People & Leadership

6 ways HR can boost remote employee productivity and wellbeing

With so many employees working flexibly and remotely, discover how HR can improve productivity and keep everyone's spirits high.

Did you know 33% of employers say remote working has increased productivity in their organisations since the global pandemic, with one study finding that output increased by 13%?

On average, that means an employee is getting more than half a day’s worth of extra work done, simply by working at home and not in an office.

However, while productivity is clearly higher for remote workers on paper, many employees are also working longer hours from home.

And that can have the opposite effect on productivity and negatively impact work-life balance and wellbeing as a result.

That’s where employee experiences come in.

In order to be productive, HR needs to design great remote employee experiences – with wellbeing support as part of that – to really engage and drive their people to do their best work.

As we move to the new normal, HR and People teams have the opportunity to figure out how best to support remote workers on a permanent basis, to give the best remote experiences that drive productivity and support wellbeing.

Ready to get started?

Here are six productivity tips and hacks that HR and People teams can use, while keeping wellbeing in mind:

1. Introduce flexible working

2. Equip employees to focus on what matters

3. Consider introducing a ‘no agenda, no meeting’ rule

4. Encourage reduced screen time

5. Suggest morning and evening routine ideas

6. Share ways other teams are driving productivity remotely

Create experiences that drive success

Possibly one of the best-known productivity hacks. It allows people to be more flexible about how and where they work.

It’s not only great for productivity but for wellbeing too, because it helps employees maintain a great work-life balance.

A staggering 82% of organisations say they’ll implement flexible working at a greater scale post-pandemic.

If you’re one of them, don’t just look at introducing remote working on a permanent basis – there are so many other options that drive up productivity.

Think about how much flexibility you can realistically offer your people.

Could your people work compressed hours? Flexi hours? Annualised hours?

You could even look at niche alternatives such as moving to the four-day week. Microsoft, as an example, found its productivity increased by 40% when it experimented with a four-day working week.

To find out how much flexibility your people want, it could be a question you ask in your next pulse survey, so you can analyse the data to find out what flexible working opportunities they’d want to see.

It’s easy to get distracted by emails, instant messages and calls, especially at home.

In fact, the average employee spends 28% of the work day either reading or answering emails.

It means if your employees work 9-5, they’re on emails for more than two hours a day – and that’s just inside working hours.

A study also found that employees spend eight hours a week reading and responding to company-related emails after hours.

That equates to a whole extra day of work, just for emails.

If your employees are remote, it’s quite likely they’ll be even more attached to their emails because they’ll want to be in the loop with what’s happening in the business.

And working from home means employees can find it easier to remain logged in throughout the evening – and harder to switch off.

If your employees are keen to check their messages and emails as soon as they come in, it’s probably time to start shifting this way of working.

It may seem simple but it’s important to make clear that communications are simply a tool to enable employees to do their work and that it’s perfectly fine not to read and reply straight away.

Senior leadership should set this tone and reflect this in how and when they communicate too.

Some tips and tricks employees can adopt for emails are turning off notifications when doing important tasks, setting some time aside each day for checking emails, and creating rules and filters for when they come in.

You could also come up with a common approach to how you deal with urgent requests in the organisation.

Perhaps employees should pick up the phone if something urgent comes in rather than communicating via email or instant messaging.

All of this will help employees to feel more productive and maintain their work-life balance.

We’ve all sat through a meeting where we’ve questioned, why am I here? What did we get from this? Did we actually get any clear next steps?

If employees spend too much time in unproductive meetings, they can suffer from ‘meeting recovery syndrome’ – meaning they feel fatigued and unproductive.

As a result, remote employees might feel they need to work much longer hours than they would in the office to finish the work they didn’t get done, ultimately effecting their wellbeing.

One way to start tackling the problem is by making agendas mandatory.

It’s a hard-line approach but it does mean employees can decide if they’re needed in a meeting and prepare accordingly.

