We’re well into the fifth (or fifteenth or fiftieth — we’re really not sure) month of the COVID-19 quarantine. And time is doing some mighty strange things. There’s so much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but if there’s one thing this pandemic has shown us, it’s that Dolly’s 9 to 5 — what a way to make a living — is heading out the door.
Employees are proving they can still be productive — and there are plenty of working parents juggling virtual school and Teams meetings who would argue that they’ve become even more productive — without fighting the nine-to-five, five-days-a-week grind.
Proven productivity in a remote work world
Change was already on its way. Even before a public health crisis forced many companies to shutter their offices and move operations online, organizations were changing things up and rethinking the “typical” workweek.
How employees think about the workweek is changing, too. A Harris Poll conducted in late May showed that a whopping 82% percent of employed Americans would be somewhat or very willing to work more hours over four days instead of working fewer over five. An impressive 71% percent of those employees believe the switch would make them more productive at work.
We all know that productivity matters. Many employees report feeling more productive when they’re working remotely. And what those employees intuitively felt was right! Recent studies have determined that workers are 20-25% more productive than their office-bound peers.
Let’s filter productivity through yet a different lens: actual days worked. Employees who work remotely work an average of 1.4 more days every month. That’s 16.8 more days every year! And when it comes to total minutes of unproductive time each day, they note that office-bound workers reported about 37 minutes a day — excluding lunch and standard breaks — while remote workers reported only 27 minutes.
In an interview with HR Daily Advisor, Marlo Green, SPHR, SHRM, owner of Green Ocean HR, says that he has seen an increase in employee productivity with the shift to remote work. “I passionately believe that for the most part, productivity as a whole has increased allowing employees to work from home.”
Our days are getting longer
And if the days feel like a swirling mess of endless meetings, there’s a reason: According to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the average workday is 48.5 minutes longer than it was before the pandemic! Here’s the real kicker: although average meeting times decreased, the number of meetings has gone up by 12.9%.
Plenty of pixels have been spent illuminating the importance of flexibility — we did it ourselves in our “Work trends in a COVID-19 world” series, but moving forward, flexibility is going to be the secret to a productive workplace.
“Staff should not have to request time off to go to a doctor’s appointment or a child’s performance when work by computer is the primary method of job delivery,” wrote Carrie Rich in a recent article published in Business Insider “When they are given flexibility, employees are able to be even more productive. By trusting employees to do their work with a flexible schedule, employers demonstrate confidence in the abilities of their teams. That’s real leadership.”
Shifting from time to outcomes
Pour yourself that cup of ambition because as the 9-to-5 fades away, the way we measure work is changing. It’s time to focus on results, not hours. If you’re at your most productive in the early morning or you’re a night owl, this is good news for you! It’s great news for workers who are caring for family members and spearheading virtual learning efforts, too.
Now that work is increasingly measured by outcome, rather than input, leaders are embracing flexibility and finding creative ways to hold their teams accountable. Existing corporate hierarchies may no longer fit this new reality and companies may start shifting to fluid, task-based work processes instead.
To ensure the job is getting done and everyone is on the same page, leaders need to be clear about what their top priorities are and make sure remote team members understand who is responsible for what and when it needs to be done.
This means letting go of a little control and any micromanagement impulses. Instead of beating your head against your makeshift office wall, trust your employees to manage themselves and their time effectively.
“First, remove the word ‘monitor’ from your vocabulary and your practices,” says Tara Bethell of Copper Quail Consulting in the HR Daily Advisor. “Using monitoring services for employees is a surefire way to erode their trust and drive engagement into the tank.”
It’s important to trust your teams, but it’s also important to set up the systems and processes to help them achieve their goals. Consider implementing a user-friendly reporting system or invest in a project management app to record projects, key phases, critical tasks, status updates, timelines, and deadlines. When used well, these systems can encourage collaboration, foster teamwork, and keep lines of communication open and clear. They also help everyone keep their eyes on the prize.
If you need some help finding the right talent, building flexible teams to navigate our new normal, or staging a strong return to work strategy in the age of COVID-19, we’re here for you.