Navigating productivity in a hybrid world of work

Before the pandemic, productivity was tangible. We’ve all seen the articles: wake up at five in the morning, go for a run, blend up a high-fiber banana smoothie, and read two chapters of a book—all before 9 am, before your commute to work and display the second bout of productivity in the office.

It’s all different now. As performance management and productivity checkpoints become more frequent, continuous, and transparent during the pandemic, the change has fueled a need for more intelligent systems to ensure consistency and fairness.

The working world of performance and productivity has indeed changed in the face of this crisis, and the middle of an ever-evolving environment. The intersection of performance and productivity has touched just about everyone in a corporate job. Thousands have quit, thousands are burnt out, and leaders and management everywhere aren’t quite sure how to measure success in a pandemic.

Challenges in measuring productivity with remote teams

Measuring quality versus quantity for knowledge workers is an age-old problem. This has only been exacerbated by remote working—45% say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before, and nearly 70% say that they now work on weekends.

Leaders need to ask themselves how they measure, recognize, and most importantly, appreciate an individual’s productivity. We now cannot measure productivity in terms of hours spent in the office—no one should ever have done that, pandemic or not. Now that remote or hybrid work is here to stay, leaders should determine for themselves and their organizations how productivity is defined and measured.

Google’s Project Oxygen research reveals valuable insight into a team-based organizational structure. Google calculates a team’s effectiveness using the executive’s team evaluation, the team leader’s evaluation, other team members from the individual, their line manager, and their team, leaders can glean a rich, qualitative assessment of one’s productivity.

The research also begs the question: who should decide on an individual’s team? In a world that requires a transdisciplinary approach for almost every role, is it enough to define their team by department, or even reporting line?

The value of empathy in data-driven assessment

 Traditional appraisal systems should be revisited and revised. It needs to embed empathy for an individual’s life demands and commitment to the team and business. For instance, leaders should consider adding questions about work-life integration to their appraisal systems to acknowledge the realities of the endemic epoch.

Consider questions like “what are you good at and paid to do”, “what do you love doing?”, or “what purpose do they want [your organization] to fulfill?”. By invoking reflection in work, leaders can encourage employees to identify roles and responsibilities, which of these leverage their strengths, passions, and purpose—all while embedding empathy into the appraisal process.

To sustain the value of empathy in a data-driven process, HR leaders need to design an appraisal system that includes the opportunity for individuals to identify what they need from their work, and their commitment to their teams and organization.

How leaders can enable transparency and fairness in performance management

 Performance management should not simply tell employees whether they have achieved objectives or not. It should set people up for success and show them what their objectives are, and how to reach them.

Consider the concept of assessment for learning versus the assessment of learning in education. The former is formative, using test results to improve teaching and instructional design; the latter is summative, testing what, if anything, the student has learned.

In complex business environments where outcomes are uncertain and the way through obstacles are unclear, formative data is far more helpful since it informs what to do next, rather than simply summarising what has been.

Employing performance management systems that measure progress and identify actional behaviors not only increases the possibility of reaching an individual’s objective but builds a fair and transparent system.

Empathy and productivity must come together

 At the end of the day, your employees are people, not cogs in a machine or data in an Excel sheet. Like all data, performance management needs to be interpreted in the right context and with compassion if you want genuine insight. If a typically hardworking person suddenly seems sluggish or inept, it is important to dig deeper and find out potential underlying causes. That desire for understanding context requires empathy and care for that whole person, not just as an employee, but as a human being.

Besides the fact that happy employees are more productive, it is now more critical than ever that leaders exercise empathy in the workplace. In a world where people have more choice than ever and thousands are re-thinking priorities, leaders can make their work environments desirable and fun to be in by simply caring.




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