To help, set out some guidelines of the benefits as well as some pointers about how to prepare for a productive meeting, including how to write an effective agenda.

It will lead to far less time wasted in the meeting and enables everyone to leave with an accurate idea of next steps.

If you feel that going for a straight ‘no agenda, no meeting’ rule is too strict, you can still share some tips around productive meetings that will help employees get more out of the time they have set aside for them.

As the saying goes, less is more. This is certainly the case in the workplace; working fewer hours enhances productivity.

If some of your employees working from home, it’s likely they’ll spend most of their time alone in front of a screen.

While this may seem like the essence of productivity, more screen time has actually been linked to lower productivity.

That’s why it’s important to consider how much screen time your employees are getting.

If your HR team is noticing emails out of hours are skyrocketing, or no one seems to take a lunch break, then employees might not be taking the time out they need to be productive.

And that will affect their wellbeing in the process – potentially leading to burnout.

It’s something that requires HR to take the reins on.

Taking more breaks seems counterintuitive to drive productivity. But you need to help shift that employee mindset, which is no mean feat.

Explain to your people it’s OK to take five, a full lunch break and start and finish on time.

Do managers in your organisation take breaks? If they don’t, certainly try to encourage them to.

Not only is it good for their own productivity, they’ll be leading by example for other employees.

The same goes for HR – if your team can switch off for five minutes between meetings, or finish on time, it’ll show employees it’s possible.

If your employees really are wedded to working every minute of their working day, why not suggest other ways they can get away from their desks?

Walking meetings can be a great way for employees to get away from their home office and enjoy being in a different setting, while being outside also supports wellbeing.

Have you heard of the fake commute? It’s exactly how it sounds.

You leave your house, go for a walk or drive and then come back home all before starting your day – and doing that at the end too.

It’s just one way to instil a routine from home, which can make employees more productive.

With commuting no longer being part of the working day for some people, employees’ morning and evening routines as we once knew them can fall apart, causing them to start and finish work later than usual.

However, as we’ve discussed, working later isn’t more productive.

In fact, if an employee works 70 hours, they’re actually unproductive for 15 of them. So working longer hours certainly doesn’t equate to increased productivity.

While the fake commute isn’t something you can enforce, it’s something you can mention as an idea to encourage employees to find a morning and evening routine that works for them.

Finding a good routine has real benefits on work-life balance, which contributes to improved wellbeing and overall productivity.

Kristen Shockley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, explained in an article that: “People who segment do have better work-life balances.”

Another way to keep morning and evening routines is to create one internally that sticks.

For example, 43% of employees miss those informal watercooler chats that often started and ended the day in the office.

They’re so important to the way we work and our productivity.

You could encourage managers to also book end the day with a catch up in the morning or afternoon tea breaks to maintain some of the informality we had by simply having conversations outside of the usual work talk.

So many employees have got into their own rhythm and found what works for them when they’re remote, and they’ll have some great tips to share with others.

Find out from your people what’s made them feel productive, the ways they’ve managed to maintain their work-life balance, and any tips they have for others.

You could set up a newsletter or a board, so that tips can be shared on a regular basis. These could be great things to host on an intranet or your HR and People portal.

Google has found that creating a culture of idea sharing is crucial when it comes to improving productivity – if it’s worked there, perhaps it can work for your organisation too.

Every business will have a secret sauce for remote employee productivity, whether you know yours yet or not – but it’s important to find it through designing and testing out your employee experiences.

Try implementing some of our tips above to see how they make a difference to your remote employees.

However, it’s important to remember that what works for them today might not tomorrow.

Experiences don’t need to be fixed and forever.

The best workforce experience initiatives are created, evolved and redesigned based on feedback, so you can really find out what your employees need to find to balance productivity and employee wellbeing.

6 ways to create amazing workforce experiences

Discover the six steps HR and People leaders can take to create amazing employee experiences throughout the employee lifecycle, with a little help from technology.

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