Some people may say that operational efficiency and productivity are only measures of how well managers are able to manage. Make no mistake about it, productivity is important to workers, too. When COVID-19 spurred lawmakers to create stay-at-home orders in March of 2020, the fear was that productivity would decrease so much that it would destroy society. This obviously didn’t happen, but there has been some ebb and flow of the productivity metrics since the beginning of the pandemic. Let’s take a look at productivity during COVID-19.
An Army of Remote Workers
Remote work was always a polarizing topic. Business owners and managers didn’t like it, even though there had been no consensus on how effective the strategy was. Some businesses have been using remote workers from the day they set out their shingle, while others tried it and felt like it took away a lot of operational control that they felt they needed. Many other businesses looked at these case studies and without roundly positive results, they chose not to allow it.
Then a worldwide health crisis hit.
The immediate reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak was to hold the line. Business owners, many of which have been running businesses for decades, shrugged off initial reports. It wasn’t until federal and state governments started imposing shelter-in-place orders that they let their staff work from home. Since circumstances dictated their decision to allow remote workers, there was very little time to plan, which resulted in many organizations dealing with inefficiencies, security issues, and more.
Not-so-surprisingly, workers also struggled at first. With no time to plan, and no way to know how difficult living in the same place that you work would be, many workers who suddenly got their wish to work remotely, couldn’t maintain the focus and productivity levels needed to do their jobs well. Workers’ lack of ability to adapt was the major driving force in the sudden drop in productivity when businesses went remote. After a while many business owners were asking themselves if moving their workforce offsite was cost-effective compared with shutting the business down. For months, many businesses couldn’t sustain themselves and closed their doors.
Many of them wouldn’t re-open.
Remote Workers Get Busy
As months passed, things started to normalize a bit and productivity began to increase once again. Many of the same workers that had problems adjusting, settled in, while businesses were able to fill in the gaps in their IT that allowed their staff to be more productive. Workers responded well and productivity grew for several months.
Of course, a lot of this was a result of the new technology. Communication and collaboration tools boosted workers’ ability to be productive. Productivity grew by 25 percent in organizations that prioritize connectivity between employees.
All that had been said about remote workers not being as productive was proven false...for a while.
Unfortunately, the pandemic stretched into the winter months and while productivity generally does take a tick south in the Winter, the Winter of 2020-21 was noteworthy for its drop in productivity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, productivity dropped a total of 4.8 percent in the 4Q of 2020. So you have to ask, why did this drop in productivity, the most significant drop in 40 years, happen? Here are the most cited reasons:
- Stress - The pandemic has had a significant effect on public stress. How quantifiable is it? In the past year, America has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial protests, a contentious election, a riot in the Capitol, and a stumbling vaccine rollout (just to hit the big points) and mental health professionals are suggesting that the people of the U.S. are experiencing collective trauma. People simply don’t have the capacity to continue to be stressed at levels we are now seeing and it has a major impact on their ability to be productive, inside of an office or at home.
- Fatigue - When your job changes dramatically and expectations don’t, things will be a grind. People that are working remotely are tired of being at home all the time. They are tired of their kids not being in school. They are tired of utility bills increasing. They are tired of being tired. Fatigue is one of the largest productivity killers inside any business, and with people largely stuck at home, it’s difficult to get the energy to sustain the focus that is expected.
- Lack of Incentive - Workers, whether they work at home or at a brick and mortar location, aren’t seeing the returns they’d like to see from their hard work. Many workers, especially front-line healthcare and retail workers have been going to work the whole pandemic with very little reward for the perceived risks. For remote workers, especially those who have children, their priority hierarchy is dictated by the situations they face. If they need to home-school their kids, or find solutions for pandemic-related issues, it won’t be a big surprise when their work suffers. Businesses are doing all they can to stay afloat, so wage growth or other incentives that they may have seen are all but removed from the equation, as well.
Obviously, if businesses are going to continue to adhere to health and safety best practices, remote work will not go away anytime soon. As a result, it is important for businesses to prioritize working through any issues that are keeping their remote employees from being as productive as they can be.
If you are looking to utilize technology to boost your business’ productivity, give the IT experts at Heart of Texas Network Consultants a call today at (254) 848-7100.