Survey: 49% of remote workers report a drop in productivity

Distractions at home and difficulty communicating with colleagues during the pandemic contribute to output declines, according to Globant.

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During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused companies to make the sudden and drastic shift to remote work, something had to give, and for US employees surveyed by Globant, that something was productivity.

Globant, a digital transformation company, surveyed 900 US senior-manager level and below employees in April and found that nearly half (49%) said they had decreased output, according to its report released this week.

Distractions from the home environment and difficulty communicating with colleagues were the top two contributors to decreased productivity, Globant found.

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Guibert Englebienne, the company's CTO and co-founder, said in an interview, "As the economy restarts, our survey shows that chief experience officers should keep in mind the ways in which homebound employees can fight distractions, burnout, and a lack of work-life separations while working remotely."

According to the report, 33% of employees said that difficulty accessing the necessary tools and resources to do their work was a top factor negatively affecting their output. This reveals the need for organizations to offer better technologies for collaborating and connecting their workforces, Globant said.

With no commute to create a boundary between work and life, Globant found, work bleeds into evening hours that were previously reserved for leisure, chores, or family. Over two-thirds (67%) of respondents said it was harder to maintain work-life separation while working from home, and over one-third (36%) said their work hours had increased since working from home.
 
"In our new normal of work," Englebienne said, "employees no longer have the luxury of casual and frequent face-to-face conversations with colleagues, so they are missing out on a key aspect of organizational culture that traditionally helps them foster stronger connections at work."

Technology may only be part of the answer. A recent survey of remote workers by Office Depot found that 46% said new workplace tech negatively impacts productivity in the short term, especially those at large companies.

Initial successes around the move to remote work were related to technological infrastructure, the logistics of working outside of the office, and employees feeling empowered about increased flexibility in their work environment, Englebienne noted. 

Globant's survey looks beyond this momentum and enthusiasm, he said, to focus on how organizations can ensure their people are connecting and engaging from afar instead of in-person interactions. 

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In its report, Globant cautioned leaders to "avoid surveillance tactics, such as using software that tracks how often an employee's mouse moves on their computer. This erodes morale by showing a lack of trust in your employees. It also isn't an accurate way to measure productivity or engagement—an employee can be online and moving their mouse all day without accomplishing much."

Instead, it said to "focus on results, not how employees achieve the results."

What's more: "Encourage clear communication about schedules, so employees know when a team member is offline or unreachable and can plan accordingly. Beyond that, try not to micromanage how employees get their work done." 

According to the survey, (84%) of respondents said their sleeping patterns had changed, and nearly a third (31%) said they were tired during the day and it was hard to focus on work. One bright note: Over one-third (37%) of employees reported that regular contact with colleagues while WFH has helped them be more productive amid the COVID-19 crisis.

To bolster productivity in the short term, Englebienne said, companies can encourage collaboration and for employees to take frequent breaks throughout the day and to take time off. The survey showed those who engaged in wellness activities like exercise and meditation saw the most benefit to their overall work output, he said. 

Long-term, Englebienne offered three strategic changes:

  • "Consider flipping the organizational chart. People tend to feel that employees are less productive when they are not physically in an environment that managers can control. However, the traditional command and control structures add an overhead that does not equate to increased productivity. At Globant, for example, our Agile Pods approach promotes more autonomy, adaptability, and empowerment under a framework with simple rules.

  • Use AI-enabled technology, such as StarMeUp, to expand everyone's ability to create a more humanized environment. By detecting and retaining talent and promoting integration, leaders can create better company cultures—which will assist with productivity in remote environments and aid in recreating interactions that would typically happen in offices.

  • Augment teams' capabilities and fill in the gaps. When employees no longer have colleagues sitting next to them to ask for suggestions or to learn from, (artificial intelligence) AI can become the solution to augment teams' skills and their inner collaboration." 

"We have long believed in the power of AI to augment every aspect of what we do," Englebienne said. "At Globant, we're building what we call 'AI-assisted Serendipity' as a way to help us connect while in a distributed environment."

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