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Prior to the global pandemic, approximately 7.9% of the world’s workforce worked from home. Now the latest pandemic estimates are that 34% of workers in the US work from home. The percentage of people working from home has also increased across the world.
Challenges and benefits of working from home
It is becoming clear that people working from home are working longer hours. Personal activities and work activities are more blurred than when people are in an office environment. At the same time, commuting has been eliminated for those working from home. Lunch breaks can be less time-consuming. Bottom line, what is the overall impact on productivity?
One of the biggest concerns about having employees work from home is that their productivity may be lower. You can easily find images of employees working from home, ranging from parents trying to work while babysitting, people talking on a Zoom meeting in their pajamas, and others raiding the refrigerator.
Managers understandably wonder about the level of the productivity of their employees when they are working from home. When working in the office, managers feel they have a much better sense of an employee’s productivity because they can see them working at their desks.
Ideal practices for those who work from home
The late Peter Drucker made a relevant observation that we believe applies to our current situation. He noted that many people thought that the key to their success was to be conscientious, diligent, and consistently produce good outcomes. He cautioned that this was not correct. Yes, the person needed to do those things, but they also needed to make certain that their colleagues, and especially their boss, knew that they were doing an effective job.
What Behaviors Indicate Productivity and Effort to Managers?
Are there behaviors that indicate employees are productive? To answer that question, we examined a dataset of 9,755 individual contributors. Each contributor had been evaluated by their manager on 48 behaviors that best differentiate the most effective from the least effective individual contributors. Each contributor was also rated on their level of productivity and effort by their manager. An analysis was then performed to identify those behaviors that would differentiate the individual contributors with the highest ratings on productivity and effort from those with the lowest ratings. Once the behaviors were identified, we performed a factor analysis and clustered the behaviors into five dimensions that were most influential to managers on their ratings of productivity and effort.
1. Takes Initiative.
When individual contributors not only do their assigned work but take on additional work, that sends a powerful signal of productivity and performance. This is especially impactful when the person sees a need that was not being met and takes on those tasks voluntarily. Those who take the initiative have an attitude of wanting to do more. They look for opportunities to add more value and help. Those who lack initiative want to do the minimum possible to keep their job.
2. Consistently Delivering Results.
When people work in an office setting, it is easier for the manager to know precisely if results have been delivered. However, when people work remotely, the manager has less visibility. Believing it is your manager’s job to monitor and measure your deliverables is not reasonable. It often becomes especially difficult when the subordinate and the boss are both working from home. It is unwise to keep a manager guessing about what has been accomplished. Remote workers need to keep their manager informed about what has been done and what needs to be completed.
3. Displays Expertise and Good Judgment.
Often working remotely puts some people at a disadvantage because they lack the opportunities to share their knowledge and to demonstrate sound judgement. One of the compelling reasons for more frequent communication between a manager and an employee who is working from home, is assuring the manager of the employee’s knowledge and good judgment.
4. Is a Role Model / Walks the Talk.
The true test of someone’s character is what they do when they know no one else is watching. Just because your manager cannot see you does not mean that it is okay to sleep in, quit early, take multiple breaks or watch TV while you work. Working from home creates some challenging situations that include difficult working conditions, childcare and pet responsibilities, which in turn lead to anxiety and stress. For those with children at home, ponder the example being set for them as they see you working from home. What lessons will they take away from watching you?
5. Willingness to Stretch.
Often with stress and anxiety, people begin to feel overwhelmed and resist learning new skills or taking on difficult assignments. Effectively working remotely will require some new skills or may challenge you to do something that has been outside of your normal wheelhouse. Managers are always impressed when their employees are willing to try something new or take on a difficult assignment. It sends a signal about their work ethic and desire to be highly productive.
Impact of Improvement on Productivity and Effort
As the world struggles through this very difficult time, the individuals and organizations that exhibit and learn how to increase their productivity while working from home will come out of this period with a significant advantage.