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Remote & Async Work 14 min

10 ways to improve remote work productivity

Written by Amanda Day
Amanda Day

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27% of employees in the United States work remotely, and 16% of U.S. businesses have gone — and stayed — fully remote since the pandemic began. Experts expect that remote work will continue to grow.

Although many tout remote work as the cause of increased employee productivity, over 86% of remote employees experience job burnout. A startling 51% of remote workers do not feel their company offers enough support to help them deal with burnout issues.

As the number of remote employees continues to increase, so will the need to find healthy and sustainable solutions to help these individuals produce excellent work.

In this article, we’ll explore how to increase productivity while supporting your employees’ well-being and work engagement. We will also explain the relationship between remote work and productivity, as well as how to measure remote work productivity.

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Remote work and its relationship with productivity

The New York Times reported mixed results on remote work and productivity: “some papers have linked remote work with productivity declines of between 8 and 19 percent, while others find drops of 4 percent for individual workers; still other research has found productivity gains of 13 percent or even 24 percent.”

Decline in productivity may be due to blurred boundaries between personal and professional life, leading to burnout.

Isolation is another challenge of remote work. Employees may miss the social interaction and immediate support a physical office environment provides. Remote employees can feel less connected to the company and less motivated to be productive.

Meanwhile, there are several possible reasons why remote work improves productivity:

Longer hours worked

Remote employees work 10% more each week compared to in-person employees. Owl Labs found that remote employees spent on average ten fewer minutes each day being unproductive, worked one more day each week, and were 47% more productive than their in-person counterparts. 

Age may influence whether remote employees are likely to work longer hours. The Canadian HRReporter found that 48% of Canadians aged 26 to 40 said they worked longer hours during the pandemic, compared to only 31% of those under age 25. 

Improved mental and physical health

Frontiers in Psychology found that remote workers experience less stress than in-person employees do. This may be because remote workers can often set their own clock-in and clock-out times. Not commuting to work may also improve mental and physical health. 

Another benefit of working remotely is that employees avoid the germs that in-person workers inevitably pass around, thereby reducing physical illnesses that may detract from productivity. 

Better work-life balance

Remote team members may be more productive because of the flexibility and autonomy remote work has to offer.

Remote employees can design their work schedules around their personal preferences and commitments. This means that they have more time to meet the demands of families and personal obligations, and enjoy quality time with family, friends, or companion animals.

For many employees, this leads to an improved work-life balance and higher job satisfaction, which makes them more productive with work.

10 strategies for sustained remote employees’ productivity

As an employer, there are several ways to help your remote team boost their productivity. Below are ten ways to help your distributed team perform at their best consistently.

1. Emphasize performance, not hours worked

If the demands of the job don't depend on the specific hours worked, don't worry about the number of hours a remote employee puts in or when they work. It's more important to keep track of the work they complete and the deadlines they meet. If a remote employee meets or exceeds the demands of their specific job function, their actual hours worked should not be a concern.

2. Provide the right technology

Equipping employees with the right communication and project management tools is critical for a remote working environment. With the right technology, your remote team can operate smoothly, leading to a strong and productive remote culture.

For example, remote employees can collaborate through project management tools like Asana, Basecamp, or Jira. Project management tools can help remote employees better organize and prioritize their tasks.

Providing tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams will improve communication and make collaborative work much more effective. These tools will also help all team members stay connected, regardless of their location.

Encourage your employees to log summaries of their work, challenges, and accomplishments each week. Leaders can avoid micromanaging through project management tools, while employees can practice self-evaluation and accountability. 

Managers can then use regular, structured feedback sessions to discuss these logs. These meetings can act as a platform for guidance, acknowledging team members’ efforts and ensuring that individual activities stay aligned with broader organizational objectives.

3. Assist your remote employees in creating a dedicated work-from-home space

Productivity will undoubtedly plummet if your employees attempt to work at the kitchen table or on the couch. An essential element of working from home is establishing a dedicated workspace. If possible, remote workers should set up their workspace in a separate room with ergonomic furniture, an uncluttered desk, and all of the necessary office supplies. If an entire room is not available, employees should at least reserve a specific working area within their living space that is free of distractions, quiet, and well-organized.

