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Coping With the Changes COVID-19 Created in Employees' Workday

January 14, 2021 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

The pandemic brought many challenges to businesses, disrupting supply chains and forcing changes in business operations and markets. 

Yet, where COVID-19 changed businesses the most is the employee workday. As millions of employees worldwide relocated from their offices to their houses, the way people work changed significantly, particularly when compared to the past year. 

And we're not talking about the vast changes the remote work ecosystem has brought to companies. There are scores of small changes the pandemic brought to most workers' workday and workplace routines. Here are a few.

Meeting Mayhem: How COVID Changed the Employee Workday

During the first stage of the pandemic, most companies were forced to alter their work arrangements to accommodate changing realities. This included changing the perception that work from home was a privilege for a few to a company-wide initiative. For many companies, this abrupt change presented an unpleasant surprise. For others, it was an opportunity to lock in initiatives that were already on the way.

For the average worker, the changes were felt in a few ways. In a study of 3 million people around the world, the National Bureau of Economic Research found: 

  • The number of meetings per person increased by 13%
  • The number of attendees per meeting increased by 13.5%
  • The average length of meetings decreased by 20.1% 
  • Workers spent 11.5% less time in meetings per day
  • The average length of the workday increased by 8.2% (45 minutes, approximately)

According to the data, there has been an increase in reliance on digital communication technology but yet, even though there are more meetings now, those meetings are significantly shorter.

Also, the pandemic has brought a shift in how meetings are conducted. Instead of one-to-one meetings that create information silos, companies are now having larger meetings, which increases the likelihood of critical information being absorbed by a larger number of people, enhancing productivity and inclusivity.

Related Article: 8 Ways to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging

The Upside and Downside of Flexible Work

At a glance, it seems that employees have had to adjust their work schedules to cope with new flexible work arrangements. 

"Workdays have become much more flexible now," said Rikki Kulkarni, CEO at Walnut, Calif-based Revv. "With commute time saved, employees are trying to use that time better. We encourage our employees to use that time to focus on family and loved ones or some other interest they want to pursue."

However, not everything in the garden is rosy. The changes in the employee workday have brought some negative outcomes. For example, Kulkarni highlighted the mental toll that daily isolation is taking on workers. "While we see much higher levels of productivity within our organization," he said, "we find ourselves more fatigued as work is our main focus while in isolation, and we can clearly see the mental toll employees are subjecting themselves to."

Similarly, there is the issue of trust and self-regulation that comes with remote work. A lack of direct supervision can be a godsend for some workers, whereas it can become a hurdle to productivity for others. 

The only way to circumvent this issue is by instilling the right organizational culture, said Suresh Sambandam, CEO at San Francisco-based Kissflow. "Succeeding in the post-COVID-19 ecosystem is all about culture," he said. "If you have workers whom you can trust and with the right soft and hard skills, you should be able to navigate through the crisis."

Related Article: Flexible Work Is the Future: Is Your Organization Ready?

Tips to Increase Productivity

With the surge in productivity that the new workday has brought, issues like isolation and burnout have begun to appear in the remote workplace. To counter these trends, companies need to find ways to bring some familiar in-office workplace elements into the remote workday. Here are some tips employers can use to increase productivity:

  • Clearly communicate organizational changes caused by COVID-19.
  • Ask employees to keep multiple communication channels (Slack, video calls, messaging) open throughout their workday.
  • Transition from an activity-focused model of work to an outcome-based model.
  • Reinforce freedom and autonomy by empowering teams to self-regulate their work.
  • Break teams into smaller, multidisciplinary groups.
  • Allow for spaces where employees can engage in group activities such as video games, fantasy football leagues and remote yoga sessions.

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