Effect of Changing Environments on Productivity

By Carrie Nickels

The new work environment must be fluid. Teams and organizations must be willing to try different strategies and be ready to get back to the drawing board when one approach fails.

The way office work is conducted has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic went global in the first quarter of 2020 – maybe forever. Companies had to shut down offices in favor of remote working arrangements in a heartbeat, whether or not they were ready.

There is a Silver Lining

Contrary to common expectations, one survey showed that 54 percent of respondents reported increased productivity. Some reasons for the improvement in productivity were time saved commuting, fewer meetings, and significantly fewer distractions from colleagues. This really comes as no surprise; we understand all too well the irritation of meeting after meeting or that one colleague who is always talking.

While the home environment certainly comes with its own inherent challenges and distractions, it will be interesting to delve deeper into how significantly the effects of the change in environment can, and do, impact productivity. Just by embracing a new work environment, employers may witness the potential to double and even triple productivity and hence revenues over time. Keep reading to learn more.

Statistics show that while workers have less pressure in flexible working arrangements, organizations also stand to reduce the costs associated with maintaining offices.

Shifting Mindsets

Even as some employers reopen their offices and employees resume the work commute, the truth remains that the office structure from last year is untenable. Both workers and employers must rethink how much time they need to spend at the office, and who can retain the flexibility to work remotely.

And with new statistics showing that workers feel less pressure with flexible working arrangements, companies and businesses also stand to reduce the costs of maintaining traditional office space.

Challenges of the Remote Working Environment

Employers and employees must also appreciate that higher productivity does not always equate to greater efficiency. It is critical to distinguish higher productivity owing to more time for work, from greater productivity because of better utilization of work hours.

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and people get back to recreational activities, employees will restore their work-life balance and dedicate less time to office work. Should this happen, would you still witness the same improvement in productivity? If so, then you and your employees stand to benefit by maintaining the remote working environment.

Another challenge is the reduction in collaboration. If an employee’s productivity depends on team members’ feedback and input, it has likely declined during this period of forced remote working. Feedback loops have considerably slower response times with remote working environments, causing declines in productivity.

How to Improve Productivity in the Remote Working Environment

The distributed/remote working model can potentially increase productivity, but only when it is approached systematically. Companies that are now reaping increased productivity because of more time-on-task will likely see productivity metrics decline as COVID-19 restrictions ease and employees resume recreational activities. Employees will be able to restore a more positive work-life balance and will likely dedicate less time to office work.

To have a positive impact on productivity, team leaders must realize that productivity is a complex query. It is not the result of one person’s efforts or one factor that when manipulated, will translate to increased or decreased levels. Instead, productivity is the sum total of a team’s discipline and work ethic – not an individual – and the conditions and boundaries necessary for the team members to operate well.

There is not a standard scale of productivity, nor can one be applied indiscriminately to all teams within an organization. Productivity metrics must be unique to each group and the situations within which they operate. However, there are some general measures that can be customized to your specific team:

  • Engage in activities aligned with core business objectives/operations
  • Increase the velocity or quantity of results or outcomes
  • Reduce the error rate in outcomes
  • Reduce overall operational costs

Once you identify your specific and measurable objectives, you can communicate them to the team. Everyone should understand the metrics and how they will be applied, observed, and measured, along with understanding the importance of meeting targets. Invite team members to give opinions on the suitability of the parameters, inspection cadences, etc.

Finally, empower the team should be empowered to adjust measurements/outputs according to their environment. You might start by shortening the feedback loop with better communication and having accountability chains in many units. This alone can resolve the collaboration challenge created when team members work apart from one another.

Final Thoughts

The work environment is characterized by a complex interplay of people and things – technology, processes, techniques, standards, etc. Therefore, measuring and managing productivity will be one long journey of change management. It will likely consist of much trial-and-error in the quest for strategies that work for both employer and employee.

If there's one thing to be learned from the ongoing pandemic, it would be that the new work environment must be fluid. Teams and organizations must be willing to try different strategies and be ready to get back to the drawing board when one approach fails.

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