A conversation every employer seems to be having with their teams at the moment, home working is not only an opportunity for individuals but also a potential concern for businesses. With a lack of supervision, difficulty communicating, and an overall air of uncertainty – ensuring productivity can be a big worry.

So, how did home working get to be an ongoing solution for so many businesses and what should you consider when it comes to ensuring that your teams are as productive as possible when working from home?

How did this happen?

When it comes to the home working revolution, there is one clear and concrete culprit – Covid 19.

Since the virus became an issue in early January, companies have been forced to take increasingly extreme measures to protect their workers while still remaining viable. This has included significant restructuring across a range of businesses through furlough programs and allowing for professionals to carry out their jobs remotely.

Now, several months into quarantine, companies (and individuals) are seeing that it is a highly viable and flexible solution. Work is still being filed, teams are still able to collaborate, and certain sectors are even able to continue on with business as usual.

While it is still hard – if not impossible – to predict or understand all the changes brought about by Covid, pursuing productivity is a key concern for many businesses. This makes correctly testing and implementing systems essential for many employers, though it can be difficult to know exactly where and how to start.

Where are we? 

This change has led to the conversation shifting to whether home working is not only possible in the short-term but likely in the months if not years ahead. Technology has made communication, collaborative working, and completing projects possible if not more efficient.

Setting up document sharing, digital check-ins, and project management hierarchies have made clean and clear communication enforced through necessity. Data is captured through digital channels that would normally be discussed in person, leading to a more focused approach, and increased personal freedom for individuals in how they choose to complete their work.

However, this freedom does come with a few concerns.

What’s the problem?

Many company owners are worried that while the processes are working, long-term issues may become apparent.

Some key potential issues include-

Procrastination: While every employee should be trusted to complete their work to the fullest of their ability, there is a concern that procrastination could be a growing concern. Projects that should be completed in a day could quickly balloon and completion estimates run the risk of invoking Parkinson’s Law – namely, that work will expand to fill the time an employee has available to them. This would be tough, if not impossible to police – making it a significant worry for businesses with a tight bottom line.

Inefficiency: While best practice can help make remote communication quick, clean, and simple, inefficiencies are likely to creep in. What would be a simple question across a desk can turn into a significant game of email tennis, resulting in logjams and potential confusion. Technical issues can also easily derail a day’s work, and poor document sharing discipline can result in version control issues or create massive delays in the long run.

Bad Habits: Without regular guidance, poor working practice can run rampant. This can be as simple as bad phone etiquette, timekeeping, or a lack of diligence on projects. This carries a double-edged sword of being difficult to spot and even harder to course correct. This can hamper an employee’s professional development and cause numerous problems for a business in the long-term. 

How do I optimise productivity?

Thankfully, if productivity is a key concern for your business during lockdown, there are a number of steps that can be taken to improve your approach.

These include, but are not limited to-

’Chunking’ work: Procrastination is caused by employees having too much work to do, and no clear direction. Taking extra time to review materials placed in front of employees can help ensure that their workload is not only understood but digestible. Many employees will be working at home for the first time, with partners, housemates, or children. Ensuring that any assigned work is manageable can help prevent analysis paralysis or other similar issues.

Communicating clearly: Taking a moment to review your approach to in-person, written, and remote communication can bring a number of benefits throughout your business. This can help ensure that elements are not miscommunicated, clients are handled correctly with due care, and that members of staff feel supported and have channels to relay positive and negative feedback. Undertaking train the trainer training can allow one member of your team to relay this to the rest of the company and act as a powerful force multiplier while adding another valuable string to their bow.

Reviewing Your Infrastructure: If you are worried about your employee’s working practice, it is important to take a detailed and critical look at your internal infrastructure and remove any obstacles in their way that may exist. This includes the technical platforms that you choose to use, whether your internal software is fit-for-purpose, and if your teams are operating with the correct kit. Softer elements are those that are hard to quantify and directly apply to interpersonal engagement between managers and staff and are addressed further below.

Incentivising Employees: Remote working does run the risk of employees losing focus and feeling disincentivised to work as thoroughly as they would when on site. Taking the time to review and understand what broadly motivates key team members and using line managers to understand motivators for employees can help you incentivise them in even the most challenging of situations. This can be a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards or providing additional structure and increased autonomy if required.

Embedding observance: Even if you make the changes you have identified, it can be hard – if not impossible – to track them correctly. Deploying a software system and light-touch in house reporting can help you capture stats about work and use analytics to understand how work is being completed and where potential issues or obstacles arise. The right software system can provide pathways to check-in and record employee progress and can be incredibly effective if implemented correctly.

What should you look out for?

While there are a variety of options available to help tackle issues around procrastination and communication, it is important to remember that there are a number of vital concerns or complaints that should always be addressed if you hear them reported by your employees or other professionals.

Some important examples include-

Excessive Oversight: While providing guidance can be incredibly helpful, being excessively vigilant can instantly have a negative effect. The disruption caused by Covid-19 may have a number of downsides, but many employees have enjoyed the freedom to carry out their assigned tasks as they like to and in the manner of their choosing. Actively instructing them in the specifics of how they work can quickly rub people up the wrong way, making careful communication key for the months ahead.

Project Updates: One of the most helpful ways to ensure that your employees avoid procrastination is through key updates at the end of the working week. These can be delivered directly to line managers so that they can track hours worked and handle any feedback. If required, these can be submitted on a daily basis and enable your estimates to be correct and motivate employees to manage their time effectively.

Mental Health: Given the nature of the risk and interruption posed by Covid-19, providing support for your teams when facing down challenges with their work is vital. Fatigue, pressure, and stress is cumulative and can often manifest through procrastination or an apparent unwillingness to finish out tasks to the standard normally expected. Reviewing government guidance and disseminating it among your employees can provide vital support when it is needed.

What next?

If you want to learn more about how to optimise your workforce and prepare for the future, our team at Practical Software is here to help. With many years’ experience providing software solutions for a range of clients, we can help you to bolster productivity when it truly matters most.

You can review our options and processes in full from here and you can take a look at our regularly updated list of client testimonials from here. If you have specific questions and queries, please do not hesitate to contact us directly and let a member of our teamwork with you to find a solution for your unique productivity needs.