Employees need to work smarter, not harder—and leaders may not be ready for the challenge
By Steve Hatfield, principal and Global Future of Work Leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Annie Dean, Vice President, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Employers and their workforce agree: Remote working has been hard work. Organizations succeeded in making a quick pivot to working online in the face of the COVID pandemic, and the success of the experience has led 44% of companies to develop strategies for potential moves to permanent remote work. With three in five employees stating they would prefer to continue working remotely, some companies have already made more permanent moves to virtual work. Organizations that implement such policies can expect to achieve the best possible and most productive results when they empower and trust employees.
However, the explosion in remote working has come at a cost to employee well-being, with workers experiencing a three-hour increase in workload since the pandemic began. Although employees have quickly embraced new tools like video chat and collaboration platforms, old habits die hard. Entrenched ways of doing things—like sending multiple drafts of emails and documents for review—are holding organizations back from realizing the productivity that can be gained from going virtual.
So how do we help our employees, and organizations as a whole, achieve productivity in a virtual environment? We need to expand our definition of productivity, use technology to work smarter, not harder, and embrace wellness and innovation in our day to day activities. In Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, 79% of respondents shared that their organization’s strategy does not explicitly seek to integrate well-being into the design of work—representing a huge missed opportunity, particularly at this critical juncture in Corporate America.
Options for designing well-being into work include using technology to promote connectivity, increasing worker’s autonomy and flexible scheduling, and integrating wellness behaviors into daily work, will help boost overall productivity.
We need to define productivity the right way if we want to understand or improve it
As we move to an outcomes-based environment, productivity is no longer a simple equation of outputs divided by inputs. Instead, we are required to expand our definition to reflect the whole value that humans bring to the work they do. Innovation, clarity, well-being, and efficiency allow employees to create differentiated value sustainably over time. To understand how to define productivity, look to these three characteristics:
- Effectiveness: Give your team clarity, capacity, and commitment to its outcomes. Make sure teams have the direction and time to innovate and produce high-quality work.
- Efficiency: Do away with legacy organizational, function, and team practices that do not help achieve desired outcomes. Give teams permission to abandon low-value tasks.
- Empowerment: Prioritize wellbeing and engagement and establish wellness norms that can help drive sustainable productivity over time. Create boundaries and practices that energize and revitalize teams.
Why does this definition of productivity matter—especially now? A narrow, output-based definition of productivity can cause organizations to under value innovation and wellness, resulting in poor outcomes and a burned-out staff. By expanding our definition in the new world of remote work, organizations can commit to the cultural, technological, and behavioral changes that are necessary to drive a holistic approach to productivity.
In a virtual environment, employees need to work smarter, not harder—and leaders need to get on board
Employees are reporting high levels of productivity but are not yet using technology to its full potential. We find ourselves in “online working 1.0” as companies shift their old ways of working into a remote environment. As a result, we can continue to meet our goals, but productivity suffers in each of the three pillars of efficiency, effectiveness, and empowerment. Below are recommendations to improve productivity in each of these areas.
In today’s ‘1.0’ environment, technology use is inconsistent, and leadership is often slow to adopt new practices. To work smarter in a virtual environment, organizations need to embrace technology to make tasks more efficient.
Similarly, employees need quick access to information by using digital knowledge management platforms and effective file sharing. There continues to be a monumental misunderstanding of what knowledge sharing is and the value it can provide. Less than half (43%) see creating knowledge as a key to developing new products, services, or solutions, while even fewer link knowledge with action to drive value (36%).
To combat this, organizations need to combine two crucial elements to take advantage of emerging technologies when knowledge sharing: the physical systems to support the technology and the processes, incentives, and culture that encourage people to implement it.
No doubt, this will initially make many leaders and team members uncomfortable. However, if the ultimate goal is efficiency, it is necessary to work smarter.
“Outcome-based” is the management buzz word of the day. We’re collectively realizing that we need to shift our performance expectations from time spent to value created. To achieve this, we need to improve our individual, management, and team effectiveness.
Managers need to assist with prioritization, creating clear expectations for their direct reports. Similarly, team members need to proactively manage their calendars, shifting away from reactivity and allocating dedicated and separate times to focus on emails, meetings, and heads-down work.
For those employees seeking to create space for focus on short time frames, practices such as the pomodoro technique can help drive effectiveness. The ability to focus creates space for quality and innovation, areas that suffer in an “always on” culture.
Well-being is a critical—and critically overlooked—aspect of productivity. With 96% of workers saying that well-being is an organizational responsibility, how can leaders own that responsibility to help workers find a balance between their work and personal lives?
Some well-being strategies that boost empowerment include:
- Encourage employees to step away from their computer for personal breaks throughout the day
- Allow employees to have a predictable start and end to their day
- Ensure that meeting times are aligned with time zones
- Emphasize the importance of using PTO
- Implement “collective disconnect” days when an entire team, office, or organization turns off
Conclusion: The move to online 2.0
As organizations consider productivity, it’s important to understand whether employees are doing things the “old way” or are using technology to fundamentally change how they collaborate and behave. Using technology in new ways drives efficiency and collaboration, but it requires commitment on behalf of employees and leaders.
Employees should adopt a learning mindset and commit time to building technology into their workflows and experiment with how new tools work. Employees need resiliency in the face of frustration and should be reminded that fluency with these tools is only an internet search away.
Leaders need to model new technology-first workflows and allow themselves to embrace reverse mentorship from tech-savvy team members. If leaders continue to work the “old way,” teams will lose the efficiencies gained by technology. Now is a time to embrace and use new tools, technology, and cultural awareness to work smarter, not harder, and create better outcomes as a result.
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