You’ve probably seen the press and the hype about work from home and the amazing productivity that is accompanying these new work circumstances. But is it real? In a couple words: Probably not. While there may be elements that seem valid, there are other pieces that are suspect.
Productivity is important to organizations, of course. But it’s also important to individuals. When people are efficient, they have a greater claim to recognition, rewards and career growth—at least if their company doles out these goodies equitably.
It is also worth mentioning that productivity isn’t the only evidence of success—or even the most important. Performance is probably the better, bigger concept—based partially based on productivity—but also including engagement, commitment, learning, growth, innovation and contributions to community as a whole. Productivity is part of a broader whole of overall performance.
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But productivity still counts as a metric that matters. With all that’s been written about productivity, what counts most in the midst of the pandemic? And if the claims of enormous productivity improvements aren’t real, what is, and how can you create the conditions for productivity?
Here are some important considerations:
Panic Productivity And The Wall
Many of the reports of increased productivity were early in the pandemic. Some have dubbed this “panic productivity,” attributing the early perception of increased productivity to the adrenaline boost people got from the sudden shifts in the nature and location of their work. Job loss was rife, and people may have been working like crazy in the hopes of staying visible, relevant and ensuring their boss thought they were still adding value—even from home. But we’re hearing a lot of people are now hitting a wall. They are tired, fed up and burned out. If their productivity was high at first, it has declined as the pandemic has worn on and as the stressors around them have mounted. Facilitating learning for children at home, caring for loved ones and navigating all the new norms for work are pressure points which have built over time and are unlikely to let up anytime soon.
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The solution: True and lasting productivity requires balance. Hard work and dedication should be interspersed with time off to refresh and rejuvenate.
The Time Equation
Productivity is a measure of how much people get done in a period of time. The problem with some of the new work-from-home productivity reports is they’re not accounting for the increasing hours people are working. Employees may report they’re more productive, but we also know they’re working more hours. So, it’s not that they’re actually packing more work into the same envelope. In reality, they’re producing results during times when they may have been commuting before. Or they’re finishing deliverables at times when they might have been “off” in the past. The proximity of work contributes to this dynamic. When there is a physical separation between the office and home, it’s easier to turn off and set a healthy boundary. But when work is at the kitchen table or the home office next to the living room, it can be tougher to turn off—and therefore, employees are working more hours—and producing more, but also making a greater investment of time.
The solution: Cultivate a healthy boundary between work and non-work activities. All work, all the time can dull the senses, sap motivation and lead to burnout. People will have better overall performance when they are able to invest time in both work and personal pursuits.
The Complexity Of Work
Another myth of productivity is related to the type of work people are doing. One recent study showed people could be more productive on rote, routine or repetitive work, but less so on work that was complex, urgent or required problem solving. People may be able to finish aspects of their work more productively—perhaps more administrative responsibilities. But they can’t be at their most productive doing work that requires greater sophistication.
The solution: Encourage people to consider where they do their best work. Avoid assuming all work can be done most effectively regardless of the location, and empower people to choose where they do their best work. Create places where people want to be, so they are attracted to an office where they can complete more complex work or problem solving. Also support them in curating the best conditions in their home environments. Bottom line: educate people and empower them, providing plenty of choice and control about where they do their best work whether it is more complex or more routine.
Productivity may also be better for many people for work that is truly individual. When people must complete contemplative or heads-down tasks, those with good work-from-home set-ups may see a bump in productivity. However, when tasks involve collaboration, co-creation or generative work, it is unlikely people can be as productive with their colleagues at a distance, compared to working together in the office. Just consider the coffee mugs, t-shirts and the mantra of 2020, “You’re on mute.” While some virtual work has its virtues, people just cannot be as effective when they’re collaborating on a remote basis for all their tasks, all the time.
The solution: Help people form strong bonds with teammates and encourage them to build relationships together. Ensure employees are working together on meaningful tasks. These tactics will help them collaborate whether they are working virtually or in person. As people get back to the office, create places where they can collaborate and work effectively with colleagues.
Individual Versus Organizational Productivity
Also consider the differences between individual and organizational productivity. There may be some work that benefits from people expending independent effort. Individual productivity is an important metric. But also consider organizational productivity. One of the fundamental reasons organizations exist is to add value for their customers and this requires integrating work across individuals and teams. The value chain must be—you know—a chain, connecting multiple tasks, responsibilities, projects and processes to deliver solutions and innovations to the marketplace. Ultimately, coming together helps ensure there is continuity and quality across a chain. Individual productivity can only go so far. Organizational productivity will rule the day when it comes to the companies that succeed or fail.
The solution: Remind people of their contribution to the whole, the company’s overall purpose and the customer. Reinforce the value of their work and create opportunities for integration and cross-functional work.
While a quick glance at a hyped-up headline may seem convincing, it is necessary to look beyond the top line. Realize productivity may actually be deteriorating and know there is action you can take to shore up employees’ effectiveness.
In addition, consider quality of life. People may be able to struggle along getting their work done, but they are also losing something in the equation. As my friend Marla said, an important reward she gets from her work—beyond her paycheck—is in the relationships she enjoys with co-workers. Work is more than just cranking out the proverbial widget or the number of keystrokes delivered. People must get something back, and a large part of the return is in relationships, social capital and connections with colleagues. This may be the biggest reason productivity can’t be at it’s best working from home. We need each other and being together makes us better in terms of our work and also in terms of our humanity—through our connections with others.
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/tracybrower/2021/01/17/think-productivity-with-work-from-home-is-improving-think-again-heres-what-you-must-know/?sh=642ef0122d67