Many CEOs envision that work will happen "anywhere" going forward, with both Dropbox and Quora going remote-first for the foreseeable future. In contrast, others ask employees to return to central office spaces. In addition, some organizations accommodate flexible time commitments, while others require staff availability from 9 to 5.
To move forward, leaders must understand the costs and benefits of where and when people work and align them with the energy, focus, coordination and cooperation needed to be productive.
What are the four main ways to aid employee concentration?
1. Provide a safe, productive working environment
When your workforce returns to the office, the workplace must be COVID-secure. This comes at a price; social distancing, a change of office layouts and moving away from the 9-5 to avoid the rush hour will change the way teams and individuals work together, collaborate, interact and socialize. This human interaction and cooperation gives teams a creative spark, improves productivity and innovation and is one of the main draws for the hybrid model. A carefully thought out plan will be needed regarding everything from seating plans to the technology utilized to re-integrate staff that have previously been working in a fully remote role.
2. Avoid presenteeism and unpaid overtime
The lines between the workday and home life have become increasingly blurred, which isn’t good. These lines become fainter when employees have been out of the office repeatedly and their daily routine has changed.
Presenteeism is a phenomenon in which people continue to work when unwell, work through breaks or put in longer hours, impacting their productivity levels at home or in the office. Within the remote workforce, this has been christened e-presenteeism - when people stay online as much as possible and work beyond their regular hours. It may seem as if staff produce more content or achieve more, but their task per hour rate has dropped dramatically, which is detrimental to both the team and the company.
Increased unpaid overtime is common, and there must be restrictions in place to help prevent it, such as 'downtime' notifications on desktops, remote or otherwise. Another preventative measure is communication; if employees don't feel they’ll be reprimanded too severely for minor instances of underproductivity, they will have a healthier life-work balance and increase their overall productivity.
Another emerging issue is employees refusing to take holiday. With minimal options for taking a holiday for the foreseeable future, employees might be tempted to save their holiday days for brighter days. Unfortunately, this is also counterproductive if they have no time to recharge and has been linked to an increase in burnout. Employers can reduce this risk by encouraging, not enforcing their teams to take holidays within a particular time window.
3. Communicate with employees regarding benefits
The magnitude of the shift that both businesses and employees have lived through is unprecedented, which is demonstrated by the increasingly widening communication gap between leadership and general staff. Companies work hard to build a culture of open communication, and this needs to be maintained. Doing so includes improving communication surrounding available benefits. This communication must continue to keep staff engaged about benefits and enhance the rate of uptake. Increasing the uptake of benefits will improve staff focus and productivity as they will feel appreciated and cared for. To assist with this, a benefits platform should be implemented cross-company. This platform could include in-built communication tools to share information and updates, seek employee feedback and build an inclusive online community. Doing so will only strengthen company culture and, in turn, employee concentration.
4. Update and effectively maintain IT infrastructure
In the long term, remote workers, both partial and permanent, must be able to access the tools and technology needed to work productively from home. Technology glitches severely impact workers' focus and, in turn, businesses. The most common issue presented is poor quality video meetings through weak audio connections or fragile internet. Other problems include frequent disconnects and crashing of remote desktops, slow file downloads in and out of the office, prolonged response times when loading apps and lack of storage when utilizing cloud services.
Companies need to recognize that long-term investment is required to support a productive remote workforce. This investment can’t just cover one aspect of their IT infrastructure; it must cover it as a whole. For example, there’s little point in having superfast broadband for meetings if the audio equipment your staff is left with is subpar and causes them problems. In order to maximize your company's output and staff productivity, the equipment and tools they’re given must be the highest standard your company can afford and must be effectively and constantly maintained.
The variety of combinations of time and place that hybrid working provides requires competent and motivated leaders committed to making it work in their favor. In addition, it will require a degree of intentionality that hasn’t been seen with traditional working practices. For leaders, this means listening to employees and keeping communication open while simultaneously balancing output.
The machine that fully remote working once was is no longer sustainable - general employees battle with burnout and a toxic work-play dynamic, which should be reason enough for many organizations to consider focusing on concentration through a compassionate lens. As such, the stability that comes with partial office hours will be welcomed with open arms.
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