What experts are saying about productivity has ebbed and flowed over the last several months as everyone adjusted to the impact of remote work. What was initially reported as a strong uptick in productivity at the onset of the pandemic—be it because people were clinging to their jobs for dear life, or because they were looking for something to distract them from the newfound chaos—has since slid into a noticeable decline for employees in certain roles. Blame meeting fatigue, an unusual school year for working parents (and their kids), or a general feeling of dejection, I think we can all agree we aren’t where we were at the start of this back in March.
While some parts of quarantine have become routine—like working from your living room table instead of an ergonomic desk chair surrounded by your peers—others still feel foreign. Annual reviews are around the corner, performance-based bonuses are returning, and end-of-year KPIs are looming now that we’re firmly in the fourth quarter. But work in 2020 is just plain different, and my leadership approach will have taken a different form this year to meet the change. Here are four things I’m keeping in mind while managing my teams this year and into 2021.
First and foremost: The wellbeing of your employees is what matters most
Consider the competing crises your teams are facing. The threat of Covid-19 remains high, and when an employee’s or their family’s health is at risk, work takes a backseat—and it should. Additionally, many working parents are forced to take on childcare duties and full-time teaching responsibilities even now that school is back in session. The toll of being a working parent is more taxing than ever.
Work and life continue to bleed into each other, and with the benefits of bringing your “whole self” to work (as Facebook likes to say), come the drawbacks of the same. As a manager, give employees the time and space they need to take care of themselves and their families first. The emotional toll of our current climate shouldn’t be understated. Remind yourself daily to lead with empathy and invest in your people.
Not everyone’s productivity looks the same
The pandemic has opened the floodgates for long-overdue change to the 40+ hour work week, and the end of strict productivity metrics is one of them. Managers should continue to acknowledge the changing schedules of their employees and, whenever possible, offer flexibility that allows them to maintain productivity on their own time. It’s impossible to expect employees to remain heads down at their desks from nine to five, but it’s likely they can meet their work responsibilities when it suits their schedule.
Productivity doesn’t look the same for every person in every role, which is something monitoring and productivity-tracking tools can’t grasp. Some employees may prefer to wake up earlier and sign off earlier, while others need frequent breaks throughout the day to care for loved ones. As long as both are meeting the duties of their jobs, they should be encouraged to do so at their own pace.
Many companies already have loosened the reins of some of their traditional rules. Major tech firms have announced plans to allow employees to work remotely forever (including Facebook, where we anticipate up to 50% of our employees will take us up on the offer within the next five to ten years). But not all of the changes need to be quite so grand. I’ve encouraged my team to take meetings outside or during a walk; these small actions, and the fresh air, make a world of a difference.
Forget “above and beyond”
There are well-known tropes about when employees are the least effective (like the day after the Super Bowl, when more than 17 million employees call in sick and businesses lose $4 billion because of it) and the most engaged (right before lunchtime, apparently). These dips in productivity are normal and predictable, but this year’s aren’t, and your business goals will suffer because of it.
As a business leader, it is your job to reevaluate goals to account for the environment your teams are working in. Traditionally, success at most companies has been measured solely by output, but that standard isn’t feasible anymore. To be on the forefront of adapting to the future of work, rejigger the standards you measure your employees by: make sure employees are reaching personal milestones, and measure more “human” work like involvement in cross-functional committees, communication skills, prioritization, etc. Now that our whole selves are coming to work (ironically, by staying at home), it’s important to account for all of the skills that make an employee an asset to your team.
This year, Facebook took a radical step to accomplish this: we scrapped first-half performance evaluations, and instead gave everyone the same (favorable) bonus rating. We focused our attention on making sure managers and their direct reports had frequent discussions about how they were performing and feeling. This helped alleviate the pressure of having to perform at extraordinary levels during an abnormal time, and allowed us to focus on what matters most: our people.
The benefits of being flexible with employees in this way are twofold: they have the leeway they need to manage both their work and personal lives (getting burnt out), and your business can focus on still producing quality work and still coming out ahead. Leaders should prioritize so their teams can parcel out their time and energy to the most impactful tasks.
Determining how you operate remotely is your challenge, not your employees’
As a leader at your company, you’re tasked with making sure your teams are running smoothly, goals are being met, and employees are happy. All of this boils down to your ability to intrinsically motivate employees, which has fundamentally changed over the last six months.
Start by facilitating honest conversations respectfully. When a major news event happens that could impact your teams, ask them how they’re coping with it and what support you can provide. Starting a raw, candid conversation helps build a genuine human connection that bonds teams during crises. It’s okay, and in most cases encouraged, that leadership starts these conversations and perhaps even shares their own insecurities, too.
Then, evaluate how your teams are being recognized, and find ways to recognize top talent virtually. Every month I organize an all-hands meeting with my entire team where I work with my senior leadership to recognize an employee with our “Impact Award.” I love handing it out to someone who has positively impacted their teams, and it’s a great way to share a celebratory moment. I also created a group on Workplace, Facebook’s workplace-collaboration platform, called “America’s Microkitchen,” which we use to spark non-work related conversations, similar to what you’d discuss during breaks at the office.
In short: grant yourself and your teams the flexibility you all need to take care of yourselves first, and still ultimately meet your business goals. Think of our unique times as a challenge to yourself as a leader, and rise to the occasion. Small things, like revisiting KPIs, reminding your teams to take a vacation (and setting an example by doing so yourself!), and closing communication gaps will eventually ladder up to the big change. It’s up to you to set the tone for your teams and convince them that their work is making a difference.