While researchers and media platforms (ours included) love to tout the benefits of working from home, it’s becoming quite clear that working remotely during coronavirus is vastly different from a standard work-from-home setup. The pandemic continues to take a toll on the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of our workforce, with increased caretaking demands, anxiety, and loneliness and lack of work-life boundaries affecting employees in different but important ways.
More than half of women say their productivity and amount of work completed have changed since beginning to work from home during COVID-19. In a May 2020 survey by InHerSight:
25 percent of women say their productivity has increased;
31 percent say their productivity has decreased;
32 percent say they’re doing more work on average;
31 percent say they’re doing less work.
That means only 44 percent of women are as productive as they were before the pandemic, and only 37 percent are producing the same amount of work.
Job satisfaction is changing, too. Twenty-four percent of women are more satisfied, and 37 percent are less so. Only 38 percent are equally happy working from home as they were in the office.
What this tells us is that the majority of women are shifting the way they interact with work to accommodate a new and unprecedented environment. Whether that’s good or bad remains to be seen, but it’s crucial while we’re still in the early stages of a work culture shift to establish expectations, boundaries, and communication that protect employees from burnout and additional anxiety. Taking action now is a way of keeping that 37 percent of less satisfied employees from growing in number in the months to come. Low job satisfaction, we know from research at Columbia University and other institutions, contributes to increased turnover, while high job satisfaction is linked to higher productivity and better performance.
Organizational psychologist Karen Bridbord, who acts as a consultant for companies hoping to improve workplace dynamics, shared with InHerSight her tips for setting and modeling realistic work-from-home expectations for everyone on your team—the overworked, the overwhelmed, and the people who fall somewhere in between.
Emphasize the importance of deliverables
Employees who are parents or caretakers are distracted; so are employees struggling with isolation. Take that into account as you communicate needs with your team. “Billing hourly is not practical when people are distracted during work hours,” Bridbord says.
She recommends “working smarter, not harder.” Employers often follow the utilization model, which measures employee worth by hours spent working, but Bridbord says a value model, wherein employees are evaluated based on deliverables met, is more flexible and sustainable. “Punching in simply is not realistic,” she says. “Remote work becomes more efficient when managers set goals and expectations so employees know what they’re being evaluated on.”
When working from home, some employees might find it difficult to separate their home and work lives, which is why Bridbord recommends helping them to map out firm, even scheduled, times to step away from their computers. “Take breaks, and make sure you have downtime in the morning and at night,” she says.
Going for a walk or listening to a podcast can help overworked team members reset. Bridbord also says many employees might miss unwinding during their commute to and from work. Encourage them to reserve that time for self-care activities, and if you’re manager or executive, make sure you’re doing so yourself, and sharing out your activities, so your team sees what boundaries look like in action.
“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Bridbord says. “Employees look to managers to see how they should respond in crisis.” If you’re working all the time, your employees will, too.
“It’s through our relationships that we often get work done,” Bridbord says, which is why she encourages managers to schedule a consistent time for their entire team to meet to talk about something besides the pandemic.
She says fun icebreaker questions are good ways to get everyone involved in the conversation. “Get connected by asking questions we normally wouldn’t ask:‘If all these restrictions were lifted, what would be the first thing you’d do?’ or‘What is the most obnoxious thing your kid has said to you in the past 24 hours?’”
Besides relationship-building, another benefit of regular check-ins is guarding your employees’ mental health. Bridbord says, at this point, loneliness is akin to cigarette smoking. “Loneliness is detrimental to people without friends or family at home,” she says. “Work becomes their venue for getting social contact. Knowing that, it’s important to check in with how employees are doing.”
Everyone on your team is experiencing the pandemic differently, which is likely why InHerSight saw such varied results in our productivity poll. Family, money, health, personality, race, gender, and a host of other factors impact the burdens your coworkers bear in a crisis. In fact, when we look at data just from working moms, the percentage of women saying their productivity has decreased jumps from 31 percent to 59 percent.
Encourage your team to be patient with one another, especially as you navigate conflict. Bridbord says to lean on using in-person chats over email and Slack, and to “Imagine the positive intent of each other instead of the negative.”
“Understanding and mutual respect are key,” she says. We’re all in this together.
About our source
Karen Bridbord, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and consultant who combines the expertise of clinical psychology, organizational behavior, and counseling. She works on a personal level with couples and individuals as a therapist and on an organizational level to help corporations with her firm Karen Bridbord & Associates.
Survey of approximately 1,000 women in May 2020.
InHerSight is a company ratings platform for women with ratings and reviews of more than 120K companies in the United States.