For most business leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic has flooded professional life with a nauseating wave of uncertainty: How can we function if regulations limit work or supply chains? When will we be able to travel freely? What about predicting what buyers are going to want? And perhaps the deepest questions revolve around productivity and how to maintain it. But rather than destroy our potential, the virus might have unlocked it.
4 reasons remote work has encouraged productivity during COVID
If I’m completely honest, when we first headed into the pandemic, I fully expected to see productivity drop. And part of that was based on my previous experience, which told me that not everybody has the discipline or distraction-free environment to handle remote work well. So although I certainly didn’t expect everyone to fail, I anticipated that those natural variations in self-accountability and setting would pull us down somewhat. Surprisingly, it’s happily worked out to be quite the opposite, with a remote approach actually giving us quite the boost to productivity.
Of course, the question then becomes, why has the remote work been a success? The first factor is flexibility. This idea that you would be able to spend time on family matters, hobbies, or other interests and obligations has always been one of the biggest allures and promises of getting out of the office. And now people are leveraging that flexibility, adjusting hours, honing in on when they personally are most focused and energetic throughout the day and addressing real life as makes sense for them. This has an initial productivity benefit purely from a logistical standpoint, but it’s also indirectly advantageous in that it can keep employees happier and less stressed. Typically, when you can free workers from anxiety and lift their spirits, they feel better about their work and actually want to do their job.
Secondly, people are slashing their commute times. In a lot of areas, it’s not at all unusual for people to spend hours, not minutes, in their cars every single day. Many workers, regardless of where they sit in their company’s hierarchy, have tried to lifehack more productivity into those moments, such as listening to podcasts, making business calls via voice controls, or mentally rehearsing presentations. But now, suddenly that time is free. They can put that time toward work, family, or self-development and self-care, which has helped keep results high.
The third factor isn’t something I think many of us saw coming or planned for at all — people recuperate better through their breaks if they’re working remotely. The reason why is actually pretty basic: when you’ve been going hard at the office for a couple of hours and need to step away, you’re still in the office. It’s not always easy to get outside or to other places, and you don’t have things to really take your mind off work problems or tasks. At home, though, it’s simple, for example, to grab a book or an instrument or go play with your pet. So those little 10 to 15 minute breaks seem to be making a much bigger difference because people actually have a chance to distance themselves and mentally or physically rest.
Lastly, communication has changed pretty dramatically. People want to make absolutely sure that both management and peers know they’re still working hard and getting things done. So they are putting more effort into staying visible through Slack, email, and whatever other tools they have. This has helped productivity overall because the new communications create better references that support self-efficiency and collaboration, conflict resolution, and trust-building.
After COVID, remote work will continue thriving
Long before COVID-19 came on the scene, companies were seeing a huge movement toward remote work. The virus has served only as a catalyst to accelerate that movement. So even after we have the infection under control, we likely won’t go back to the “normal” we had. As we become even more comfortable with letting teams set up in their own homes, we might also find that the boost in productivity comes with an even greater ability to leverage the best talent regardless of where they are in the world. And although we must be realistic about the pace of economic recovery, if we pair this more global approach to finding and using the right candidates with continued, collaborative research and education about how to maintain the improved productivity we have at home, the future is outstandingly bright.