Remote Working, Productivity and Efficiency: Keys to Making It Work

by Granville Triumph

As disruptive as the pandemic has been to business operations, the shift to remote working has been largely successful. This is especially true from the employer’s perspective, according to a PwC surveyof executives and office workers conducted in November and December of 2020.

A large majority (83 percent) of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful, compared to 71 percent of employees, and less than one in five executives want to return to a pre-pandemic office schedule. However, most executives aren’t sure how far to expand remote working, and there is no consensus among executives or employees about the ideal mix of office and remote working. 

Much of the uncertainty about remote working strategies revolves around long-term productivity. While more flexible hours and the elimination of a commute are certainly appealing, that doesn’t necessarily mean employees are being more productive when working from home. For example, someone might be able to work 10 hours a day at home instead of eight hours in the office, but does that translate to more productivity?

Productivity vs. Efficiency

Part of the problem can be traced to blurred lines between productivity and efficiency. Productivity refers to the quantity of work accomplished in a certain period of time. Efficiency refers to the quality of the work, as well as the time, effort and resources required to get the work done. One can come at the expense of the other, but both are required to be successful. 

Suppose accountant A processes 10 tax returns per week and accountant B processes eight tax returns per week. Accountant A is more productive on the surface, but if four of those tax returns have errors that need to be corrected, efficiency is poor.

The goal should be to maximize output (productivity) and quality (efficiency) while utilizing as few resources as possible. This is easier to measure in an office environment, which is more controlled and structured. 

Achieving Productivity and Efficiency

You can maintain a high level of productivity and operate at peak efficiency in a hybrid workplace that has employees working in the office and remotelyAchieving these goals, however, will likely require closer examination of what affects productivity, as well as a possible shift in culture.

For example:

  • Have you adapted workflows and business processes to optimize productivity in a hybrid workplace? Have you invested in tools that make it easy for your team to collaborate, regardless of location? Are data and applications easily accessible to remote workers? Do you offer training to ensure company resources are accessed and used correctly, consistently and securely?
  • Many employees struggle to stay focused and productive while working from home. Are you offering coaching or educational resources that help your team succeed in a remote working environment?
  • Are you aware of the physical and mental health of your team and how they affect productivity? So much for work-life balance if workers feel as if they need to be available and responsive 24×7. Have you established boundaries and expectations for remote workers? 
  • Have you invested in employee well-being, either independently or in partnership with your health insurance provider? Do you encourage employees to use their vacation time and take mental health days instead of making them feel guilty for doing so?
  • Are you working to build a culture in which all employees are motivated, valued and unified, regardless of where they work? Do remote workers have the same opportunities for recognition, bonuses and advancement as office workers?

All of these factors affect productivity at the employee level and across the organization. A hybrid workplace is more complex to manage, measure and optimize, but the physical location of employees is a roadblock that can be overcome with the right planning. Focus on not only providing the technology required to enable remote working, but also building a culture that supports employees and enables them to reach their full potential.

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