Recommend that your remote workers adhere to a schedule that works for them. It is also a good idea for remote workers to dress in workplace-appropriate attire; although working in your pajamas sounds wonderful in theory, it tends to have a negative effect on mental health.

Many companies provide their employees with work-issued technology, such as laptops and printers, so workers don't have to perform sensitive job tasks on their less-secure personal devices. Consider also providing your employees with other home office equipment, such as a desk and chair or other necessary office items.

Set them up with the software they need to perform their job roles, and solicit their feedback while doing so. Employee feedback is the best way to ensure you meet their needs. 

It is also vital that your remote workers communicate boundaries with their family members, roommates, or anyone else who shares their living space. 

4. Provide remote teams with resources for their physical and mental health

Mental and physical well-being has a pronounced effect on employee productivity. While working from home, it is easy for employees to lose structure in their day-to-day life and drop healthy habits they may have kept up while working in the office, such as bringing a nutritious lunch each day or going for walks during breaks. 

There are many ways remote working can negatively affect the health of your employees. Working from home provides access to an abundance of potentially unhealthy snacks and meals and can facilitate forming bad habits, such as staying up too late watching TV shows and snacking. More time in front of the computer can lead to headaches or eye strain. Lack of sleep or physical activity can increase stress, which can have devastating effects on productivity.

Supporting your team's health and well-being team is essential. According to a 2020 Remote Work Wellness Survey, remote workers whose company offered a robust wellness plan reported a nearly 28% increase in productivity.

To combat the potentially detrimental effects of remote work on the health of your employees, here are a few wellness benefits to consider offering remote workers.

Flexible schedule

Offering employees the ability to work when they are most productive is a benefit to both the employees and the company. As long as this type of scheduling flexibility does not interfere with team collaboration or workload, it can go a long way toward improving the health of your workers.

Mental health resources

As the stigma surrounding mental health continually diminishes, workers now expect their employers to be accepting and supportive about mental health issues they face. By creating a library of useful mental health resources, such as podcasts, websites, tutorials, and apps, you can effectively support your employees. 

Additionally, work with your company's health insurance provider to build a benefits program that covers therapists, counselors, and psychologists in addition to psychiatrists. 

Expanded health benefits

In the midst of the ongoing global health crisis, the vast majority of employees refuse to accept employment that does not include health insurance. Again, work with your company's health insurance provider to expand health benefits to include free COVID-19 testing, various types of doctor visits, discounts or coverage for family members, or any other benefit that will help your employees stay healthy.

Mental health days

In addition to standard sick days, many employers are adopting mental health days, which employees can take without being physically ill or providing prior notice. Allowing your team the occasional guilt-free day off to recharge will cultivate a workplace culture of trust and empathy. This benefit also allows employees to return to work engaged and motivated.

Support for healthy eating and activity

Many remote employees struggle to eat healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, especially with their entire kitchen at their fingertips. Working from home can also make it challenging to take the time necessary to prepare healthy meals. Consider periodically sending your remote team meal kits or healthy snack boxes. 

In addition, your company may choose to invest in virtual fitness events, such as yoga or martial arts classes. 

5. Offer stipends for employee well-being

Wellness perks can make a measurable difference in the well-being of your employees. Now that remote work is the norm for many, some companies provide employees with a health and well-being stipend. This is essentially a bonus paid to fund healthy activities, such as gym memberships, diet or exercise apps, and virtual fitness classes. 

While it is up to the employee how those funds are used, your company can stipulate that the stipend is a "use it or lose it" benefit.

6. Eliminate low-quality meetings from the calendar

Low quality meetings are those in which attendees multitask, are double-booked into multiple meetings at once, or are accompanied by another employee who occupies a similar job function. Such meetings increase stress and lower employee productivity. 

Instead of calling a virtual meeting for every update or setback, consider using email and team communication apps to ask questions and garner feedback when necessary. Designate a "zero-meeting day" for employees to focus their attention on work. Ensure meeting presenters create and adhere to an agenda for every necessary meeting, defining the meeting's purpose as well as talking points. 

Most importantly, engage your attendees!

Click to read this Remote blog post about the common mistakes first-time remote managers make.

7. Practice inclusive company communication

McKinsey Global Institute reports that improved communication and collaboration using social technologies may increase company productivity by 20 to 25%. Increased communication leads to improved workplace relationships, better morale, and increased productivity. 

