How Can We Reassess Productivity in Times of Covid-19?
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a huge disruption in the way we think about work, work-life balance and overall productivity. In these unprecedented times, there are so many things calling for our attention. You may have kids with endless energy running around the house during your conference calls, some of you may have to look after ageing parents, new social distancing guidelines released every few hours, and ominous news updates on television at regular intervals. As the coronavirus pandemic has evolved, it is becoming more and more clear that the changes we are instituting to our lives now are going to have a long-lasting effect.
It goes without saying that it can be difficult to stay focused and productive amid all the chaos, even for the best of the best. We are all facing challenges of juggling the house and work, managing our time, and making sure things are done – not to mention the anxiety and stress the changes are causing. A very pertinent question that arises in all this is – how can we reassess productivity in these challenging times?
To become productive, one needs to have clarity about the meaning of productivity. Let me quote an example here. Let us take two employees X and Y into consideration. While X delivers on time, is disciplined and does not take leave Y delays on deadlines, and isn’t textbook disciplined, however, the quality of work is exceptional. Employee Y also collaborates well with other employees and is a go-to person for most of the team. So who is more productive?
While X is a performer, Y is an overall more productive employee because he goes beyond the mandate and does far more than is expected of him. This illustrates the most basic difference between performance and productivity, which are often used interchangeably referred to in the professional world. The key thing to understand here is while a performer may do the task well once; a productive employee will consistently perform again and again. he key to productivity is consistency.
It is very important to understand this as in current times one cannot use the parameters of showing up to work on time and being disciplined about deadlines alone to assess productivity. We need to wear a new lens, gauge employees dependability and see how consistently someone is willing to deliver on work, and under what challenging circumstances.
#Current challenges to productivity:
While there are numerous lists, articles, talks, etc. about the current challenges; to better make my point, let me make a simple comparison – the current COVID-19 situation is comparable to taking up a new job, literally. The work environment has changed, rules have changed, and circumstances have changed; the employees’ role may change. As a manager, therefore, you need to give an employee time to settle into the new situation just like a person in a new job has probation time to understand what is expected of them.
COVID-19 has thrown a massive curveball at us. There is not only difficulty in coordinating time, and other commitments but other constraints too. For instance, Indian homes are not equipped to host home offices, so people have to make do with the situation and adjust. There could be connectivity issues, space issues, seating issues. The situation is very new, and one needs time to settle with it.
So yes, there are several barriers to productivity in the traditional sense – like anxiety, fear and difficulty in coordination and collaboration. Things are not going to be smooth, and this has to be factored into any transition. But no, I’m not saying that productivity can’t be achieved. It is just very important that you allow employees and team members time to settle into the ‘new normal’. It is bound to take time, especially since nothing is clear and certain.
As a manager or leader, you must have empathy for the various constraints team members are facing. Recognising the barriers to productivity is the first step, and being understanding and sensitive to the situation is the second step. It is also imperative to recognise that productivity is role-specific. Under the lockdown, there may be several jobs that require fieldwork and this is currently not possible. The productivity of these employees cannot be compared to those who can manage to do their work remotely. As managers, you must realise these differences, and help employees adjust better.
#Tools to help teams raise their productivity:
When you think of tools, your mind straight away goes to technology enhancers – apps like Zoom, Microsoft Team, or Google Meet. However, for productivity, the tools are completely different. Firstly, one needs to plan. There is no clarity on what people should be doing. Planning can make a huge difference to that. Setting a new agenda (a long term agenda) is very important as the rules have changed. Motivation is another important tool to help enhance productivity. In such times, it is very easy to lose morale. Most employees will be asking themselves why they should be doing more? It is important to show appreciation and give appropriate feedback to ensure that employees are on the right track. Both planning and motivation will speed up the process of becoming productive in these times.
Also, the current uncertainty will lead to many hybrid roles. Job functions may no longer be rigid and employees have to be prepared to perform multiple tasks that fall out of the purview of their roles. It is important to give training to employees wherever necessary, so they are not lost. Other HR functions like key performance indicators and performance appraisal systems are also very important tools to measure productivity. It is very critical to give appropriate feedback to employees at the right time. Telling an employee what they need to do, and how they can go about achieving it is important.
Scheduling and compartmentalising are other important tools. One must plan their time, and also their free time to make sure that personal work is also done efficiently. It is relevant for managers to understand time constraints. Employees may not be able to put in as much time as they would have had they come into work at the office, and leaders need to be accommodating to this.
#Dealing with non-productivity:
Despite all these measures, some employees may still turn out as non-productive. It is highly possible that one or more employees may not perform as expected. There could be two primary reasons for this – one is that the shift is external. It means that given the current situation, they may not be able to meet job requirements. The situation will evolve as time progresses, and this will give a better idea of whether it is temporary or permanent, and then one can tackle it accordingly. The second reason could be a lack of motivation and no accountability. This could arise out of the confusion caused by the several changes in the work environment. The right approach here would be to first talk to the non-productive employee and see what the reason could be. Setting clear expectations and making sure the job is done henceforth is the next step. It is also important to lay down the consequences of not doing the job. Lack of consequences leads to complacency.
Also, if someone is not able to complete a task, as a manager you need to reassure them that it’s okay and give them time. Everyone wants high team spirit, well, this is the right time to demonstrate it; and it is a must and should be encouraged. In such situations, some colleagues may fall back, and other team members need to step in to ensure that work doesn’t fall through the net. It is time to reassess individual capabilities and efficiently redistribute work.
Read this twice: When lockdown ends, your company employees are the ones who will help you come back to previous levels of working. It is, therefore, more important than ever for companies to focus on being empathic. While it’s normal for the COVID-19 crisis to overwhelm us and increase our anxiety, the silver lining of this pandemic is there are ways to maintain our focus and productivity. This situation is going to change our work not just in the next few months, but in the next few years as well. This is the beginning of a new normal, and the quicker we wake up to it the better equipped we will be for the future.
Stay tuned for our next article, we will highlight important areas that leaders must focus on and share our point of view on the changes to expect in the Human Resources role.
At Yellow Spark, we enable our clients to quickly streamline organisational change by drafting practical employee policies and handholding them during the implementation. Want your employee policies to be updated, get in touch with us – firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.