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As we slowly begin to see the other side of COVID-19, many businesses will be considering making the move back to the office.

Clearly this has a whole host of implications – from maintaining social distancing measures to adjusting to the return to coworking – but what will this migration mean specifically to employee productivity?

WeAreTechWomen spoke to five technology experts to get their opinions on what issues they predict arising in the future ‘new normal’, and what solutions businesses might consider putting in place in order to combat them.

A new definition of ‘productivity’

Agata NowakowskaAgata Nowakowska, Area Vice President at Skillsoft, explains how World Productivity Day has taken on a new significance, as many of us are working out how we maintain productivity and manage our time effectively while managing the many challenges of working remotely:

“The key to time management as a remote worker is balancing the hours you are working with ‘no work’ hours. Without a physical office location or the mental separation of the commute, the boundaries can quickly blur. It can be easy to let work intrude on sleep, relaxation and family time. Of course, deadlines must be met – but so too must personal needs and obligations.

“You need to work with your team to set priorities and expectations and tools to help you structure your working day. This includes:

  • Establishing your own peak performance times – most people have periods of high and low activity during the day, which depend on things like personal energy levels and family commitments

  • Scheduling breaks – studies suggest breaks help regulate the levels of dopamine, which plays a role in energy and motivation

  • Ensuring your schedule is adaptable – flexibility is key to working remotely. There will always be unexpected events, deadlines and changing priorities

“Remote working can be challenging – taking the time to review best practice and learn new ways of working effectively will pay dividends in terms of performance, productivity and your own mental health.”

Getting ‘re-accustomed’ to the ‘new normal’

Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager UK & I at Ergotron, predicts that it may be more difficult than we think to get re-accustomed to the office environment:

“What it means to work productively has changed significantly in recent months. The forced en-masse shift to homeworking has affected organisations and their employees enormously. For many, growing accustomed to this ‘new normal’ has required a lengthy ‘breaking-in’ process – indeed, some workers may still not feel acclimatised. The uprooting from one working environment to another will undoubtedly have inflicted some kind of effect on productivity levels – with distractions varying from children to homeschool to laundry to tackle.

“But as the workforce begins to migrate back to traditional workspaces, there will be a whole host of other distractions. For people who have become used to working in their own space, perhaps in silence, returning to a busy office environment will surely be quite a shock to the system. It will be more important than ever, therefore, for facilities managers to channel their focus into utilising the space and equipment in the office to create a resimercial workplace. Ergonomic furniture, such as sit-stand desks that provide the flexibility of changing positions throughout the day, allow employees to maintain movement whilst working, giving the body and mind a form of active recovery. Working as comfortably as possible, even while tackling the added challenge of returning to the workplace of old, is the first, clearest step to reboosting productivity levels among employees and organisations as a whole.”

Using the right tech

Tom CottonTom Cotton, Agile Workspace Technical Director at Six Degrees, looks into how investing in unified communications technology can help bring teams together even while working apart:

“The move to a new hybrid working model that combines remote and office-based working will be driven by a number of factors, not least people becoming accustomed to the lack of commuting and seeing more of their family. Many will not want to transition back to their old ways of working any time soon.

“Microsoft Teams usage has increased massively over the past few months. However, although Microsoft Teams has all the communication and collaboration functionality an organisation could ever want, it’s not enough for IT teams to simply deploy the software and leave their people to it.

“In order to maximise your Teams investment and ensure optimal productivity throughout your organisation, you should work to embed the software as part of your working culture. A carefully planned integration and ongoing user training for your Teams deployment are essential to successfully embedding the software as a key pillar of your new hybrid working model.”

The evolution of the contact centre

Martin TaylorThere has always been a strong focus on employee productivity in the contact centre industry, which employs more than four per cent of the UK working population. Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru explains:

“Traditional contact centres, with their surveillance-like atmospheres and restrictive breaks, could be described as the ‘mills of the modern age’. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has changed the industry significantly. The necessity for strict social distancing measures and fewer people in the same space makes the traditional contact centre a risky place to be and it is unlikely the ‘sheds’ of old will see widespread use ever again.

“In the contact centre industry, we won’t see a return to the ‘new normal’ – instead, the industry as a whole will evolve. We are already seeing the vast majority of contact centres going through this right now, by implementing remote working frameworks. How this has affected the productivity levels of employees will, of course, vary from individual to individual and contact centre operators need to be mindful of how their agents are managing this transition. Many employees may be worried about trying to work hours when they need to be keeping an eye on children, others may be concerned about receiving the same level of support at home as they would in the office.

“Investing in a cloud-based Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) solution would provide continuous communication and monitoring between call agent and supervisor. Screen recording, for example, enables both supervisors to keep an eye on their agents in real-time, and agents to feel supported in their work. This kills two birds with one stone, as supervisors can be safe in the knowledge the same excellent standards of customer experience are being delivered, and call agents can be freed from any concerns that they don’t have the proper support to work as effectively at home as they would do in a contact centre environment. Ultimately, for an industry typically averse to change, it has never been clearer that increased employee productivity starts with effective communication.”

Focus on results over time

Brooke CandeloreSometimes it is more worthwhile to think about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) over how much time has been spent on a task, as Brooke Candelore, Product Manager at BrightGauge Software, a ConnectWise solution, questions:

“How many of us start our working day with a clear list of tasks that need to get done, only to find ourselves getting bogged down in a fire fight before we’ve had our first cup of coffee? And who wouldn’t say ‘yes please’ to significant periods of time to do Deep Work, and really focus on a demanding task without the constant pinging of messages? I think we’d all answer yes to both of those questions.

“This is where KPIs and metrics come into their own. It’s proven that whatever you track will improve. Improvement will come because KPIs drive action and provide clarity. A common question I’m asked is, ‘What metrics should I be tracking on a regular basis?’ There is no simple answer as it depends on a number of factors including what is most important to your bottom line, and what type of data is going to move the needle for your business.

“Events like World Productivity Day serve as a good reminder of the value of KPIs and underline that everyone within an organisation should have a number that they are responsible for. An accountable metric drives action. It should also be regularly measured and if it’s possible to do that in the broader context of the business’ KPIs as a whole, all the better. Data dashboards are a great way to do this. Not only will this show improvement, it will also deliver the clarity that helps business owners sleep better at night. And who wouldn’t say yes to a good night’s sleep?”

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