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Redefining productivity: The evolution of our working hours

Sarah Manning, senior HR director, Zendesk 

Future generations will one day look back on 2020 as a year of significant change. Back in March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the outbreak of COVID-19 as a  ‘pandemic’, a moment in time that we can now clearly see has impacted our ways of working, both short- and long-term. It has forced many of us to work remotely, embrace video calling and rethink our schedules; and has initiated a conversation around what our ongoing working lives can look like.

As we approach World Productivity Day (20th June), search the term ‘productivity at work’ and you’ll likely see your results filled with phrases including ‘four-day working week’, ‘flexible working’ and ‘technology and automation’. Whilst it’s pretty exciting to think about the prospect of a permanent three-day weekend, it’s important not to get caught up in the ‘ifs and buts’, and instead, focus on what the new definition of a productive day ‘at the office’ is going to look like in the future.

Flexible hours, greater productivity

9-5 office hours are no longer going to be considered peak productivity times. This is because working remotely has required businesses to instil a great deal of flexibility for employees, and this isn’t something that can simply be taken away when the office doors reopen. In fact, according to Gartner, 41% of employees are planning to continue working remotely in the post-pandemic world, making it clear that business leaders need to start considering how they adjust to the ongoing reality of dispersed teams.

Flexible hours have become the norm. Many parents are working with extended lunch breaks to allow time to home school their children before logging back on in the early evening. Others have been taking more time in the middle of the day for exercise. Leaders have been instrumental in initiating this new way of working. Leading with empathy and increased transparency has given employees the reassurance that it is ok for them to follow suit.

Remember though, flexibility isn’t just about allowing employees to flex their hours. It’s about adapting to new levels of productivity, supporting teams in learning to prioritise deadlines and in making challenging decisions about what work needs to come first. Getting the communication and processes right can lead to an increase in overall productivity, with more than 50% of business owners and staff recently surveyed in a Twitter poll stating that remote working has actually increased their productivity.

Digital ways of working are here to stay

Equipping employees with the right tools and technologies to get the job done can help to improve efficiencies in our working lives. By this, we don’t just mean collaborative instant messaging services like Slack or Zoom. Instead, we mean that businesses can redefine productivity by using internal help desks. Similar to the help desks used for external company enquiries, this provides a safe space for employees to get in touch with any concerns, whilst providing them with a forum to get their questions answered. The same can be said for peer to peer support. 

Setting up self-service centres can allow teams across the business to share knowledge on internal matters in a consistent way, exchange advice, and build up a bank of valuable and accessible content. Particularly for dispersed teams, this allows employees to resolve their problems faster, where they can’t just walk over to the HR department, or would otherwise need to book in time with their manager or team lead. Making information accessible and searchable online can be key in outperforming employee expectations, keeping staff happy and motivated, and in saving the team time. 

Ultimately, returning to work is a topic on many of our minds. For businesses looking to empower their workforce, now’s the time to evaluate the remote working changes that have worked well, and look for ways to continue to redefine what a productive workforce looks like as the office doors reopen.

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