Last year, Tap’d produced a report called “The Productivity Challenge” where we researched the people-orientated areas that organisations could focus on to help their colleagues be motivated and productive at work. Obviously, for many, the world of work has changed considerably over the past year. Now we are deep into 2020 and the effects of the pandemic, research is starting to emerge that looks at productivity and the Covid workplace. This blog looks at a few key articles in this emerging research, extracts the interesting points and compares it back to our 2019 report, in an attempt to help CEOs and HR leaders understand how to maintain productivity during these changeable times.

To begin with, an interesting initial article by Ralph et al (2020) focused on software developers from across the world, surveying over 2000 participants. They explored the effect of sudden work changes on productivity and wellbeing. They found that, not surprisingly, the pandemic has had a negative effect on both wellbeing and productivity but importantly that the two areas of productivity and wellbeing were closely related. This supports the work many organisations have initiated this year to focus on the wellbeing and resilience of their people. It can be argued therefore that this initial work has supported organisations in maintaining their productivity levels and therefore is a “value-added” activity (helping to justify continuing budgets?). The article concluded that the fear of the pandemic and home ergonomics were correlated to lower wellbeing and productivity and that the demographic groups of women, parents and disabled workers may be disproportionately affected by recent work changes.

Russo et al (2020) recently completed complimentary research looking at the predictors of wellbeing and productivity due to governmental restrictions on workplaces. Interestingly, in the short time since the outbreak, they have managed to complete a longitudinal study (i.e. collecting initial data and then going back some time later to get a comparison). What Russo et al found was that the better the quality of social contact that an employee had, the improved level of wellbeing they felt, whereas feelings of stress reduced wellbeing. Furthermore, it was found that boredom and distractions were related to lower productivity, implying that the activities of giving a sense of purpose and explicitly agreeing goals from line managers would benefit employees and the organisation jointly. The longitudinal part of the study showed that productivity was less strongly connected to other variables at the subsequent research compared to the initial data, meaning that the participants adapted to their situation and productivity improved. If organisations can therefore support their people in understanding how to adapt to change quickly then productivity most likely will be higher as a result.

Building on Ralph et al’s conclusion regarding women and parents being affected more than other groups, Feng & Savani (2020) conducted a study of gender differences on perceived productivity and job satisfaction. They focused on US couples where both parents worked and had been forced to remote-work since the start of the pandemic. They asked that the men and women reported their own feelings of productivity and job satisfaction both before and after lockdown. There were no significant differences in perceptions prior to lockdown, but after lockdown women reported lower levels of perceived productivity and job satisfaction. This reinforced their hypothesis that women were expected to devote more time to housework and childcare than men during lockdown. The implications for organisations here include empathising that, and reacting to, working mothers who may have a higher level of competing demands on their time compared to male counterparts and also the mental health affects that this would produce, possibly further impacting on their work performance, perceived or not. Helping line managers spot early warning signs may be beneficial here.

Additional recent articles without field studies have reported on leadership competencies as a driver of productivity. NB. It is most likely too early to detect positive organisational outcomes from leadership behaviours in the first few months of this pandemic. Dirani et al (2020) highlighted five leadership skills related to productivity, needed for times of crisis: 1) sensemaker; 2) technology enabler; 3) emotional stability & employee wellbeing; 4) innovative communication and 5) maintaining the financial health of the organisation. Gorlick (2020) also highlighted that a loss of innovation and social company from the lockdown could be counteracted by managers through regular check-ins and ensuring that the work and family time of their people remained separate. More about leadership traits can be found in our recent report on Dispersed Team Leadership.

To return to our 2019 report, The Productivity Challenge, it can be seen that findings from initial research into the effects of the pandemic on productivity could align to the six areas we highlighted last year:

1)  Personal Growth – Skills and Career Path:

Building skills in resilience through understanding how to adapt to change and reframe challenges will improve mental health, wellbeing and therefore productivity.

2)  Belonging – An Inclusive Culture:

Ensuring the quality of communication and social support within teams will raise the prospect of inclusion of all, especially those who are struggling with their mental health from challenges and distractions that come with remote working from home.

3)  Clarity – Leaders and Leadership:

Equipping leaders with the skills to effectively communicate the purpose and goals to the team, listen to and identify the emotions of each team member.

4)  Mindset – Readiness for Change:

Helping all employees understand the emotional process of change and, linking with resilience, learn the tools to help them adapt and accept change in the current fluid working environment.

5)  Focus on Results – Performance and Incentives:

Being clear about their role and impact each team member has, to overcome the boredom from loneliness, focusing on future activities to build intrinsic motivation, drive and optimism.

6)  Strategic Awareness – Competitive Advantage:

Overtly supporting and focusing employees on the culture, artifacts and rituals that make your organisation the great place to work, as a method to raise wellbeing and using this positive energy to create great customer experiences as a competitive advantage.

This contemporary research has allowed us, as HR leaders, to start putting proof behind the people activities we have already initiated within our organisations over recent months. It also gives us warning signs that some groups may struggle more than others during this pandemic and we need to adapt to their needs. As Ralph et al put it: “different people need different kinds of support”. I hope you found this review useful. Please contact us at Tap’d if you would like to discuss any of the points raised.

Key references:

Dirani, K. M., et al (2020) Leadership competencies and the essential role of human resource development in times of crisis: a response to Covid-19 pandemic, Human Resource Development International, 23:4, 380 – 394, DOI: 10.1080/13678868.2020.1780078

Feng, Z., & Savani, K. (2020). Covid-19 created a gender gap in perceived work productivity and job satisfaction: implications for dual-career parents working from home. Gender in Management: An International Journal.

Gorlick, A. D. A. M. (2020). The productivity pitfalls of working from home in the age of COVID-19. Stanford News. March, 30, 2020.

Ralph, P., et al. (2020). Pandemic Programming: How COVID-19 affects software developers and how their organizations can help. arXiv preprint arXiv:2005.01127.

Russo, D., Hanel, P. H., Altnickel, S., & van Berkel, N. (2020). Predictors of Well-being and Productivity among Software Professionals during the COVID-19 Pandemic – A Longitudinal Study. arXiv preprint arXiv:2007.12580.