Since the workers began working at home during the pandemic, companies have been interested in using employee tracking systems to keep close tabs on productivity. Gartner suggests that during the pandemic, companies aimed to recreate “features of the office – virtualizing on-site practices, adding monitoring systems and increasing meetings.”
While these tools are certainly intended to encourage productivity for employees working from home, they haven’t had that effect. Instead, tracking employees working from home doubled their likelihood to “pretend to be working,” rather than actually completing tasks. The same happened with an increased number of meetings; more employees reported being emotionally drained.
Why aren’t employee tracking systems effective for improving employee productivity? For one, employees clearly don’t find these tracking systems useful, or they wouldn’t figure out how to “game” them. At the same time, these employee tracking systems indicate the company doesn’t trust them to complete their work when left to their own devices.
Employee Tracking Systems Backfire, Do This Instead
Tracking systems create a negative company culture where employees feel both scrutinized and mistrusted. But as workplaces shift to remote work permanently at least some of the time, how can organizations help their employees be as productive as possible in this non-traditional setting?
Let employees decide when and where they want to work.
Increasing flexibility is perhaps the surest way to improve productivity. Gartner discovered employees who have a high level of flexibility are also three times as productive as peers in more rigid work environments.
What does flexibility mean exactly? At its most basic, employees should be able to work when and where they want. This means they should be able to work at home or the office, as well as work in the evenings or weekends if they desire. They should also be able to take time off in the middle of the day to exercise, pick up children, or run errands.
Create online mastermind groups that connect team members who have shared objectives.
One problem in the online space that limits productivity is isolation. Employees may feel like they have fewer peers to reach out to than they did in the office. Sometimes, it can be helpful just to know someone is working at the same time you are.
This is why virtual mastermind groups can be so effective. This added social support encourages employees to learn from one another and share their specific goals.
According to Maciej Godlewski, the CEO and Founder of Fired Up Digital, “The best masterminds for me have been groups with a mix of individuals who are around my level of experience and those well ahead of me. I end up learning from–and helping–others currently dealing with the same issues I am, and seeing what is possible in the future at the same time.”
Encourage employees to develop healthy planning and goal-setting skills.
Even if employees have regular support from their peers and bosses, they still may feel there is less structure in the virtual workplace than in the physical office. Though using employee tracking systems clearly doesn’t improve productivity, workers alone in their home offices do have to be much more self-directed. So, it’s important to help employees build realistic and manageable short- and long-term to-do lists.
Each week and day, they should create a to-do list that is reasonable and accomplishable. They should also “chunk” their time, building their skill in predictive time management that allows them to finish tasks in the time they have allotted.
Further, suggest employees use productivity tools that won’t let them see social media or email notifications when they’re trying to get into a flow state. It is a common myth that multitasking – like writing a report and checking email at the same time – boosts productivity. Instead, employees should be encouraged to complete one task before moving onto the next.
Develop a company culture in which everyone regularly take breaks and time off.
As “hacking” of employee tracking systems indicates, some companies do emphasize “always on” company cultures that can be devastating for employee productivity. Specifically, if employees feel burnt out, their productivity levels can drop by 33 percent.
So, instead of expecting employees to always be available in the online space, encourage space and breaks from the computer and phone. Brains can only concentrate for about 20 minutes before they start to wander. So, that means, employees should take short breaks to get out of their chairs, stretch, or walk around for 10 to 15 minutes at least twice a day. They should also leave their desks for lunch.
In addition, employees should be encouraged to leave the office – and the feeling of connecting even in the virtual workforce – for a week every six months. Regular vacations prevent burnout and dissatisfaction.
Support Your Team; Don’t Track Them
Perhaps it’s human nature to aim to replicate our familiar practices in times of change. Of course, employee tracking systems and an increased number of meetings are the virtual equivalencies to the physical office space. But these practices often make employees feel mistrusted and burnt out. Instead, encouraging them to build their own schedules and connect with others are best practices for supporting productivity in the virtual work environment.