While some businesses begin preparing to go back to the workplace (in some form or other), many will need to stay the course with partial remote or staggered work schedules. Although, over the last several weeks, some organizations were able to move to a remote/well-distanced arrangement without too much difficulty, many struggled in terms of available technology – but more so in terms of productivity, performance and engagement.

There’s little doubt that during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, few of us were productive. Speaking for ourselves here at Jouta (all who were in a turnkey position to fully work from home), during our daily check-ins, we often noted how we were constantly distracted, unable to focus, spinning our wheels and getting little done, despite putting in a full days’ work. We know this was normal and to be expected under the circumstances of an uncertain global crisis. Eventually, however, we had to find some sort of a groove to our days, put in place reasonable structure and find a way to carry out both our standing commitments and business going forward. We know other organizations have also struggled with this, particularly when not in their usual work environment, and despite there still being work to do.

So what can/should employers do to not only ensure productivity, but also help employees feel engaged?

Reflect, Review & Discover

As a first step, and as is the case for your vision/culture overall, we encourage you to look at what you’ve done (or not done) regarding performance in the past – and determine whether it still serves you in your new normal. In doing so, ask yourself what you want to achieve by putting in place performance measures, regardless of how formal or informal. While every organization and employee differs, what we do know is that, with very few exceptions, employees don’t do well when they feel they’re being monitored and not being trusted. Unless there are actual performance concerns, expecting employees to email or send a text when they start working, take a break and stop working (for example) will likely not achieve what you intend it to.

Whether at the workplace or at home, we know, of course, that some employees spend time doing personal things and/or are otherwise not as productive as they could be. Like most of us, at some point or other, they spend time on social media, browsing the internet, responding to personal emails, etc. And now, many also have family and room-mates in their workspace. Not to mention the enticing call of a warm, sunny day. Depending on your business circumstances, it may be necessary that your employees work/be available during specific hours. But for many, simply “putting in time” isn’t necessary, nor productive in today’s circumstances. It’s more important to get clear on what employees are expected to achieve and what the intended outcome is (which might be project completion or ongoing exceptional customer service, for example).

Engagement + Autonomy = Productivity

Consider the following options for facilitating engagement and productivity:

  • At the start and/or end of each week (or bi-weekly, as needed), conduct all-team (or team-specific) video meetings to discuss what each of you have achieved, what you’re all working on, where support is needed, etc.
  • Have managers conduct brief daily check-ins if/as needed (e.g. replace the daily “stand up” with a 5 minute “zoom in”)
  • Rather than having/using an annual review process, consider a monthly or quarterly one, or have it be project based with debriefs; this doesn’t need to be about setting strict goals so much as providing/getting clarity on the top things they are/will be working on (as well as the associated milestones and expected outcomes)
  • From there, let them come up with the best way forward, with the understanding that, in most cases, autonomy = engagement
  • Don’t lose sight of the individual and that, as is always the case, one sizes doesn’t fit all; be sure to have one-to-one time with employees (or ensure managers are doing so) to address their concerns/fears, reasons why their productivity may be lagging, their ideas for doing things differently, etc.
  • Appreciate, communicate, value and recognize often!

Make it Fun

All work and no play makes for a very dull day! Now more than ever, it’s important to build in fun! For many people, the fun little moments, jokes, etc. and day-to-day of being together in the office/workplace can be the best part of work. It’s often those little things that promote big engagement – which supports commitment, which, in turn, fuels productivity. What can you do to shake things up a little, to have some fun in new ways? Below are some options to consider:

  • Have employees take turns presenting what they’re working on via video, with the caveat that they have to do it in a fun or interesting way, such as wearing a costume or silly hat, talking in a different voice/impersonating an actor, or using a new form of interactive/entertaining media
  • Launch fun challenges that support staying active or mindful, and practicing self-care
  • Host virtual karaoke, games and/or happy hour
  • Have an “invite your pet/child to the meeting” day
  • Declare pajama day (now easier than ever), or formal attire day (if only for the team meeting)
  • Brainstorm ideas for giving back, such as making unique masks with your branded t-shirts
  • Provide tokens for virtual workouts, meditation, etc.
  • Send your employees actual mail (there’s nothing better than receiving a card that says you’re appreciated)
  • If proximity allows, meet one-to-one while walking outside (at a safe distance, of course)

We’ve heard so many stories about the amazing things employers are doing, how they’re going over and above to support employees through this uncertain time. We’ve also heard stories about employers doing absolutely nothing (i.e. expecting things to be status quo), placing higher restrictions, using monitoring tools, etc. Keep in mind that what you do during this time will be remembered, and have a lasting impact. If you want engaged, committed, productive employees now and later, support and treat them well now. If you want them to leave at the first chance they get, don’t.