This brought a lot of growing pains and resistance from a lot of companies and management. People didn’t automatically trust that someone who wanted more time at home would really put the same effort in as when they were in the office all day. As we all know too well, the past couple of years have forced us into a remote situation, almost every single person has had to work from their kitchen, living room, or set up an office space for themselves to be able to get better focus. For some people this was an opportunity sent from heaven, for others they were faced with trying to fit in 8 hours of work a day while looking after their toddlers, some had bad internet they had to share with their three roommates. Improving productivity has become a big talking point, especially in small and medium sized business.
Whatever the situation looked like in your company, there were no doubt some setbacks and a long and difficult testing period. Nowadays, focus is the new meaning of productivity, we live in a world where our focus is stretched thin, our devices scream for our attention, needing us to reply, view, like and share at any given moment. Unless we have the perfect notifications settings organised, this is even more difficult while we share our working space with our home space.
So, how can we help our employees with focus, now that the pandemic has changed the way we work forever? Now that we know people will still get the work done while they’re out of sight, how do we give them the best tool set possible to achieve greatness?
Ending the ‘wall of calls’
If you can make your team’s ability to focus their best tool in their organisational tool box you’ll find happier employees, better team spirit and an ability to work on more in depth projects faster and more efficiently.
You should look at your team’s productivity, or focus, as a glass of water. At the start of the day you fill up your team to the top, they’re motivated and ready to attack the tasks and attend meetings with a passion and energy. As the day goes on, your team will have more and more ‘shallow’ tasks begging for their attention. Each slack notification that needs a response, each email that needs a short reply, each meeting that wasn’t really relevant for them, will take a sip out of your glass of water. This makes it a lot harder to then fully focus on a piece of work that requires deep focus as there’s less in your team’s tank.
We can’t eliminate our shallow tasks, of course they are also important, but we can organise the way we tackle our shallow and deep work so that we can get the most out of both. Something that a lot of people struggle with during remote work is that they feel like their performance is based on how fast they can respond to these shallow tasks, instead of the amount of attention they give to deep work, giving us worse quality in the things that really make a difference in a company.
Block time in calendars – each team member should have a blocked amount of time in their calendar where they focus on their bigger projects. This will differ for everybody, some are more productive in the mornings, some can’t concentrate until they know they’ve cleared their inbox, some will only be able to focus in blocks of 20 minutes or so. You can explain this to them and be open about giving them the responsibility to figure out what works best for them, as long as they’re setting aside some quiet time to get the good work done, you should see an improvement in productivity.
Encourage no Slack hours – there are several ways that you can do this, you can either allow employees to completely switch off their Slack so nothing comes in, or you can set an emoji guide to easily show other team members when someone is ‘in flow’. Maybe you can use a wave or a no entry emoji in the status bar. This means that while the status is set only important messages should be sent and team members shouldn’t get any notifications unless they are specifically tagged for a time sensitive subject.
Allow scrolling breaks – this may sound a little counterproductive, but being open to allowing staff to take 10-15 minutes out of their work time to have a little scroll, take a walk or basically do something that is completely unrelated will make them be able to concentrate much better when they sit back down to the computer screen. Expecting someone to hold off and not be distracted by anything for 8 hours a day is unrealistic so let them check instagram (within reason) for a more efficient team.
The good old list – some things never get old, making a good old list works wonders for staying organised. The best way to do this is to note down all the tasks that couldn’t be completed during the work day so that when logging in the next day there’s no confusion or forgetting if you really did complete that little task or not. Your team can get straight into work.
Barriers and boundaries – these can be a life saver for your team, but this should be encouraged from a management perspective as well as a HR perspective. Your team shouldn’t feel bad for setting their own boundaries, it should be part of your culture and an expectation that no one should be answering emails past working hours. A good way to do this is to set ‘working hours’ in everyone’s calendar so that meetings can’t be booked too early or late and everyone is on the same page.
Daily stand ups – an important part of organisation and focus is to have a clear idea about what each individual will be focusing on that day. These can be really short meetings, and the aim should be to take turns in announcing what was completed the day before, and what should be worked on that day. This gives a great outline on which stage each project is at, if anything is being delayed, or if there are any blockers that someone else can help push through.
Send your culture home
Just because the working environment is changing and people aren’t as present in person any more doesn’t mean it’s less important to focus on culture than it used to be because people aren’t around to see it. In fact, it’s even more important now to make people feel valued and part of a team even though they’re separate. Some things you should either keep doing, or definitely implement if you don’t already:
- Schedule both remote lunches for both teams and the whole company
- Hold ‘just for fun’ meetings where you can catch up after a weekend or have a coffee break together, these can be optional or on a drop in basis.
- Mental health practices, check in with team members and ensure everyone is on the right track. You could even set up something like meditation class vouchers.
- Hold annual or bi-annual retreats, it’s nice to have everyone in the same place for once.
- Keep up with team building events.
Communication is also key when driving focus and improving productivity. Make sure that your management team keeps an open door policy for any concerns in both their personal or professional life that are affecting their work and lead by example. If you’re open to conversations, you show empathy and set the tone, this will follow on to other people in the team.
You’ll have a lot more success if you implement some of the practises talked about above and working in this new age environment won’t be so overwhelming. If you want a more focused team, focus on organisation, culture and communication for a better work-life balance for everyone.