How to Improve Employee Productivity in 2021

As we move into 2021, one year after the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted ordinary life, businesses are still seeking smart ways to survive, grow, and improve. For those businesses that have been able to successfully adapt, there is a need for improved productivity in a new way of working. 

Looking to employee productivity this year requires some strategic planning. Our workplaces look differently than before, and many of your workers have a renewed sense of social and political awareness and in navigating the work-from-home lifestyle. Careful attention should be made to proper productivity planning, employee engagement, setting reasonable (or SMART) goals, and going easy on your employees at times. 

When navigating employee productivity in 2021, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Managing Remote Teams

Chances are if you are managing a team in 2021 then you are likely dealing with remote or digital environments. Depending on your business type, you might find your team to be scattered all over the world, or you may be working with more vendors remotely in order to handle daily operations. No matter how it’s structured, your teams need to be quickly accustomed to digital environments, in both managing personnel and completing tasks to fruition. 

While there are many challenges associated with remote work, your team should focus on finding solutions that solve remote work problems but can also be used for when we go back to work at physical locations. Eventually, workplace environments will shift again, so your team should remain patient. Instead of driving these new changes, focus on mitigating engagement during times of uncertainty and transition. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when managing your remote team:

  • It is likely that your team is not yet comfortable being at home 24/7, not seeing coworkers or vendors, and managing work in a digital environment. While some businesses have been operating like this for their entire life cycle, and many have gotten into a rhythm for the past year, this is still a new thing, especially considering everything else that has been going on. Give your employees some mental breaks by taking your foot off the gas pedal at strategic times. 
  • If you can, try to take dedicated time to talk about issues in digital workplaces. Some of your employees may want to vent about the situations and others may truly be confused. Be sure that your employees know that they have support, whether that is through a dedicated IT department or yourself. In either case, make them aware of the difficulties of the current remote work situation so they aren’t feeling stressed. 
  • When it comes to managing your team, try to gather as much information about their situation as possible. While you cannot control your employee’s unruly animals during virtual meetings, you can set guidelines for work-life expectations. For example, if you need your entire team available at a given time, seek times that work well with everyone and set requirements for that time. Don’t require their full attention the whole eight hours and break it up so it is more manageable. 
  • Establish clear expectations around completing work tasks as well. Your team needs to know the bare minimum that needs to be done. In this situation, an engaged employee will be more stressed when it comes to work because there are a lot of changes going on around them. Allow for more flexibility when it comes to employee productivity and they might be more inclined to work more for you. Studies show promising results for work-from-home situations. So don’t pressure your remote teams. 

Looking Forward to Hybrid Workspaces

As we move through the year, we are expecting hybrid workspaces to become more prevalent. You might also shift back between hybrid and work-from-home only as regulations change. Prepare your employees for the hybrid environment through clear communication and in asking for help. 

Some employees may be required to be in the office and others may be reluctant about coming in. Be smart about who you need in the office and who can stay home. While it may be easier to manage your workforce for productivity once they are in the office, there is also the chance that disengaged employees are experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Things like washing their hands, wearing a mask, temperature checks, screening questionnaires, and physical distancing might disrupt work in ways that you can’t foresee. Therefore, consider whether employees need to be in the office and go from there. 

No matter what the workspace looks like, require that each worker download employee monitoring software. Monitoring software is a common tool that is used by employers to monitor employees and ensure that employees aren’t stealing time or assets from a company (otherwise known as insider threats). 

With monitoring software, which is a strong deterrent for malicious attacks in a remote workplace, you can stay on top of the computer activity of a remote team from one single console. If you are working with a digital workplace, your team will understand that perhaps the monitoring isn’t a long-term requirement, but they will agree that there is usefulness in the tool. 

Educate each remote employee on the uses of monitoring software so that they know why they need to track their tasks and projects. Also, work with them to develop productivity plans for improved productivity. 

Workplace Management Trends for 2021

In addition to the role of the remote workforce and hybrid workspaces, each organization should look to trends in the management landscape. Many of these trends move towards performance management (rather than micromanagement or productivity management) and improving company culture.

Here is our take on employee productivity trends for 2021:

  • More efficient workloads: Unnecessary tasks might eat up hours that you were willing to part with in the office. However, things look a lot different than before. It can be challenging to work alone and from home. These unnecessary tasks, therefore, are eating away at employee mental health and productivity. Only request necessary tasks and tasks that make workloads more efficient. 
  • Digital team management: Remote and hybrid teams are ever-increasing, and you will need to find new ways to manage your team digitally. Implement digital team management software, like employee monitoring software, so that you can synchronize employee productivity metrics, project tracking and timelines, and communication. 
  • Employee wellness and education: Ironically, encouraging your employees to take time off, enforcing things like a time-off policy, strict work hours, and so on, will actually improve productivity. While more practiced at working from home than this time last year, your employees may still feel uncomfortable with WFH best practices and are overwhelmed, as well as overworking themselves and not getting the socialization they need. Encourage breaks and taking time away from the computer for better work performance. 
  • Encourage regular check-ins: While your employees do not necessarily want to meet constantly with everything going on, management should check in with employees so that you are on the same page. You want to ensure that your employees are doing well mentally and in the work environment. Seek some way to encourage open communication, like regular check-ins even if it is about personal situations.

As the state of the pandemic evolves, so does the way businesses manage and improve employee productivity. Special care should be taken to find creative solutions for new problems, especially in the digital landscape. Keep tabs on employee retention and employee satisfaction metrics during this tumultuous time. 

Improving Employee Productivity in 2021

In this shifting landscape, managers have to stay on their toes when it comes to looking out for their remote workers. Not only do you have to pay mind to the bottom line, but you also must keep an eye on the employee experience, their wellness and personal health. 

Here are some key tips to consider when looking for ways of increasing employee productivity: 

  • Encourage employees to minimize interruptions and distractions, like time on social media
  • Track employee time to understand wasted time
  • Focus on short and efficient but also frequent meetings
  • Schedule socializing
  • Enforce a time-off policy
  • Simplify business processes
  • Prioritize internal communication
  • Encourage flexibility in work hours if possible
  • Look to employees for suggestions
  • Introduce reasonable employee performance goals
  • Look into renovating the performance review process during this time

While things are ultimately changing, and it will be impossible for your workers to ‘keep up’ with workplace trends, your team can work on broader workforce productivity goals, like flexibility, open-mindedness, and adapting to new policies. 

By implementing and enforcing a time-off policy, for example, you are allowing your employees the ability to step away from work, which might be hard to do in a WFH environment. This allows them to come back rested and more willing to work.

By SoftActivity Team

February 17th, 2021