In these times of pandemic when most employees work remotely (mainly from home), employers and managers are rightly concerned with the productivity of their remote workers. Working from home presents a lot of challenges and distractions that could potentially greatly affect a worker’s productivity. Accordingly, it is important for the employer, manager, and/or team leader to make plans to ensure that the remote employees stay focused on and dedicated to doing their job to the best of their ability. This may challenge the manager to revise his or her style of management, but as the saying goes, different times call for different measures. So in that vein, we offer you six productivity tips to help your firm thrive remotely:

Set Specific Goals
Each and every employee -- especially remote ones -- needs to know what is expected from him or her. The remote employee needs specific instructions from the manager or team leader as to what the goal of the project or task is all about, what the employee is supposed to do, the timelines for accomplishing various tasks, and the specific goals to be achieved, both from the company’s perspective as well as the individual employee’s role. By delineating both the overall goal and the remote employee’s part in it, the employee knows what is expected of him or her and why. This way the employee is not left to guess what a project or task is, why it is important that it be done and in a timely manner, and exactly what is expected of the employee. Otherwise, the employee may go off on an unrelated tangent that turns out to be an irrelevant waste of time.

Make Time for Chats
In the traditional office setting where there is face-to-face communication, employees talk among themselves and their managers not only about business-related topics, but outside interests as well, such as how the kids are doing, last night’s baseball game, the latest gossip, and other “water cooler” subjects. This fosters amity and collegiality among the workers. Studies show that isolation, whether it be in the traditional pre-pandemic office setting or in the pandemic era of working remotely, can reduce an employee’s productivity by 20 percent or more. Hence it is important that managers foster an environment that, in addition to discussing business, employees are encouraged to spend some time talking about their lives and interests outside of work.

Offer Frequent Feedback
When a remote employee has done a good job, or is working up to his or her potential, the employee likes to be recognized for it promptly. Don’t wait until the employee’s next quarterly review to acknowledge his or her good work a couple of months ago. No, let the employee know soon after his or her stellar performance how well the employee performed and how proud you are of the work he or she did. Try to send each employee some positive feedback at least once a week if you can. Your employees will appreciate the instant gratification much more than they will if their good performance is not acknowledged for several months or longer, and will be motivated to keep up the good work.

Offer Incentives
Retail businesses have long known of the value of giving incentives to employees if they, for example, sell X number of cars in the month, or sell a certain piece of merchandise or exceed their projected sales figures for the day, week, or month. Law firms can also motivate employees to work harder by offering incentives for such things as meeting their billable hours projection for the month or settling a designated number of cases within a certain time frame. Just as a child is enticed to have his mother buy a certain brand of cereal because of the toy or other prize that comes with it, an employee is often motivated to work harder to win the incentive.

What and how big that incentive is often depends on the size of the firm. A four-attorney firm may offer a dinner at a fancy restaurant for the employee and a guest, while a 200-attorney may offer something significantly larger, like a bonus of a couple of thousand dollars. And when planning incentives, don’t forget the support staff. Something like a couple of days off with pay or a gift certificate to a popular store for a job well done goes a long way in telling your paralegal or legal secretary that he or she is an integral part of the time, is very much appreciated, and deserves to be recognized for the fine work he or she does.

Set Work-Life Boundaries
Work is one of the biggest stressors in a person’s life, and quite often the biggest stressor. It is important that the employer or manager recognize this and help the remote employee to balance the stressors of work with life away from the job. The employer and manager should respect this dichotomy and not contact the remote employee outside of normal business hours, except in cases of emergency. This means no late-at-night or weekend emails or text messages. If an employee does not get a balance between work and non-work time, the stress may inhibit his or her productivity and competence, and even turn into a psychiatric or psychological problem, such as severe anxiety or depression which could seriously interfere with his or her ability to do the job or even render him or her incapable of working at all.

Step Back and Focus on the Outcome
The one thing workers value more than the monetary benefits of the job is personal autonomy, the right to be left alone to do the job to the best of their ability, without someone looking over their shoulder all the time and scrutinizing their work. While unsupervised work and personal autonomy may be underrated by managers in a nine-to-five office setting, it is a fact of life with remote workers. The manager has less direct control over a remote worker’s performance, and rather than try to take a hands-on approach to the management of remote workers, the manager may be well served to set the goals and deadlines for a project to be accomplished, then take a step back, trust the remote workers to do a competent and conscientious job, and focus on the results.


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