Redefining productivity in a pandemic

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 Asia notoriously being known for working the longest hours. According to last year’s AIA Vitality Healthiest Workplace survey in Asia-Pacific, it was revealed that an average of 67.5 days were lost to absence and presenteeism (present at work but too ill or distracted to perform effectively) per employee in 2019.

At a time of COVID-19 where businesses and people are figuring out new ways of working, this year’s World Productivity Day presents an opportunity to take a step back, re-look how we manage productivity and seek ways to establish a “win-win” relationship, where 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 learning to connect as a team when they need to work apart and use several tools to remain productive.   

The quest for human interaction was strong. The report revealed that the number of people turning on video in Microsoft Teams meetings had doubled from before working from home became mainstream. In fact, total video calls in Teams grew by over 1,000 percent in March 2020. This differed across the region with people in Australia using video in meetings 57 percent of the time while people in India used video in 22 percent of meetings, Singapore 26 percent and Japan 39 percent.  

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

Each person, however, achieves productivity differently. The larks of the world are more productive in the morning, while night owls are better focused and unleash their creativity in the evening. In the month of March 2020, the average time between a person’s first and last use of Microsoft Teams each day increased by over one hour. This data does not necessarily mean people were working more hours per day, rather that they are breaking up the day in a way that works for their personal productivity or makes space for obligations outside of work.

Boosting productivity during COVID-19

In the world of COVID-19, where everything we have known and grown accustomed to is thrown into 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 way of life. Depending on the nature of one’s 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, setting them up for success 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, else people are at risk of being left behind. Employees need to be empowered by technology – from cloud-enabled solutions and mobile apps to integrative collaboration hubs such as Microsoft Teams – 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. It is important to remember that these interactions should not be limited to just work-related topics, but 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.