Measuring productivity while ensuring wellbeing in the new normal

Measuring productivity is historically a divisive issue for employers and employees. In the age of the new normal, in some organizations there is a semblance of a ‘Big Brother’ attitude toward productivity monitoring owing to reduced communication, decreased visibility and even developing distrust with delegated responsibilities. For those who have read George Orwell’s 1984 we all know how constant surveillance can make us feel, so evidently haphazard introductions of monitoring solutions will only intensify negative attitudes toward productivity monitoring. Therefore, this topic must, especially now, be approached with care, sensitivity and understanding.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 82% of company leaders going forward will allow employees to work from home at least some of the time. With the recent changes in the ways of working, this has brought about numerous concerns for both employers and employees. For employers, measuring productivity is a key topic with 38% of managers in a HBR survey expressing that employees are less productive when working remotely and 13% of managers surveyed by Gartner being concerned about how to monitor productivity.

On the flipside, a Gartner snap poll found that 76% of HR leaders say that the top complaint from employees since the coronavirus outbreak are concerns from managers about the productivity of their remote teams. It can be seen from this data that productivity monitoring is a contentious area which can be a barrier to team cohesion and in a time where maintaining effective collaboration is more challenging than ever before.

While multiple reports show that self-reported productivity for both routine and knowledge workers has increased since working remotely, employers are increasingly investing in monitoring technologies with some suppliers of such technologies seeing a quadrupling of year-on-year growth in the period since the pandemic. At the same time, employees are increasingly anxious and feeling more isolated which are known inhibitors of productivity. With surveillance being shown to increase stress in individuals and reduce trust, these technologies could be counterproductive and exacerbate some of the developing wellbeing issues stemming from home-working. The question this raises is then: “How do we measure productivity while ensuring employee wellbeing?”

The characteristics of successful rollouts are those which consult with employees throughout the process and keep open communication regarding the purposes of monitoring, how the data will be used and the benefits it provides to the employees and the organization.

Monitoring technologies

From being able to identify absenteeism/presenteeism through monitoring the frequency and times of emails to supporting lorry drivers scheduling breaks effectively on their journeys; monitoring technologies can bring a plethora of benefits when assessing remote workers. However, the problem lies in the application of aggressive monitoring such as apps which take staggered screenshots and those which monitor keystrokes which not only raise legal and privacy concerns but can further blur the lines between work and home, an oft-cited wellbeing concern for remote employees. Furthermore, multiple studies around invasive employee surveillance show reduced trust, increased stress and anxiety and at the extreme, a hampered ability to recover from sickness as a result of stress. All of these factors create an environment which is unfavorable to wellbeing and productivity. So, what can we as employees, managers and leaders do to foster such an environment instead of suppressing it?

Self-monitoring

The encouragement of self-monitoring technologies have been shown to be effective in improving both productivity and wellbeing. Regular reflection on positive past experiences and daily habits not only improve self-motivation but also aid in the identification of healthy and productive habits. Self-reflection can be facilitated through various means whether that’s through habit-tracking apps, gratitude journals or more sophisticated tools such as the MyAnalytics dashboard by Microsoft which provides personal, actionable insights to the user on how to improve their wellbeing and productivity. Regardless of the method employed, such methods are non-invasive, provide autonomy and enable personal development which are conducive factors for productivity and wellbeing.

‘Checking in’ instead of ‘checking on’

Results Only Working Environments (ROWE) are those which focus not on when and how the work gets done but on solely the outputs. Variations of such an approach have been effective in increasing productivity and wellbeing in organizations such as GAP and Netflix. This is not to say that a manager should specify an objective and leave it to the employee to deliver but having frequent conversations to check in and support is also required. The conversations can also serve as avenues for wellbeing support by providing opportunities for relationship-building and identifying symptoms of work-related stress such as burnout. Implementations of this approach have led to employees showing higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement and lower levels of anxiety as a need for autonomy is met.

Implementing technologies

As mentioned, some technologies present wide-ranging benefits in terms of productivity and wellbeing for both employers and employees. In order to reap the benefits of such technologies, a transparent policy, ensuring privacy and involving all relevant stakeholders are key success factors. Technologies which are selected should also ensure that the metrics are relevant, the monitoring does not disproportionately impact minority groups of employees and that monitoring is only on when needed. The characteristics of successful rollouts are those which consult with employees throughout the process and keep open communication regarding the purposes of monitoring, how the data will be used and the benefits it provides to the employees and the organization. Employee involvement can be the ‘make or break’ factor in such interventions with a recent CIPD report showing that employees are 50% more receptive and supportive of interventions if they have been consulted in the process.

Looking forward

Across all industries, sustainably implementing productive remote environments is undoubtedly a challenge. For those embarking on this journey or re-assessing their approach, successful strategies will be those that employ variations and mixtures of the topics discussed; ones which are based on enabling self-motivation, creating shared responsibility and empowering individuals. Productivity is a broad and complex topic and there isn’t just one solution for all. However, wellbeing is the cornerstone of productivity so the question leaders should ask prior to commencing on such a project is: ‘Is work just about productivity?'

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About Nasir Ahmed

Global Digital Workplace Consultant


Nasir Ahmed is a Global Digital Workplace Consultant at Atos. With firm interests in business, technology and sustainability he supports in programs to deliver he supports in programs to deliver operational excellence to our clients through the use of technology. Passionate about diversity and inclusion, he is also a member of the Atos Together Network where he supports in creating internal initiatives to create dialogue across all levels of the company as he believes inthat creating a culture of togetherness is a key driver for business success.