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The secret to long-term remote workforce productivity

(Image credit: Image Credit: Perfectlab / Shutterstock)

With the latest government advice encouraging the continuation of remote working, the team at ITPP caught up with Wrike's David McGeough to find out how businesses can support their employees and ensure long-term productivity.

With many offices set to remain closed for some time, what are the key barriers to both individual and business productivity when working remotely?

Despite it not being a completely new concept, the rapid and necessary transition to working from home in recent months has resulted in a number of challenges, especially for businesses and organizations that didn’t already have flexible working policies and strategies in place. Pets, children, house work... as living rooms became office spaces, employees have faced a barrage of distractions. Add to this an increase in the volume of emails, time spent on video calls, and – in some cases – a lack of technology, and it’s easy to understand why productivity levels may dip. 

With the latest government guidelines encouraging those that can work from home to continue to do so, and more than half of businesses planning to reduce their long-term use of physical work spaces, it appears that going back into the office might not be a reality for quite some time, if at all for the majority of businesses.

However, eight months since the wide-spread adoption of remote working began, overcoming the physical distance between business leaders and their employees is still proving challenging, with many organizations still searching for ways to overcome productivity barriers. 

In fact, Wrike’s Remote Work Index survey – released last month – revealed that many UK workers are still unsure as to what their employer expects of them. Just under half (47 percent) still do not feel as though they have had clear, formalized communications around working hours, availability and productivity. 

This communication barrier doesn’t stop at employees feeling kept in the dark by their managers and HR teams. They are also not feeling listened to, with 49 percent not feeling as though their feedback is being used to improve processes while working remotely. This could help to explain why 41 percent of those surveyed still feel as if they do not have all the infrastructure, hardware, data and platforms they need to be productive when working from home. 

How can businesses overcome these challenges? What tools and techniques can help?

With the UK economy in turmoil and businesses facing an uncertain future, ensuring productivity has never been more important. But in order to maintain and perhaps even exceed the productivity levels of the past, business leaders need to ensure that every employee throughout the organization is on the same page. Communication, collaboration and culture have never been more important to long-term business survival. 

In order to ensure that employees are able to stay connected, organizations can utilize modern technologies – such as communications tools and work management platforms. These tools can help prevent feelings of isolation and disengagement whilst individuals are working remotely. They can also help to ensure a certain level of transparency throughout an organization, enabling teams to share information and make sure everyone is on the same page, regardless of where they are located. 

Whilst equipping employees from a technological perspective is a good place to start, business leaders also need to ensure that individuals feel supported from an emotional perspective. After all, each and every one of us has experienced drastic changes over the last few months. This, mixed with the inability to connect physically with others in an office environment, could bring on feelings of isolation and anxiety for some. 

Businesses need to make sure all employees are aware of the resources that are available to them. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide access to mental health professionals in a confidential setting, allowing staff to speak freely about how they are feeling and discuss the coping mechanisms they can build. 

At Wrike, our priority has been ensuring that our employees are still able to connect, regardless of where they are based. This helps maintain employee engagement which, ultimately, will drive productivity. We hold regular update calls to encourage transparency and ensure our employees understand the areas that the business is focused on. All hands meetings, office syncs and ‘ask me anythings’ are great ways to make sure that staff know what is happening in the business and feel like they are a part of something bigger than just the desk and monitor in front of them. 

For our customers, we have created a Remote Work Index framework, designed to evaluate a company’s readiness to effectively work remotely. Centered around four key principles - Leadership, Process, Communication and Culture – it uses a short evaluation process to provide personalized recommendations and tips to improve remote work readiness. 

How can you maintain a positive culture when most of your staff are not occupying the same space?

Building a remote office culture is not the easiest of tasks, however, there are a few techniques that can help foster an environment that enables your team to interact and collaborate with each other, regardless of where they are based.

Culture is ultimately created by people, not a place, so you need to encourage communication and collaboration as much as possible in a remote team. It’s important to keep in regular contact with your employees and get to know them as individuals, ensuring that there are no gaps in your communication. 

Organizations must also take the time to identify and communicate their values to all employees, even if this takes place in a virtual setting. Many annual company meetings in which objectives and goals are discussed will not take place physically this year. But, it’s still important to establish who you are as a company and what you stand for to those that you employ. Establishing values can help businesses to attract the right talent and keep hold of existing employees. A company with a positive culture is made up of people who like the work that they do and the people they work with. 

Finally, organizations should seek to set boundaries for their employees working at home, promoting a culture of health and wellbeing over bottom lines. Whilst communication has never been more important to company culture; it’s just as important for people to feel as though they are able to switch off outside of working hours. To support this, businesses need to make sure that technology is empowering their workforce – rather than acting as another distraction or burden, leading to increased stress levels or even burnout. Technology should promote flexibility and allow employees to disconnect - not promote a 24/7 workday. Staff must be encouraged to take breaks, use their annual leave allowance, and power down at the end of the day and leadership teams should look to set a good example by doing the same.

Could the pandemic give businesses a much-needed productivity boost long-term? 

In the past, inefficient processes have been one of the biggest impediments to productivity in the workplace. Without well-defined processes and improvement plans, team members can quickly get bogged down in a to-do list without clear focus on priorities. This often leads to multitasking. Even though switching between tasks may seem like the shortcut to getting more done, it’s actually a massive detriment to productivity.

Communication overhead has also proved a challenge when it comes to boosting productivity across an organization. Whilst collaboration is important, too many meetings, emails and other forms of communication often become little more than a distraction. For example, meetings are great for project kick-offs and initial brainstorming sessions, but frequent meetings without a defined purpose can quickly lose their effectiveness and take time away from higher-value tasks.

Whilst the last few months have been challenging for both individuals and businesses alike, they have taught us some valuable lessons. The pandemic has forced us all the re-evaluate the way that we work. Processes have needed to be as streamlined as much as possible and communication has had to take place virtually in order for businesses to survive. Many teams have unlocked a lot of previously hidden efficiencies by bringing defined processes to areas that previously lacked them. For example, technologies which were initially put in place to help with the mass migration to remote working are now being used to create an assembly line for digital work, keeping documents, information and conversations in one place and facilitating productivity at all levels.  

As we emerge into the next chapter of the pandemic, the most successful organizations will be those that continue to streamline processes and collaboration. The lessons learnt during this unprecedented time could be the foundations for a more productive future.

David McGeough, Director of International Marketing, Wrike