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Sustainable Productivity: How to Engineer Long-Term Success in a Remote By Design World

Jitin Agarwal

VP, Enterprise Products, EPAM
Blog
  • Remote By Design

I’m old enough to remember when lockdown first clamped down on our lives: The week of March 16, 2020. It’s now the week of May 18. That’s two months of remote living! Has it been a productive time for you?

Our Remote By Design™ posts began in March by getting remotely serious about short-term productivity. We then checked in, week after week, to detail how our priorities and focus had shifted and changed. Now, we're at the next order of magnitude. The MacGyverisms of operating remotely the first six-to-eight weeks are over. 

The time has come to take a new perspective and ask: “What is that next normal for sustainable productivity?” This is both a question and an opportunity. Asking and answering it thoughtfully will help you design a work life that, in the long run, will make sense for you and your company. 

If the Office is Canceled, Where Do You Hold #TheOfficeIsCanceledParty?

Organizations are seriously reassessing their infrastructure—their offices, facilities and locations. Nationwide Insurance, for instance, has gone remote, and the same is happening with Google and other big tech companies. Many companies are allowing employees to work remotely through the end of the year, and maybe indefinitely if they want to.

These pandemic-driven market events are encouraging people to reassess where they can live and be sustainably productive. For example, some people would like to leave high cost centers like San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago Seattle, Austin and LA to move to geographies that will provide more affordable suburban or exurban lifestyles. They were previously unable to do so because proximity to work was absolutely essential. As a result of this shift, urban flight, which was a trend prior to COVID-19, has dramatically accelerated. In the next normal, proximity will be passé. We’re likely to see a shift toward different geographical locations, geographies of choice.

Sustainable productivity will require giving workers more say in determining where and how they work could likely make them, over the long term, happier and more productive. Take a moment and consider how your organization can adapt to take advantage of this emerging trend to help win the talent war

Building a Sustainable Workday

The notion of eight, 10 or even 12 hours at your home “desk” seems unrealistic, and perhaps downright unhealthy or impossible (particularly if said desk is a located in an under-lit basement laundry room or in the middle of the kitchen amid daily family lockdown chaos).

If remote work becomes a permanent way of life, you'll need to be intentional about structuring your work and leisure time. In the next normal for sustainable productivity, you’ll have to build habitual break points and rituals throughout your days, and your weeks, to create a clear and lasting balance between doing work and living your life. The reason for this is not just because you’ll need some rest during the day, it’s because your body needs periodic breaks, in order to stay at peak productivity

Ask yourself: What does a sustainable, long-term work-life balance look like? What might it mean? Spend 10 minutes imaging what your ideal future state might be. The answers will be different for different people in different jobs in different locations, but the question certainly needs to be asked and answered.

The good part is, after two months or more of lockdown, you’ve already had time to find what does and doesn’t work, and to keep the best—and toss the worst—of your solutions. It’s worth jotting these down, identifying the winners and then formalizing them by putting them as recurring items on your calendar as you pivot towards your version of sustainable productivity. 

Making Your Numbers

Before the pandemic, your physical presence in the office was a baseline indicator of productivity. Just by being there, talking to colleagues and your management, you demonstrated your productivity daily. You certainly built on top of that physical presence, with other factors and contributions, to show your value to the organization. But to achieve sustainable productivity in the next normal, this model will no longer work.

You'll have to reassess the metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) that demonstrate productivity in your organization. To establish these measurement criteria properly, you must engage in proactive discussions with key decision-makers, so the assessment of your productivity reflects the actual value you're providing your organization. But establishing the criteria that you’ll be measured by is only the first half of the battle. You’ll then also have to engage in a well-thought-out approach to demonstrating the value of your output via regular status reports and updates.

Ask yourself: What will your metrics mean in a remote world? What is the best way to measure sustainable productivity for you over the long haul? What should your benchmarks be? What are the most important KPIs? Has remote work changed the nature of what you do—and are capable of doing? If so, then your metrics for success should be changed as well. 

Moving forward, you may want guidance on establishing metrics or a way to demonstrate your success against them, and it just so happens that our TelescopeAI™ platform has an effective way to capture and report such metrics.

The essential point: Remote work has given you the chance to redefine the metrics of successful and sustainable productivity for yourself. Take it!

There Are Many Ways to Raise Your Hand

Sustainably productive professionals take responsibility for their visibility. They do this by making themselves seen and heard from a distance. Qualitative visibility is very important here, the way being on site was an important productivity metric before the pandemic locked us down.

Successful people are self-conscious about providing qualitative demonstrations of productivity. They speak up in meetings, freely and regularly use enterprise collaboration tools, and turn on both the camera and their charm, even if they’re sporting lockdown-length hair.

It may be tough for, say, introverts to lead group discussions—but perhaps that’s when one can strive to become proactive on social media, Zoom, Teams or other collaboration platforms.  Additional ways individuals can virtually raise their hand: Take on assignments and activities outside their normal areas of ownership or focus during the COVID-19 era. There are likely to be more than a few new areas of focus and urgent needs in the organization. Step forward and volunteer. Or, if you’re feeling bold, suggest to your management a new initiative in your area of expertise, which will benefit the organization not only survive but thrive in these pandemic times.

The point is: Your need to make your presence felt, regularly. Raise your hand, repeatedly, so that when your company assesses you, they'll recall you as one of these people who, during the COVID-19 era, stepped up and stood out.

Go Long

The span of the next normal for sustainable productivity is not days, weeks or months. It’s likely quarters, perhaps even years. We may very well be looking at a long-term pivot in the marketplace, where some percentage of employees never put in more than a token appearance at the office, or only attend specific events or important quarterly or annual conferences.  

When planning your approach to the next normal for sustainable productivity, think 12, 24 or even 36 months out. Why? Because that’s the way companies are thinking. As noted earlier, some companies are permanently shifting their offices and infrastructure. They’re not going to do this for days, weeks or months—this is a multi-year commitment. That investment isn’t easily made and won’t be quickly abandoned. Companies are going long with remote work, and employees must respond by thinking and acting in a longitudinal way.

This is a long-term shift: What does that mean for you? How are you going to be able to do this, not for weeks, days, months but for years? Have you developed a long-term mindset? If not, now’s the time to do so.

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