There’s been a lot of debate about the impact on employee productivity with the shift to remote work. Some say productivity has gone way up, and employees themselves say they’re getting more work done without the typical office distractions. Still others say productivity has tanked, with employees spending less than half their time on work-related activities. The reality is, both are probably true.
Effective employee communication plays a huge role in driving meaningful productivity. Employees have a lot on their plate right now; their personal lives have changed dramatically, and many are dealing with child care and financial, physical, and mental health challenges. Because of this stressful dynamic, organizations must figure out how to strike the right balance between keeping employees engaged, productive, and working together as a team without overwhelming them with a lot of noise.
Here are four ways communication strategies can boost productivity for a digital, distributed, and diverse workforce.
Build a Culture of Connection
The informal relationships we build with one another in the workplace directly impact productivity. When we know one another and feel a sense of connection, we feel like a team that’s working toward the same goals. We’re more willing to invest time and effort in brainstorming and to help one another when there’s a sense of personal connection.
But, without the informal watercooler and lunchroom conversations that happen in the office, it’s tough to form those personal bonds. While it’s difficult to build that connectivity in a digital environment, direct, one-to-one communication is key. Create some teambuilding activities that go beyond the Zoom happy hour to help people get to know one another. Encourage employees to schedule virtual coffee dates during which they can meet to talk about both personal and business topics, or host digital trivia games or virtual book or other hobby clubs.
Schedule weekly celebrations during which teams get together to share their successes or call out a job well done by a team member. You could even take the interaction offline by encouraging employees to mail postcards with a note of gratitude or accolade to a coworker. This is especially meaningful because it takes time and thoughtful effort—way more so than dashing off an e-mail.
Working from home can be great for work/life balance, but it can also be quite stressful when it feels more like a work/life clash. Many of us have discovered that the conventional 9–5 workday is not only impractical for our lives right now but also not productive. For people who are night owls or early birds, forcing them into a specific set of hours can feel like torture, and it’s just not effective.
Instead, give employees the flexibility to work when they can be most productive. Communicate clearly on goals and expectations, but then give them the freedom to work within their natural rhythms or around family obligations. Managers should maintain frequent check-ins to make sure employees aren’t struggling or need help, but if employees are meeting their goals, back off the rigid structure a bit. Measure outcomes, and compare the before and after to gauge results.
If it’s true that employees are only productive 3 hours a day, you want to make sure they can be at maximum capacity during those times and take breaks when they need to to come back refreshed and recharged. That’s way more effective than forcing them to stare blankly at a screen for 5 hours.
Nearly 75% of employees feel they are missing out on company information and news. When the gap between your mission and your workforce widens, you can lose the connection that drives employees to achieve.
In a distributed environment, managers are a critical link in maintaining that connection and aligning individual employees’ work with the company’s overall goals. They’re also a first line of communication between the company and its team.
Empower managers to support employees in unique situations who need flexibility, and consider using more formal channels to communicate metrics and achievement. Managers should share team progress with their employees regularly and make themselves readily available to field questions and concerns.
Minimize Information Overload
Nearly 40% of HR and internal comms professionals admit there’s too much content being sent to employees, and the fact that it’s so easy to send a quick digital message means information overload is inevitable. The problem is all this noise wastes employees’ time. Whether it’s figuring out whether they need to take action or simply clearing out a cluttered inbox, either way, it’s not productive.
Avoid overwhelming them by approaching communications from the employees’ perspective—what’s relevant, timely, and meaningful for them? Start by personalizing the information and targeting a specific role or employee group, and eliminate the instinct to “send all.” Use communication calendars to coordinate and plan message campaigns so they’re not intersecting or interfering with one another.
The Bottom Line
Maximizing employee productivity isn’t just about helping your employees get more work done. It’s also about giving them the support and flexibility they need to feel engaged and appreciated so they want to do more and be more effective while also not getting in their way. An effective employee communication program can have a remarkably positive impact on employee engagement; morale; success; and, ultimately, your company’s bottom line.
Frank Møllerop is the CEO of Tivian, a leader in employee experience management and the creator of the first employee-centric end-to-end HR platform that allows companies to bring personalized communications and experiences to their workforce.