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Lessons from Leading Remote: Productivity

remote work May 04, 2022

My list of things to get done was long and getting longer, overflowing from one day to the next. I set aside a whole day to get caught up only to find that my frantic activities were getting me nowhere. I was stuck and my focus was off. So, I took the dog for a walk. The fresh air and alternative activity shifted my focus and I returned to a more productive space. 

Too often productivity and “being busy” are taken to be synonymous. We can, however, be productive without the frantic posture that often comes from being busy. And, it should be noted, others on your team may also benefit from redefining what productivity means in the workplace today.

What Did We Learn About Productivity From Remote Work?

Prior to 2020, co-located “productivity” often looked like sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen and ticking away at your to-do list or rushing from one meeting to the next. And everybody could see firsthand that you were busy.

Remote work moved many of us behind computer screens where no one could see us and how we were getting our work done. As leaders we now don’t have the same evidence of “busy people” to confirm that our team has actually been doing the work and “punching the clock”. A shift in the way leaders manage productivity is now underway and I would propose that it’s a better way.

What Does That Mean for the Way We Lead Today?

Just because someone is rushing to a meeting or sitting at their desk focused on what is in front of them doesn’t mean they are working on the right stuff in the most effective way. Only outcomes can really help us understand and promote productivity. The clock does matter, however, it works better as a servant to outcomes not a predictor of results. 

People are more productive when they have control of the clock and establish their own work rhythms versus the “being busy” perception we are used to in co-located spaces. Our brain can’t truly be “on” for 8 hours straight. People need the “water cooler conversations”, a moment to get up and walk around, to do something totally different for 30 minutes or take a 2-minute stand and stretch moment.  Studies have shown that people are most productive for about 3 hours a day and that pocket of time is different for each person. 

In light of this, our “frame” shifts as leaders is to set expectations for results in lieu of time on the clock. Our conversations with the team can focus instead on outcomes rather than the what and where of the work. Stay tuned into what makes your people most productive.

How Do We Make This Mindset Stick?

Whether you are continuing as a “remote first” workplace, shifting to a hybrid model or returning to co-located work, this new mindset can improve productivity because you’re starting to focus on the right stuff that actually fuels productivity. Let’s brainstorm a few practical ideas to make this mindset stick:

  • Champion meeting-free blocks of time for people to focus on work or create space for their “brain breaks” throughout the work day
  • Manage work around elements such as milestones, check-ins and outcomes as productivity measures
  • Engage conversations on the various facets of work routines and rhythms to bolster productivity
  • Clarify expectations on communication protocols, what tools to use when, especially if you're remote/hybrid
  • Let go of controlling the details of the work in favor of staying in touch on progress or results

What we have learned through the season of forced remote work is that most people are actually more productive when they are not bound to the clock. The challenge for most workers is figuring out rhythms and routines so they aren’t always “on” for work. Rather than managing people’s time, equip them to find their own routine and rhythms to productivity.  

Let’s Hear From You!

What practical ideas on managing to outcomes rather than the clock come to mind for you as a leader or team member? Comment below! Let’s learn from the experiences of each other! Email me your lessons learned from working remote to further the conversation.

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