Workplace Productivity During COVID-19: What to Expect
By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
Businesses that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic face unique challenges. Despite continuing to operate, the situation is far from “business as usual.” They face major workforce disruptions in the form of beleaguered employees, newly transitioned remote workers, and non-traditional work schedules. The volume of work coming through the door might be the same, but workplace productivity during COVID-19 is likely to be down.
This isn’t the time for employers to crack the whip. Likely, the opposite. Employees need support during this challenging time. Employers need to prepare for lagged productivity and take a compassionate stance by delivering aid to frazzled workers.
Dips in productivity will happen. It might be in the amount of work an employee can handle or their turnaround time on tasks and projects. It could show up in the caliber of their work. You might even find employees working fewer hours, exhausted by stressors like media overstimulation or a hectic home life. It doesn’t matter how productivity issues show up; what matters is accounting for them.
Coronavirus affects every person differently—directly or indirectly. While work is a top priority for most people, they’re also afraid for their health, economic stability, and community. They can’t escape with friends or go out to blow off steam, and they’re likely suffering under some level of stress about some or all of these things. Your employees are only human, and it’s human to face worry and distraction amidst a global pandemic.
Here’s how to compassionately recognize productivity setbacks and support your workforce as coronavirus uncertainties linger.
Transition to remote work
If you have the capacity to offer remote work arrangements, do it. Don’t just hand out laptops and expect employees to keep up with their usual job duties. The transition to remote work needs finesse—especially for those doing it for the first time. Here are a few ways to ease the transition:
- Ensure remote user access to all relevant aspects of the business’ cloud
- Provide access to apps and software that enable seamless off-site work
- Set expectations with clear guidelines on working hours and etiquette
- Keep IT resources on-hand to quickly troubleshoot user and network issues
- Phase in remote work to avoid confusion and disruptions
Employees may not feel confident maintaining productivity levels in the middle of a transition to remote work. Let them know it’s okay and provide them with assurance and resources to build their confidence in their new work situation.
Provide helpful tools and resources
If you haven’t already, adopt cloud technologies that enable seamless remote work. Many enterprise software platforms offer cloud options—Microsoft and Adobe product suites, project management tools, messenger applications, and task management apps. Adopt cloud solutions before you transition remote workers. It’s easier to troubleshoot in-house than it is with distributed teams.
It’s not enough to provide these apps and platforms. You also need to offer guidance on how employees can use them. Offer tips and insights, and encourage employees to share what works for them. As remote workers get more comfortable with different software, they’ll find their own strategies and slowly regain their productivity.
Manage employee workload
One of the simplest ways to proactively recognize a lapse in productivity is to moderate employee workloads. Scale back and distribute work differently as people ease into remote work for the first time or in a new capacity. You might reallocate work to team members with less on their plate, or even bring on contract employees for a short period of time to ease the transition.
Be upfront about managed workloads. Employees shouldn’t feel like they’re in danger of losing their jobs or be insecure about the company’s stability. Frame it as a courtesy and be upfront about it. “We’re scaling back your workload temporarily so you can get adjusted to working from home.” Simply said and effective.
On the flip side, be cognizant about how you ramp things back up and monitor any productivity issues that linger. Offer help to employees who need it and listen to their concerns.
Account for gaps in productivity, without penalizing it
For some employers, productivity issues may never arise. Your employees may already be proficient in remote work or productive as part of a decentralized team. Regardless, it’s better to forecast gaps in productivity before they become a problem. Have a plan to tackle them, such as re-shuffling staff, work with temporary contractors, or moderate individual employee workloads.
The goal is to maintain business output without overexerting employees. Mounting pressure to keep up with regular productivity levels will only stress them more, and can lead to more problems like burnout or poor-quality work. Be compassionate and adopt creative solutions to give your employees a little reprieve in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.