How to make sure WFH employees are productive

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WFH employees are a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future for businesses not requiring in-person roles. Remote meeting solutions developed during the pandemic will continue to make the hybrid working option viable and desirable for many. At HR GO, remote jobs are hands down the most popular right now. And with candidates in short supply, if you can offer WFH or hybrid positions, we highly recommend you do.

WFH employees productivity

The important question remains: how do you make sure remote workers stay engaged and productive? After all, employee productivity plays a crucial role in the success of a business. Recent studies, including a multiple-years long study by Stanford University showing higher than normal productivity from WFH employees have been encouraging. And the predictions for the future are also positive. But more research is needed post-pandemic to confirm those forecasts.

In this Kings Business School study, published in April 2022, the authors warn that we “…should be sceptical of general claims being made about the impact of WFH on productivity, either in a negative or positive direction…”

And alarmingly, when US researchers ran polling recently, nearly 40% of respondents admitted to ‘coasting’ at work.

What to look out for

Broadly speaking, if an employee is coasting it means they do the minimum just to get by. Their heart isn’t in what they’re doing. ‘Coasting’ isn’t a new concept, but with so many people now working from home it could have new implications.

Remote employees who coast may appear to be engaged. They may well be logging on and off at the normal time. They’ll probably be replying to emails promptly and joining meetings as scheduled. Chances are they won’t be underperforming, but nor will they be excelling either. It’s unlikely they’ll be going above and beyond in their role or looking for opportunities to grow and stretch themselves.

It’s easy to label ‘coasters’ as ‘lazy’ or ‘slackers’, but anyone who’s phoning it in day after day is giving off vibes that something isn’t quite right. At the very least, they might feel disengaged and low in motivation. More worryingly for you as an employer, staff who coast at work either in-person or remotely are far more likely to quit their job than their colleagues, So, it’s crucial to find out why.

The good news is that active management, making sure employees have the correct equipment, and monitoring employee wellness have all been shown to keep WFH employees productive and motivated. Here’s what we recommend:

Beware micromanaging WFH employees

If you’re worried your remote employees may be coasting, there’s a real temptation to try and micromanage them.

But judging by the comments made by candidates we meet through HR GO, this can be bad news. One major gripe of remote workers is having to deal with managers who demand they account for every minute of their workday. Others don’t enjoy having to let someone know if they need to step away from their screen for a moment to do something else.

It’s clear: micromanaging to try and police employees’ productivity levels is a bad idea. It makes people feel controlled, patronised and most of all mistrusted. And it’s easy to see why it can push some employees to quit.

Banish unproductive busy work

What’s known as ‘busy work’ isn’t any better. This is work that managers set to keep employees occupied just because they’re on the clock.

Busy work doesn’t have much meaning or value. In fact, it might even have a negative effect and lead to frustration and disengagement.

There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. Some managers might prefer to see busy workers. However, we see that savvy leaders judge employees by the results they get, rather than whether they look busy. So it’s crucial that leaders set expectations and trust their team to get on.

Checking in: Use smarter management rather than micromanagement

Keeping remote workers motivated, moving forward and connected is really the key to getting the best from them – and avoiding the dreaded ‘coasting’.

One tool we use at HR GO is daily catch ups. Our remote teams meet for a half-hour virtual huddle each morning. It gives colleagues a chance to run through what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today and whether there are any roadblocks holding them up.

Often it can help to reflect on what happened the previous day and being able to keep track of a project’s loose ends can also be powerful. It also helps colleagues find ways they can contribute to projects of another team member or provide their own particular expertise.

Let’s not forget that frequent catch ups also give remote teams a chance to check in on each other. And when it comes to staying engaged and motivated, communication is essential.

Focus on employee wellbeing

We’ve talked before about how employers need to focus on employee mental health and emotional wellbeing. Clearly the pandemic and the restrictions around it have taken a toll on the nation’s mental health. And being isolated as a remote worker, even if that's your employees' choice, can also have mental health consequences.

One pandemic positive is that more people are now talking about how they’re feeling whether that’s in the workplace or outside of it.

And many people suffered from stress and burnout when the nation switched suddenly to remote working. So bear in mind that some staff might not realise they’re coasting. Rather, it might be part of their process of trying to catch up with themselves to get back to normal.

A percentage of your employees, when given the option to WFH or in the office will prefer to work around others. These socially inclined employees gain inspiration, motivation and even focus from the rest of the team. Allowing some in-office time will help them immensely. If your business no longer has a brick and mortar office, there are hot-desk and co-working spaces available across the UK.

Getting the most from WFH employees means being able to meet their needs. Whether teams are working remotely for all or part of the time, team managers need to apply these new skills to keep everyone checked in and thriving.

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