7 Ways to Increase Remote Work Productivity
Is the continued rise of remote work really working?
A study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research recently raised that question, finding that remote workers were 10% less productive than in-office employees. While that statistic has driven many news headlines as the return-to-the-office battles pick up, it’s not the whole story.
Remote work might feel like it’s a brand-new way of operating—a sudden shift that many of us undertook overnight in March 2020. But it’s not really so novel. Companies like Slack, GitLab, and InVision have been remote since before the pandemic, which demonstrates that it truly can be a productive way of working for both employees and companies alike.
It’s possible to create a more productive environment for work done remotely, whether your employees are fully remote or hybrid workers. And it’s critical to do so, as employees value remote work as much as an 8% pay raise. Plus, even executives (who are more enthusiastic about remote work than employees) expect remote and hybrid work arrangements to keep rising in the next few years.
How can you give employees the option for remote work they’re demanding without sacrificing productivity or performance? The key is creating a remote work environment with intentionality—and these seven steps will help you do just that.
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7 ways to increase productivity while working from home
1. Set employees up for success
Your remote employees can’t be efficient and effective if they’re not set up for success in a very literal way. An ergonomic and comfortable dedicated workstation is essential; crouching over an old laptop on the couch every single day simply won’t do it in the long term.
Consider helping employees create their own productivity workspace with a stipend to get everything they need to work comfortably. This could include a comfy office chair, an adjustable desk, ergonomic accessories, and more.
Not all of your employees will have enough space or privacy to work comfortably from home every day (if they live in small apartments, for example, or have small children or a partner who is also working from home). You can offer employees who prefer this kind of environment passes to a nearby coworking space so they can work wellwithout commuting to the office.
And of course, it’s vital to set employees up for productivity and excellent performance by giving them the technology and tools they need to do their jobs from anywhere. That means collaboration and project management software to keep everyone on the same page, which can be as simple as a Google Docs account and a Zoom subscription.
2. Train your people managers
People managers also must be purposefully set up to succeed. Remote work is not simply working and managing people from a different location; it’s a completely different way of operating, and managers need training to help support their teams in performing at their best wherever they work.
This training could include how to connect with employees they don’t interact with in person, how to create stronger team bonds while working remotely, and how to navigate tough performance conversations when they’re not face-to-face.
3. Build purposeful connections
Remote work has many upsides, but one serious downside is the reduction of unintentional but high-impact moments of connection, like while grabbing a coffee in the cafeteria every morning. Team-building for remote workers can absolutely still happen remotely—it just must be intentionally created, not left to chance.
Hubspot is a mostly remote company these days, and even before the pandemic 20% of their workforce was fully remote. So they’ve had to experiment with how to create those purposeful, meaningful connections across a workforce that spans continents. Their Connect4 initiative includes holding Coffee Connections on Mondays, Zoom happy hours, and parallel remote work sessions where employees listen to music and work (digitally) side-by-side on a shared project.
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4. Connect employees and managers across functions
Connections within teams, and from managers to their direct reports, are enormously important—but so are those cross-functional connections built across departments and offices. And with remote work, those weaker ties tend to suffer the most without a plan in place to strengthen them.
Being more intentional about creating cross-functional projects regularly, for both big projects and small culture-building ones, creates those bonds and connections remotely. Mentorship programs (peer-to-peer ones included) can also be very effective at building those ties across departments and functions and exposing all levels of employees to the work everyone else does.
5. Schedule a little face-to-face time
Remote-first doesn’t mean remote-only, every day of the year. Creating regular times to gather as a team and as a company in person creates those bonds and ties that enhance engagement and productivity. Whether it’s an annual in-person retreat or a monthly gathering, that face-to-face time is critical.
Again, this is where intentionality comes in—plan these gatherings well ahead of time so all employees can make the needed arrangements to attend and truly enjoy themselves. Creating those bonds with regular, meaningful in-person connections can motivate employees to increase productivity—a sense of teamwork and camaraderie is a very powerful motivator.
6. Ensure you’re accurately measuring remote work productivity
If you’re looking at the productivity levels of your remote employees and wondering how to raise them because you’re concerned they’re too low, you might actually be asking the wrong question.
First, *how* are you measuring productivity? In-person work is too often measured by how long employees spend physically seated at their desks, which is a terrible metric for productivity. (Hello presenteeism!) Remote work productivity is about measuring outputs, so be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when evaluating how your employees are doing. That means outcomes when fully in-person to outcomes when fully remote—you might be surprised at how well your employees are actually doing.
Consider measuring not only productivity (though it’s important) but also the other metrics that matter. How is your turnover rate doing since you moved to a remote or hybrid workplace? Your levels of employee engagement (and burnout)? How many hiring offers were accepted recently vs. in the in-person past? These metrics will give you a better-rounded picture of how remote work is truly working for your company—and a more personalized one.
While studies like the Stanford one are helpful in a broader context, your company and your employees are unique, so the final word should come from your own measurements and metrics.
7. Ask employees what they want and need
If you’ve taken a few, or all, of these steps and you’re still unsure why employees aren’t as productive as possible while working remotely, simply ordering them back to the office full-time is unlikely to help. Instead, ask them directly what they need to increase their productivity, and truly listen to the answers.
Employees may come up with surprisingly simple solutions—or complex but worthwhile ones. And there’s a good chance they won’t be exactly what you assumed the issue was. Once you hear from them, take their feedback seriously and start making changes. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works for your company—and good luck! With some intention and strategic thinking, you can create a productive remote work environment that your employees love.
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