How COVID-19 has us doing more in less time

New research suggests that productivity for some remote workers has risen since 2019—and identifies what part of the week is the most productive.

By Stephanie Vozza for FAST COMPANY

Could the office be detrimental to our productivity? Since many companies shifted to remote working arrangements, workday hours have shrunk, however employee productivity remained steady and even increased, according to data collected by Prodoscore, provider of employee visibility and productivity intelligence software. Looks like we’re accomplishing more in less time.

The study found that calendar time had dropped nearly 23% compared to the year prior, registering an average of 116 minutes of productive time per day. However, productivity levels from May to August 2020 were up 5% compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

Prodoscore also pinpointed when its users are getting more done, with the window of greatest productivity from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday is the most productive day of the week, followed by Wednesday and Thursday. And it’s no surprise that productivity is the lowest on Friday.

The data challenges the assumption many managers had pre-pandemic that employees would be less productive when working from home than they are in an office, says Tom Moran, Prodoscore’s chief strategy officer. “Leaders adapted quickly, offering flexibility for their workforce,” he says. “With fewer in-person meetings eating up their day, employees have more opportunities to be productive. The cut down on interruptions allowed more time for executing. Employees could get more done in a shorter period of time.”

BUT THERE’S BAD NEWS

Flexibility does have a downside. Working hours may have declined, but the Monday-through-Friday workweek became a thing of the past as more employees put in time over the weekends. The study found that employees worked 42% more on Saturdays and 24% more on Sundays in 2020 than they did on those days in 2019.

The always-on mentality can lead to burnout, and managers should be aware. “People torching out is a reality,” says Moran. “Companies need to keep the humanity piece top of mind. It could come back to taking a digital detox, empowering employees to walk away when they need to reset their digital health. Organizations need to make sure their employees feel comfortable disconnecting.”

For example, Moran suggests combating Zoom fatigue by having occasional “walkie-talkie” sessions instead of video conferences, connecting with team members during a walk outdoors.

“Look for ways to stay real and stay present as a human,” he says. “What’s challenging with video is that it can become robotic. It can feel that our personal life and our work life are not separate, but they were never really separate. When something bad happens at home, it often carries over into work, and a bad experience at the office carries into your personal life.”

KEEP THE PRODUCTIVITY MOMENTUM GOING

Once companies start returning to the workplace, leaders can take the lessons they learned during the pandemic and use them to develop a high-performance culture for their unique workforce. “Culture isn’t esoteric,” says Moran. “It’s not a physical space. It’s how employees engage and come together in a real way for common objective”

Having the workforce together can provide a false sense of collaboration benefits, says Moran. “Some people operate more efficiently at home while others may do better on-site or at a Starbucks,” he says. “Understanding where people are most productive can empower employees to do what’s best for them by in the environment of their choice.”

It’s important to remember that people join company to be part of something bigger than themself. “Leaders who have this awareness can have a new way look at their workforce,” says Moran. “If technology is leveraged in the right way, it helps organizations overall with continuance of culture.”

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