While a mix of anxieties and hope continue as we move toward the post-pandemic future, how can we realistically keep up remote work productivity?
As we work our way through the final quarter of the year, thoughts turn to switching off the lights on 2020 -- a year that for many could be remembered by the Latin phrase annus horribilis.
While that offers hope for better times ahead, mid-autumn rises in the number of cases of COVID-19 in Europe and the US bring renewed anxieties. This post-election period in the US provides us with a gut check reminder that while the light may be emerging at the end of the tunnel, we’ve still got some distance yet to travel.
For many organizations that previously did not have a distributed workforce, several more months likely remain of remote work. That means the once-familiar sights and routines of the office environment are still largely off limits, and the work-from-home period may extend for a full year or more.
It may be time to redouble efforts to boost workforce morale and undertake a year-end refresh of people operations.
This brings employers to an important pivot point: with “pandemic fatigue” taking its toll, media headlines often still worrying, and the gradual wearing away of the social capital built up pre-pandemic with both colleagues and customers, it may be time to redouble efforts to boost workforce morale and undertake a year-end refresh of people operations.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently on steps employers are taking to combat worker burnout in this latest phase of the pandemic. These include improving access to mental health services, forming internal support groups targeting specific challenges like pandemic parenting, and encouraging days off to focus on mental health.
A powerful tool that can fuel our anti-burnout initiatives is personality data. When we really know ourselves and each other, we can respond better. When it comes to human behavior, there are very few components that have a “one size fits all” solution. We’re all individuals, working together.
An outreach measure that’s an absolute slam dunk for one worker could be a predictable dud for another. Recognizing those differences -- and avoiding a mindset of “what works for me must work for everyone!” -- can lead to much more efficient and effective measures. That brings us to the first point to remember in order to survive at work this winter:
Take a data-based approach to identify individual pain points (and secret superpowers).
If you’re the type of person who knows your average heartbeats per minute, researches protein powders for your daily workouts, and loves data, you’d likely welcome the introduction of an employee wellness program. A premium subscription to a new app that helps you track your activity level?! Love it! But if you’re much more of a “yeah I took a walk last week, I’m good” sort of person, a campaign focused on a wellness app is going to be a waste of time and money.
Personality data can help identify an employee’s personal priorities, which can then be used to craft made-to-fit solutions. Beyond our self-professed hobbies and interests, personality data unlocks what really resonates with our mindsets, and where our talents lie.
Someone who’s high in the Big Five dimension of Agreeableness, for example, is oriented toward the wellbeing of others and tends to engage in altruistic behaviors rooted in empathy. That employee might really appreciate an opportunity to mentor a junior staffer, or to grab a socially distanced or virtual lunch with a colleague.
In contrast, someone who is low in Agreeableness tends to be focused on their own needs and interests, and could respond well to a competition of some sort -- refueling energy via a short-term performance incentive, brainstorming ideas for beating out a competitor with a new prospect, or, on the lighter side, competing in a company trivia contest.
Address practical needs.
Your team members could be struggling with a chronic challenge that’s hampering their ability to focus on work. With the majority of US schools not in session on full-time schedules this school year, employees with school-age children are likely juggling responsibilities like never before. What can you do to help? Eliminating the expectation of a tidy 9-5 schedule could ease some of the burden, as could pooling resources for daytime childcare and tutoring.
At the same time, don’t neglect your childless workforce. If some personnel are working outside of traditional business hours to accommodate distance-learning children, but others prefer the conventional schedule, it’s important that expectations for workflow across these groups are clarified.
Other practical issues to be aware of: employees grappling with care and access for elderly family members, income loss from spouses, and stress among parents of displaced college students.
Be sure you’ve created opportunities for your team members to share their concerns in a way they’re comfortable with, whether that’s via informal messaging, sharing with fellow team members, or in one-on-one discussions with supervisors.
Remember that employers can’t do it all.
Although it’s tempting, for all of us, to try to wrest as much control as possible from our unpredictable lives this year, the fact is there are numerous factors worldwide that are simply beyond one person’s reach. There’s only so much an employer can do. Communicating the message that we need to be patient with ourselves and cut ourselves some slack can be a relief.
Practically speaking, consider limiting a team’s focus for the next several months. Revisit performance review criteria, with temporary adjustments to account for atypical ebbs and flows in productivity. And encourage your team members to engage in self-care. That means taking their vacation time for the year, keeping up with their medical and dental care, and pursuing activities outside of work that enable them to make their physical and mental health a priority.
Leaders should communicate how they’re doing this themselves. Post your own “Taking a Walk” breaks regularly on internal messaging channels, discuss your own hobbies and interests outside of work, step away for time off, or mention a new television series you’ve discovered.
Have some fun.
Sure, it’s a heavy year. It’s been a lot to contend with, whatever your age or life circumstances. Bring some levity to your company’s remote communications, especially now as the holiday season arrives.
Put some holiday lights up in the room where you access your remote meetings. Post favorite recipes. Have a holiday decorating contest. Start a staff meeting by sharing memories of the weirdest gift everyone has received. Encourage your team to post a photo of the funniest knick-knack they have in their homes or ones they find online.
The pandemic will end
Injecting some hopefulness in your professional life can have positive spillover into other areas of your life. Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci himself recently offered some positive vibes: “Certainly it’s not going to be a pandemic for a lot longer, because I believe the vaccines are going to turn that around. Vaccines will help us. What we’ve got to do is just hang on and continue to double down on the public health measures.”
With that hope on board, leaders and their team members across industries can get a jolt of renewed energy to remain safe, promote their own and the public’s health, and be productive and fulfilled professionals along the way. That’s a great way to close out this most memorable, not-sorry-to-see-you-go year.
Want to learn more about leveraging personality data to avoid burnout at your work? Connect with us.