“We didn’t plan for this, but we can use this time to test whether remote workers are as productive as they were when they were in the office.” It seems like a plausible idea. We likely have metrics to measure pre- and post-remote working activities, so it seems like we should be able to accurately identify whether individuals (and teams) are just as productive when working virtually. But there’s a problem with this idea. Under normal circumstances, a comparison could be drawn between the two work environments and the impact on performance. However, nothing about this is normal.
Many workers had to make a sudden, unexpected shift to remote working, so the learning curve was steep during the transition. They may not have had all the equipment, system access, or documents they were accustomed to in the office. Others found themselves remote working while juggling childcare and homeschool activities. Parents were suddenly working their schedules around their children’s daily online class meetings. Others were feeding infants during conference calls. Some workers struggled emotionally as wages/hours were cut and spouses were laid off.
Nothing about this is normal.
Things may seem to take longer than they did before. We take more days to make decisions and find ourselves putting off complex tasks longer than we would have before. Unfortunately, this may cause business leaders to falsely conclude that remote workers are less engaged or productive than they once were. What we’re seeing today is not procrastination or disengagement; it’s anxiety.
Workers are experiencing extreme fatigue as they juggle extraordinary stress from their work and home lives as a result of the pandemic. While processing emotionally distressing information daily, they’re trying to plan for how to care for their family in the meantime. Their brains are on overload and never able to rest or recover. Cognitive resources are so depleted that they struggle to complete more complex tasks, no matter how urgent they are.
So, instead of concluding that your team has an issue with procrastination as a result of not working on-site, take time to explore the reason behind delayed responses and progress. Employees who fear for their job stability may be afraid to ask for help even when they’re experiencing fatigue or burnout. Proactively and openly discussing the impact the pandemic has had on them could be a great way to open an honest conversation. Encourage your team to take breaks and take care of their mental health. Be a role model in that regard and share tips about what you do to give your brain a rest. Finally, establish a no-judgment policy for any team member that reaches out for help getting focused. While priorities may seem obvious to you, the cloud of mental exhaustion may prevent them from seeing things the same way.