Effective communication is critical to keeping remote employees in touch with the organization’s pulse and helping them avoid feelings of isolation. 

While you should avoid low-quality meetings, scheduling regular video calls among teammates can strengthen working relationships and collaboration. Managers should also give their remote employees regular updates. Create a realistic communication rhythm that keeps remote teams informed and engaged. 

For example, a weekly or bi-weekly company-wide virtual meeting can serve as a platform for leadership to share company news and acknowledge team achievements. Or you can circulate a monthly newsletter to keep employees informed about key project progress, share knowledge resources, and introduce new team members.

8. Set reasonable goals for your remote team

Clear expectations are the bedrock of remote employee productivity. For a fully-remote company, it is essential to set reasonable, measurable goals for your distributed team to monitor progress and employee contribution while also ensuring you do not overburden your staff.

When employees understand their roles through explicit responsibilities, they experience less uncertainty and find it easier to stay focused on their tasks.

Transparent expectations can also improve accountability and self-management among remote employees, as these individuals can more effectively gauge their progress and direct their efforts where they are most needed.

To set goals that foster teamwork and align employee and company objectives, try these tips:

  • Start simple, be specific, and allow imperfection. 

  • Create overarching goals and allow employees to adopt and own them.

  • Support goals with incentives.

  • Track, debrief, and adjust goals based on your team's ongoing experience and feedback.

For example, your HR can work with team leads to set weekly targets for remote employees. For instance, a content writer might be expected to draft three blog posts and participate in two marketing strategy meetings each week. In this scenario, the employee knows exactly what output is required, so they can plan their work accordingly, and managers can track their progress effectively.

9. Invest in the professional development of your team

A serious concern of many remote employees is that, by working primarily from home, they’re “out of sight, out of mind” in terms of possible career advancement.

To remedy this situation, leadership should actively promote skill development opportunities, and articulate clear paths for remote employees’ professional growth within the company. This will not only contribute to individual productivity but also benefit the organization’s talent pool.

Remote work should not impede your employees' professional growth. Provide funding and time for your employees to improve their skills to allow them to attend virtual (or in-person) seminars, classes, and training courses.

For example, your organization can offer employees subscriptions to online learning platforms, like LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, or Coursera. Options like these provide pathways for employees to upskill at their convenience.

You could also organize virtual “lunch and learn” sessions in which team members share expertise or external speakers provide insights into industry trends. 

These types of measures help remote employees stay competitive in their skills and feel valued by their organization. These outcomes, in turn, contribute to retaining top talent and strengthening the company’s overall workforce capabilities.

10. Cross-train employees to work amongst other teams

Cross-functional teams can have various advantages for both employees and employers. Cross-training can save the company money, increase internal hiring and employee retention, and assist in professional development. It also improves scheduling flexibility as well as relationships among coworkers. 

How do you measure productivity?

Remote employee productivity management does not have to be complicated. For fully-remote companies, one of the most important things you can do is build trust in your team. Your employees' productivity will take a nosedive if they feel you are micromanaging or monitoring their every move.

That said, it is still important to measure the productivity of your individual employees as well as your overall team. 

Individual

To measure the remote work productivity of your individual employees, consider these suggestions:

  • Measure the outcome instead of the number of hours worked. As long as the job gets done, it is not necessary for your employees to account for every minute worked.

  • Conduct daily check-in calls with your team. These calls should have a pre-shared agenda. During these meetings, review necessary progress updates and daily expectations. Ensure check-in calls start and end on time.

  • Make use of time clock software.

  • Set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound (SMART) productivity Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including self discipline and effective communication. 

Team

Quantifying your team's productivity is as simple as measuring the amount of work delivered or completed within a set period of time or with a defined amount of effort. 

This metric largely depends on your industry, individual business, and defined KPIs. For example, a call center may measure the total number of calls answered in a day, while a manufacturer may measure units produced daily.

Productivity and remote work go together

Working remotely is a trend that will continue well into the future. Using the tips from this article, you can increase your employees' remote work efficiency while ensuring your staff is happy, healthy, and productive.

If you’re looking to improve your remote workforce’s productivity, consider partnering with Remote for global HR services. Explore Remote’s professional global employment resources or speak with one of our experts today.

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