Amidst WFH and socially-distanced business operations, we need to find new ways to empower employees to stay happily productive.

Ensuring employee productivity can be a challenge. It requires focusing on keeping things efficient, stripping out non-essentials and finding ways to streamline processes.

In Asia, productivity at work has often been equated to one element—time. This holds true with Asians notoriously being known for working the longest hours. According to a workplace survey of the Asia-Pacific region (APAC) last year, it was revealed that an average of 67.5 days were lost to absenteeism and presenteeism (present at work but too ill or distracted to perform effectively) per employee in 2019.

At a time of the COVID-19 pandemic where businesses and people are figuring out new ways of working, last week’s World Productivity Day was a reminder to take a step back, re-look how we manage productivity, and seek ways to establish a “win-win” relationship in which employees make the most of their days and businesses improve their bottom line.

Emerging productivity trends

Earlier this year, Microsoft released its first Work Trend Index that explored how people are using our products to connect as a team when they need to work apart and use several tools to remain productive.

The report revealed that the number of people turning on the video function in e-meetings had doubled from before Work-From-Home had become mainstream. In fact, total video calls in Microsoft Teams (‘Teams’ in short) grew by over 1,000% in March 2020. This differed across the region with people in Australia using video in meetings 57% of the time while people in India used video in 22% of meetings, Singapore 26% and Japan 39%.

There was also a considerable increase in Teams usage on mobile devices such as phones or tablets, demonstrating the flexible work arrangements that were taking root. From early February to 31 March 2020 the number of weekly Teams mobile users grew more than 300%.

Granted, each person achieves productivity differently. The larks of the world are more productive in the morning, while night owls are better-focused and creative in the evening.

In March 2020, the average time between a person’s first and last use of Teams each day had increased by over one hour. This data does not necessarily mean people were working more hours per day: rather, they were breaking up the day in a way that works for their personal productivity or makes space for obligations outside of work.

Boosting productivity during the pandemic

In the current pandemic where everything we have known and grown accustomed to is now in a state of flux, businesses need to find ways to continue empowering employees to stay productive and happy:

  1. Enable flexible working
    Employees may want the ability to work more flexibly to fit work commitments around their home life. Employers must trust their employees to get work done and know that this flexibility and trust can lead to improved productivity. Companies that did not have flexible working policies pre-COVID should think hard about its implementation as remote-working becomes a part of working life.

    Depending on the nature of the business, companies need to closely examine their existing operating models and identify how they can best enable flexible and remote-working arrangements, alongside office layout revamps and modernized customer engagement practices.
  2. Understand work styles
    Employees like to work in a vast range of ways, and they need the right tools to enable them to do their best. Understanding differences in work styles, personality types, skillsets and generations is vital to bringing out the best in people.

    Some do better in groups, while others thrive in isolation—some may prefer traditional forms of communication such as email, while others can unlock new ideas with the help of more fluid collaborative tools. Depending on one’s job function, employees need to be provided the right tools and training in order to succeed in a hybrid working world.
  3. Use universal tools
    It is important to ensure members of the team do not get cut off by technology. For those who are used to traditional ways of working, any new technology must be easy to access, or else some people will be at risk of being left behind. Employees need to be empowered by technology—from cloud-enabled solutions and mobile apps to integrative collaboration hubs—allowing them to communicate and collaborate in the way that works best for them.
  4. Maintain regular human interaction
    The work culture in Asia Pacific tends to lean towards in-person connections. Video calls, therefore, play a very critical role here in replicating real life conversations, helping employees feel more connected with one another (if that falls within their preferred style of working). It is important to remember that these interactions should not be limited to just work-related topics, but should instead encompass a broad spectrum of free-flowing social interactions, informal get-togethers and attending soft and hard skills trainings, just as one would experience in real life.
  5. Encourage time off
    While international travel restrictions are still in place, it is important to encourage employees to continue taking personal time off to reboot and recharge. Whether traveling to a different city, couch-traveling from home or creating their own homestyle retreat, it is critical for employees to pause from work during this pandemic.

    Businesses should also implement work-life best practices that prevent fatigue during workdays—such as encouraging regular breaks during the day, shortened meeting times and even wardrobe changes that facilitate the transition from work life to home life.

While maximizing employee productivity will always remain a constant goal, ensuring employees have flexibility of work, the right tools for a successful workday and time away from work will lead to even better outcomes for businesses and people.