, archaic processes and unnecessary approvals. Employees’ progress gets paralyzed because they need to wait for others to do or share something.
In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Tear down this wall!”
For instance, Fitbod created transparent documentation practices: More people have more access to more information. That way, they don’t have to rely on others – or go without – to move forward.
HR pros want to ask employees – or get managers to ask their direct reports – to identify processes, procedures and people who slow their progress. Then take a serious approach to eliminating them.
Employees trained quite a bit in 2020. But most of that wasn’t the kind of training to help them – or their businesses – get ahead. Instead, they learned how to work from home, hopefully at the same level they did on-site. It was more like status-quo training.
Now, to move onward and upward, HR wants to provide employees more training toward their job specialties and career goals.
Ask vendors to provide in-house and/or virtual training on how to get the most out of your internal systems – software, HR tools, communication apps, etc. Offer general training on soft skills – from communicating properly with customers to email etiquette. And keep employees up to date on HR-related issues – such as harassment and bias training as required by law.
From there, ask managers to identify professional training fitted to their direct reports. Nearly everything they might have done in person and off-site in the past is available via live or recorded webinars now.
Give them the right technology
Notice we didn’t suggest you give employees more, new or updated technology? That’s because more isn’t always necessary. And newer isn’t always better.
But, much like Goldilocks, when employees have the right technology they will work right and rest easy. With many people working remotely, the right technology could be higher broadband, not a new laptop. Or, employees might need some extra training on all the capabilities of the software they already use, rather than a new host of apps.
When employees talk about tech glitches that get in their way of progress, dig deeper. You might work with IT to uncover the most critical tech pieces and put resources toward those.
Help even the balance
Super-productive people may be that way at the expense of downtime and personal well-being. Less productive people may be that way because of downtime and personal well-being.
Every employee needs to balance work and life. Every employee’s balance will not be the same. But HR and front-line managers need to monitor that employees get the right mix to stay optimally productive.
For the super-productive, make sure they take time off. If not, they’ll likely burnout – and end up being completely unproductive.
For example, Rob LaHayne, CEO at TouchCare in New York, found his high-performing employees weren’t taking any time off throughout the pandemic. So he made a point to remind them of the toll overworking and stress could take on them. Then the executive team encouraged everyone to use their vacation time. They went so far as to mandate time off. But when employees started to take a day here and there, they realized it was a good, productive idea to recharge and de-stress.
On the other end, help less productive employees plot how they spend time. With that guidepost, front-line managers might be able to help them identify and eliminate time-wasters – and get on track.
Know the starting point
You – and front-line managers – won’t know if any of these productivity hacks work unless you know how productive people are now. No one needs to micromanage with a stopwatch, punch card or VPN to set the baseline.
Instead, managers will want to levy up big projects and day-to-day work vs. deadlines met and missed. They’ll also want to gather a clear view of how many productive hours the team should have in a week, and how many are typically delivered. Then they can gain an understanding of the current productivity level and what it could be.