Productivity is the bedrock of any organization—but how do you make sure your people are performing at their best? This is a tough question to answer in a hybrid world characterized by remote working and displaced teams.
Though remote working comes with a host of productivity-related advantages, there’s increasing evidence that the practice needs to be approached in the right way. Isolated employees who don’t feel engaged with their company culture just aren’t going to reach their productive potential.
That’s why it’s so important for every organization to think about the new challenges brought on by hybrid working—and to set expectations that leave their people ready to flourish, no matter where they’re working.
Hybrid Working Is Here for the Long Haul
Since the early days of the 2020 pandemic, remote and hybrid working have been the subject of intense scrutiny, with promoters and detractors sharing a huge array of opinions on its usefulness and longevity.
As time goes by, however, it’s become increasingly clear that hybrid working isn’t going anywhere. In fact, according to a survey from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), a remarkable 84% of respondents who were required to work from home during the pandemic said they intended to continue working on a hybrid basis in the future. It’s the same story among American workers, with Pew Research Center highlighting that 61% of remote workers are staying away from their workplaces by choice.
It’s no surprise that workers are keen to maintain this rhythm to their working lives. After all, the same survey revealed that over half of the respondents (52%) found it quicker to complete work in hybrid conditions, with a similar proportion (53%) reporting fewer distractions.
This appetite for dividing work between home and office indicates that, for many people, hybrid working isn’t a temporary measure. By extension, it’s clear that employers need to make sure their hybrid working strategy is robust enough to stand the test of time.
MORE ABOUT HYBRID WORKING | ‘4 Ways to Boost Your Learning and Development Strategy for the Hybrid Workplace’
Are Remote Workers Really Less Productive?
For most employees, concerns over remote working are now firmly located in the rear-view mirror—but the same isn’t necessarily true for business leaders.
For many organizations, worries over productivity loss under the hybrid model have been a constant companion for some time.
In an EY report from 2020, 70% of organizations surveyed reported a possible “fall in productivity” as their single biggest concern about continued remote working, and this has been a common attitude towards what was (at the time) a largely unfamiliar practice.
Several years on, the question now becomes: do these concerns hold up?
Less Commuting, More Work?
In a word: no!
Hybrid working certainly hasn’t been an excuse for laziness or a new source of distraction as many employers feared. In fact, 58% of McKinsey survey respondents reported either improvement or significant improvement in individual productivity since they adopted remote practices. We’re now long past the assumption that remote working replaces meaningful tasks with daytime TV.
However, this kind of conclusion needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s great to recognize the merits of hybrid work, but that doesn’t mean productivity gains are automatic or inevitable. Even in McKinsey’s largely positive survey, around a third of executives reported that hybrid working had no effect on productivity.
That’s why you’ll benefit from a clear vision for actively getting the most out of your teams. At the same time, it’s worth thinking about how to protect your teams from some of the unproductive downsides of remote working. Without these plans in place, you might find your employees’ productivity threatened by issues that wouldn’t emerge in an office environment.
New Challenges for New Practices
Though the advantages of working remotely some or all of the time are substantial—ranging from reduced commuting costs to better work-life balance—some employees will find their home-based working environment has weaknesses as well as strengths.
Without the right interventions from employers and managers, remote workers may find themselves struggling with a weaker connection to their organizations. When your employees lack colleagues to lunch with or water coolers to chat around, they might suffer from:
- A lack of practical support for their day-to-day tasks
- Loss of alignment with your organization’s culture
These factors can quickly lead to employees becoming disconnected from their peers, their managers, and—ultimately—their jobs. According to one Gartner poll, only around 25% of remote or hybrid knowledge workers feel connected to their company culture, and it goes without saying that a disconnected employee isn’t going to be a very productive one. Many employees are acknowledging that their remote working practices need to be bolstered by stronger connections to their employers, with 70% of employees looking for an increase in daily and weekly check-ins with their managers.
In light of this potentially more disconnected work environment, it’s no wonder that some organizations are starting to think about what McKinsey calls “the sustainability of pandemic-style productivity gains”.
Preserving the productive benefits of hybrid working needs to begin with communication between managers and their reports, ensuring that workers have all the support they need while recognizing the expectations that come hand-in-hand with hybridity.
3 Ways to Set Employee Expectations for Remote Work
1) Keeping Track of Time
Hybrid working isn’t just about working from different locations. In some organizations, roles, or circumstances, the flexibilities we associate with work environments can also apply to the hours some employees work.
Ask yourself: can my people work to the beat of their own scheduling drum, or does my organization require a more conventional, 9-5 approach?
Whatever your answer is, it’s important to follow up with a second question: are my people aware of my working hours policy?
There are practical benefits to clearly setting out your approach to working hours. After all, your people will need to signpost their availability for meetings, log the hours they’ve worked, and so on. But setting your timekeeping expectations can have great implications for productivity, too.
It’s been shown, for example, that some people get more work done outside the boundaries of the traditional 9-5, with some “night owls” struggling to maintain their attention spans during daytime working hours. Laying out your expectations can allow you to unlock these productivity boosts that might otherwise never see the light of day—much like your night owl workers!
2) Setting Deadlines
It might be acceptable for your people to work unusual hours, but the fruits of their labor should still arrive in good time.
This means your people will need to have a firm grasp of when their work is due to be placed on your (virtual) desk. Just as importantly, your remote teams will benefit from goal-setting exercises that outline why your current targets and deadlines are in place.
There’s no question that deadlines can play a part in keeping remote or hybrid teams focused. A recent study published in the academic journal Cognition found that when people have a clear sense of their progress towards a goal, their cognitive performance is improved: they take fewer rests and suffer from less fatigue.
As such, while hybrid working is known for its flexibility, deadlines provide a helpful, concrete target for your people to work towards.
Adding an element of collaboration and openness to your deadlines through joint goal-setting exercises doesn’t just increase your people’s motivation—it also helps your people to feel more connected to, and aligned with, the rest of their teams (not to mention your organization as a whole!).
MORE ON GOALS | ‘Goal Setting: Motivating Your People to Keep Developing’
3) Strong Lines of Communication
Setting the above expectations will only be as effective as the way they’re communicated. And, while leaders have always needed good communication skills, hybrid and remote teams will require a lot more than a manager who simply issues instructions.
In this new working landscape, good communication means getting your point across to people in a wide array of locations—and even cultures.
On a practical level, this entails a solid grasp of the technologies you’re using to communicate. Video conferencing software, engagement surveys, learning management systems (LMS), and performance management platforms are now an essential part of your managers’ toolkits, and knowing how to use them effectively is just as important as knowing how to communicate clearly to your teams.
The right platforms will, for example, facilitate frequent 1:1 meetings between your managers and their reports, ensuring a personal and human touch to your communication strategy. By encouraging constant communication between your people, you’ll not only ensure that expectations are understood, but that your people won’t number among the 83% of Workforce Institute survey respondents who don’t feel fully heard.
These managerial skills aren’t just a good way to get your messaging across to your people—they’re also the perfect way to make sure your remote workers feel connected, on a human level, to their place of work. Communicating your expectations is therefore a great first step on the road toward better productivity.
Want to Learn More?
This blog post is an extract from our ebook, ‘How to Measure Employee Productivity’. If you’d like to discover more about improving, measuring, and defining productivity in the era of remote work, download our full ebook today.