Productivity Slows As Remote Work Continues

BY C. Lee Smith
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For months, managers congratulated each other on their rapid response to shifting their teams to a remote work model. As productivity slows in the remote work arrangements, leaders and managers are figuring out what’s next.

At the start of the pandemic, employees responded enthusiastically to the idea of remote work. They no longer had to worry about the commute. They could be with their children, connect with team members and clients through video chat and listen to the daily COVID updates from government officials.

Productivity Slows As Remote Work Continues

The early reports indicated that employees were remarkably productive in their remote work settings. Some companies have already announced that employees can continue to work from home indefinitely.  Excited team members are relocating to rural locations or the islands they’ve always wanted to live on. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Some HR pros believe that employees were so worried about their careers and their future that, early on, they ramped up productivity to unsustainable levels. With no good information available about when their children can safety return to school and when they can safety return to a normal work situation, employees are losing steam and productivity slows. It’s not easy to manage children’s educational, social and emotional needs while also trying to remain a stellar employee. Even when parents share the childcare responsibility, they’re losing sleep in order to get everything done.

Employers have also found that innovation, communication and agility is suffering. After one company missed a product release deadline, they moved to a larger office environment where team members could safety interact in person. Company leaders told the Wall Street Journal that there was no substitute for spontaneous interaction between team members that typically takes place in person.

The Hybrid Solution

To improve team communications and innovation, some companies will be shifting to a hybrid work model. Employees will come together in person once or twice a week to meet and collaborate on projects. These sessions may provide the boost that some team members are desperately lacking at this point.

We all know how often we feel completely fried after a long day of video chat sessions. While these video chats can help us accomplish much of what takes place in a traditional office setting, some details are falling through the cracks. Experts point out that in-​person mentoring is hard to duplicate in a remote work environment. New and junior employees don’t get the chance to watch more experienced workers in action.

Onboarding Challenges

The onboarding process for new employees can be particularly challenging at some organizations. Previously, they may have been brought together for an intense period of in-​person training. They had a chance to form relationships in person with co-​workers. Later on, they reached out to these co-​workers when they needed support or had a question.

To help new employees assimilate, managers must change their onboarding process. They might want to assign experienced team members to help with the mentoring process. Part of this mentoring should include frequent video contact between the new employee and the mentor. These chats can’t completely replace the spontaneous discussions that happen in the parking lot or the corporate cafeteria, but they can help.

For the longer term, leaders must develop more effective ways for team members to interact with each other and to plan for some level of in-​person work. Managers can also use an automated coaching solution to help reps who want professional development while they work at remote locations.