In a survey by the Boston Consulting Group of more than 12,000 professionals employed before and during the pandemic, 75 percent of respondents reported that they had maintained or even improved their productivity at work. These results and other have shown that, if increased work productivity is possible during a global pandemic, new ways of working can be improved and continued in the post-COVID world.
Let’s look at what made work more productive in the past year and how you can continue to improve efficiency at work in 2021.
Remember those moments at the office pre-pandemic when you could just walk over to a coworker’s desk to catch up or ask a question? Is anyone else missing those birthday celebrations where everyone would gather around a cake to sing? While in-person interactions won’t be possible for a while, finding ways to recreate the water cooler moment in hybrid and remote workplaces is still important.
According to that BCG survey, one of the most surprising findings was the outsized impact that social connectivity has on productivity at work. Based on the survey, employees who said they were satisfied with the level of social connectivity with their colleagues were two to three times more likely to have maintained or improved their productivity while working remotely. Social connectivity and collaboration also improve communication, innovation, and skills acquisition among teams.
So, what can you do to increase interconnectedness in a remote work environment? Try setting aside time for people to connect one-on-one or in small groups over video chat. Did you hold an office happy hour or team lunch pre-pandemic? Take the same event virtual and encourage your team to step away from work and socialize. The connections and camaraderie will improve efficiency at work and benefit business in the long run.
A Renewed Focus on Health
In addition to social connectivity, the BCG survey also found that both mental and physical health impact productivity at work. Unfortunately, for many people, the pandemic and ongoing uncertainty have resulted in added stress and anxiety, worsening mental health. At the same time, lockdowns and restrictions have limited access to the places and services that help people care for their health. The result? Those who experienced better mental and physical health during the pandemic maintained their productivity at work while those whose health was negatively impacted did not.
To improve efficiency at work, companies need to ensure better work-life balance and help employees get the time they need for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. For some organizations, this might mean limits on how early in the morning and late at night work meetings can be scheduled. Similarly, while employees who would have gone into an office might be regaining time from their commute, less commuting shouldn’t automatically mean more time spent working. Instead, encourage employees to use the extra time to enjoy breakfast with their family or go for a walk. Finally, while many gyms and fitness facilities remain closed, companies can improve employee health through fitness challenges and online offerings.
Ultimately, helping employees stay mentally well and physically healthy will result in less burnout and more efficiency at work.
The pandemic has sometimes been referred to as the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment, and the test has already shown some positive results for efficiency at work. For example, remote work has led to a decrease in meetings, helping to eliminate meetings that weren’t necessary but would likely have happened if everyone were in the office. Remote work also limits the workplace distractions and noise pollution generally found in an office. In the past, studies have estimated that companies pay an average “productivity tax” of about 15 percent when they have an open-plan office.
In order to keep up the efficiency in 2021, it will be essential for companies to prioritize technology and the digital infrastructure necessary to support remote work. When everyone shifted to remote work at the start of the pandemic, there were challenges getting employees the equipment and connectivity they needed to work effectively from home. However, once the basic technology and systems were covered, most employees adapted quickly.
In the coming year though, businesses will need to do more than just get by, especially as some begin to consider hybrid work models that are less office-centric. How will companies create workspaces that allow employees to move easily between onsite and remote work? Here flexibility is key and will require a transformation of work infrastructure, processes, and people to create an environment where productivity can thrive.
Purpose as a Driving Force
Research has shown that having a sense of purpose helps employees navigate uncertainty and change, and this has never been truer than in the past year. Connecting people to something greater than themselves, especially during a global pandemic, helps them focus on how they can contribute and ensures their work is aligned with larger goals.
Interestingly, this proves true in any work setting – remote, hybrid, or office-based. According to a study by McKinsey, participants who were “living their purpose” at work were more likely to sustain or improve their level of effectiveness. They also had four times the engagement and five times higher well-being than those not connected to their purpose.
Creating a strong sense of purpose to drive efficiency at work will be an important task for many organizations in the coming years. A good place to start is defining your company’s purpose (if you haven’t already) and then embedding that purpose in how you talk to your employees. Lead people from the “why” to the “how” by linking purpose to their work and share stories and examples to bring purpose to life.
Defining and implementing your organization’s purpose won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to begin the process now. In the long-term, your purpose will serve as a driving force and improve efficiency at work, no matter what work looks like in the future.
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