After more than a month of working from home, employers and employees have emerged from the "how to" stage and are getting comfortable with working against increased productivity standards. Business leaders across industries have had different experiences with at-home productivity, and have uncovered best practices for mastering expectation-setting and accountability.
Some Companies Report Increased Productivity…
“We initially had doubts about how productive the team would be working fully remote, but they’ve maintained a high degree of productivity,” says Billy Bosch, founder and CEO of ICONIC, a protein drink company. “It’s been eye opening to see how external factors like commuting and traffic have impacted our team's productivity in the past.”
Jesse Wood, CEO of eFileCabinet, which creates software that allows businesses to work from anywhere, has found working from home has increased productivity.
“We’re answering support calls and pushing new marketing and sales strategies, as well as enhancing and adding improvements to our software,” Wood says.
…While Others Have Seen a Dip
Productivity has taken a hit over at ISoldMyHouse.com, an online real estate platform.
“Some employees are used to working at home, but not with interruptions from spouses and children,” says owner Kris Lippi. “Other employees are distracted by fear of the virus or shock about an economic shutdown. Others are finding isolation difficult.”
Matt Martin is co-founder and CEO of Clockwise, an intelligent calendar system. His company optimizes calendars for tens of thousands of users and recently studied the data to see how working from home is impacting people’s time allocation.
“People are getting busier, and calendars are getting more chaotic,” says Martin. “We found an 11 percent increase in fragmented time and 5 percent more time spent in meetings.”
Rethinking Meetings While Working from Home
While many companies started off the transition to working from home with frequent meetings, some have cut back on daily stand-ups.
“We began [working from home] with a mandatory meeting at the beginning and end of each day but found it unnecessary. Now we hold one meeting a day, and sometimes less,” says Nate Jackson, vice-president of operations at Hicks Landscapes, a garden center and landscape design company.
A once-a-week meeting may be all you need, agrees David Drab, founder of Strong Wall Construction, a general contractor company.
“We’ve found that a weekly all-company meeting helps us maintain workflow and mental health," Drab says. "Our field staff also holds a weekly production meeting.”
They've also recently reduced meeting frequency at the intranet platform company Simpplr.
“Less meetings allow employees to block out their calendars,” says Dhiraj Sharma, the company’s CEO.
From the outset of work from home, Mark Readings, owner of Think Big Analytics, a global business analytics consultancy, has allowed his team to focus on work without the distraction of meetings. “I found that such an emphasis on self-reliance has translated well to today's unique work environment,” he says.
Other companies have found a happy medium.
“A daily, non-mandatory meeting gives team members with concerns the ability to address them without taking other members unnecessarily away from work,” says Ty Steward, founder of Simple Life Insure, a life insurance company.
Work from Home Productivity Tips
With working from home here for the foreseeable future, business leaders suggest a series of best practices for improving productivity.
1. Practice better meeting management.
Whether you’re holding more or fewer meetings, company leaders are finding the key to ensuring productivity is to better manage those meetings.
“We’ve started to thoroughly document remote meetings to keep the team aligned,” says Andrey Khusid, CEO of Miro, a whiteboarding platform for team collaboration. “We send out agendas to keep meetings focused and provide updates on work production platforms.”
Use meetings for brainstorming, problem-solving and connecting, suggests Nicole Louderback, director of commercial sales at global academic publisher SAGE.
“We skipped meetings in the past when there wasn’t an agenda," she says, "but now we meet to stay connected.”
Also pay attention to the timing of meetings, suggests Mada Seghete, co-founder and head of strategy at Branch, a deep linking and mobile attribution platform.
“Daily standups at the beginning of the day offer the opportunity to discuss projects, challenges and priorities and set the day’s agenda,” Seghete says.
2. Maintain flexibility regarding schedules.
“Child and elder care, cramped shared space and health and financial stressors make this an incredibly challenging time for many employees,” says Jessica Lambrecht, founder and CEO of business consulting company The Rise Journey. “Remain flexible and focus on outcomes and results, rather than the how and when.”
“We encourage employees to define schedules that work for them," Bosch concurs. "For instance, if 8 p.m. is when an employee thinks best, then we encourage the person to do work that requires deep thought at that time.”
3. Employ work smart collaboration tools and platforms.
Now more than ever, tools for streamlining and organizing workflow are essential. Consider using the following collaboration and task management tools to help ensure productivity.
Project management tools: Status updates on ongoing projects are critical to continued productivity. “Project management software should let you create, assign, comment and upload files to projects, tasks and subtasks and set up due date notifications,” says Martin.
Task management tools: Task management software provides the ability to create online to-do lists with due dates. Most allow for setting up reminders and notifications and can be used collaboratively.
A daily, non-mandatory meeting gives team members with concerns the ability to address them without taking other members unnecessarily away from work.
—Ty Steward, founder, Simple Life Insure
Chat software: Chances are your team is already using chat apps. However, now is the time to “get everyone on the same page with the same app,” suggests Martin. Look for a chat app that can send and thread instant messages to individuals and groups. It’s also ideal to be able to search chats.
Video conferencing software: To help ensure productivity, look for video conferencing software that integrates with your calendar system and provides built-in screen sharing and chat functionality.
Whiteboarding tools: Brainstorming often requires the ability to write or sketch while ideas flow. Collaborative whiteboarding tools facilitate creative remote sessions.
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