At the start of this year, nearly a quarter of all employees in the U.S. were working remotely or from home. But when the pandemic arrived, that sum grew exponentially. Now, eight months later, many businesses are still operating remotely, while some are exploring a hybrid format that balances a mix of remote and on-site work. But in any format, one thing remains clear: a dispersed workforce is becoming the norm.
The transition to remote work has been nerve-wracking for business owners and managers, particularly when their company requires in-person collaboration and physical engagement. This change can feel even more fraught when it happens—as it did this year—seemingly overnight. The most common concern? That productivity will plummet.
Productivity is often seen as the amount of output created, meaning how much is accomplished in a given day. But the truest definition of productivity speaks more to the quality of work than sheer quantity. Managers fear that a lack of face-to-face supervision will impact employee performance and some employees worry about having less support from leadership while working remotely. Though we have grown accustomed to virtual meetings, isolation is a common feeling amongst employees and managers alike.
But the good news is, productivity isn’t actually the issue with remote work. In fact, for some roles, remote work can even boost performance.
“There are some stereotypes that have existed about remote work historically, and this year we have debunked most of them,” shared Margaret Rafferty, Head of People and Culture at Convene. “Where we once thought that collaboration had to happen in person, we now know that there are possibilities in areas we wouldn’t have otherwise considered. This opens us up to new ways of thinking and working across geographies and time zones that we may not have previously approached.”
So, what’s really affecting your team’s productivity? Engagement.
“An engaged team is one that feels connected to a bigger mission outside of their own day to day job,” Rafferty said. “Increasingly, we see that individuals want to feel that their own work contributes to a vision and mission in which they personally believe. An engaged team reflects on how they can collectively achieve company goals.”
Signs of low engagement include negativity amongst team members and a lack of participation. It’s normal for these things to pop up on occasion, but when they become the norm and start to seep into your company culture, they can lead to a dwindling enthusiasm and ultimately impact productivity in the immediate moment and long term. Deeper engagement, however, only yields positive results. From rising productivity to higher retention, an increase in profitability, decrease in absenteeism, improved client satisfaction and even more innovative ideas, the benefits are truly endless.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to start strengthening your team’s engagement right now. “We do so through by building and reinforcing our company culture,” Rafferty said, “which includes team behaviors, values, rituals and language that reflect how we achieve our shared goals.” It may seem like a daunting task to boost morale while so much uncertainty exists in the world, but the challenges of this past year make it even more imperative. A deepened sense of engagement will help your employees feel connected to their job and one another, even when physically apart.
To help your team feel more unified and aligned, try putting the below tips into practice. The more effort you invest in their well-being, the more you will see productivity increase, ultimately enhancing your company’s performance and bottom line.
For a team that’s used to heading into the office five days a week and sitting at the same desk beside the same people, working from home—where they may or may not have a dedicated workspace—can feel very distracting. If you establish some structure for your employees, whether it’s routine meetings or team-wide chats, the day will instantly feel more engaging.
Keep up your in-person check-ins while working remotely. Maintain weekly virtual meetings with managers, host team stand ups, and more. This is particularly important for managers and direct reports, Rafferty explained. “How can I understand what’s important to you, what is impacting your work this week? The answer comes from 1:1 conversation and connection, and that’s always the key to a successful relationship.”
Reimagine Your Management Style
These unprecedented times call for a new approach. Line-of-sight management (LOS management), which draws direct connections between a company’s goals and an employee’s activities, has been the dominant structure for some time. But it’s crucial, now more than ever, to adopt an outcome-based structure that emphasizes teamwork and trust, rather than weighing the success of a project on an employee’s time spent in the office.
Think of ways to recreate the “water cooler moments” online. Impromptu Slack meetings, for example, can help replace the in-person interaction your team is missing out on. To deepen the experience, you could also find organizations to support or virtual classes your team might be interested in participating in. Not only will this add to the overall spirit, it will feel slightly more social than work-focused, and can help enhance their bonds.
Unite Online & Offline Teams
Some companies have been working in a hybrid capacity long before the pandemic began. “This is a great opportunity to create programs across the business that allow for equal engagement, regardless of work environment,” Rafferty shared. Consider devising opportunities that take all time zones and satellite offices into account. The more your employees can synch up, the more connected they’ll feel.