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Beyond Fear: The Importance of Positive Productivity During the Pandemic

Tracing the Evolution of Productivity in a Remote By Design World

Beyond Fear: The Importance of Positive Productivity During the Pandemic

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Laszlo Bock, former head of HR at Google, said that the frantic productivity during the early stages of the pandemic was “people being terrified of losing their jobs, and that fear-driven productivity is not sustainable.”

This article really resonated. As noted in a March post, fear drove many, early on, to demonstrate their productivity from a digital distance.

Organizations, too, were driven by fear—they worried about losing the productivity that they’d come to expect and count on for continued operations and market success.

There was fear in the marketplace with businesses closing driven by uncertainty around when, or even if, they’d reopen. There was fear in the stock markets, which saw a massive collapse in March and the economy as a whole suffered massive losses, losses we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. There was fear from an unknown and invisible existential threat for everyone in the world at large.

In short: There was a tremendous amount of fear felt across the board, a concept known as FUD or Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. One of our posts offered advice and guidance, suggesting Remote By Design™ solutions for how to fight FUD by actively engaging. 

Well, a few months in and, despite all that fear, productivity levels didn’t drop off. Instead, productivity actually increased—substantially, in some cases.

One might almost describe the reaction by individuals to ramp up their own personal productivity as being a “defensive response” to productivity. No one wanted to be tagged as the unproductive person in their organization. With employment rates falling and global job insecurity rising, it was completely understandable that people reacted defensively. In fact, with the dramatic rise in productivity, which continues to outpace all prior levels of productivity increases, it might be resulting in too much productivity.

Organizations are now concerned that this level of enhanced productivity is unhealthy and may be quite unsustainable and unhealthy for an extend period. And make no mistake about it, we are going into extra innings with the pandemic. Google and other technology companies have already indicated that employees can work remotely until July of 2021, and some are permanently remote. That’s a long time to be chugging along at this extremely elevated pace.

Leading organizations have shifted their focus to ensure the right levels of productivity. One might also call this “positive” productivity.

Positive productivity is characterized by both long-haul sustainability and the motivation that drives it. Someone who is positively productive is more interested in creating value than in preserving the old ways of doing things (in one’s job, the company’s culture, etc.)  Positively productive employees also understand that they need to create boundaries to separate work from their personal lives. They will actively find a way to work with their organization to cement a work-life balance in their career—and not just leave it up to chance.

Positive productivity may also be characterized by a pandemic-driven shift in the individual to focus on the higher-level problems faced by the organization. As their company works through a pivot to meet shifting market needs, the adaptive individual proactively pivots alongside the organization to drive success. This requires perspective and a willingness to stand up and make a strong business case for one’s ideas—and be prepared to defend them. Passivity has no role here.

Finally, it’s important for an organization to continuously communicate with employees regarding their own jobs. Leaders need to remind employees of their value, regularly, and to be honest and open if, say, layoffs are necessary. Diffusing fear through communication is essential.

Note: It’s hard to provide a specific or concrete guide toward creating positive productivity as each organization’s situation is unique. Instead, positive productivity spontaneously arises from the intentional actions of those businesses looking to provide positive productivity to their enterprise. Understanding that it’s an organization’s responsibility—leadership’s number-one job—to make it happen is probably the best guide one can provide.

So now organizations are focused on how to support individuals in their search for positive productivity. One of the ways that an organization can support this kind of productivity, as noted in a previous post and an upcoming podcast, is to encourage employees to upskill and cross-skill themselves. By differently enabling and equipping themselves to operate in the next normal, employees not only find alternative, new and exciting ways to contribute—they also develop the habit of continuous self-education. This leads to new, unexpected levels of positive productivity.

Positive productivity can be encouraged by paving the way for individuals to adopt new ways of working in the remote world we’re now living and operating in—whether the business decides to pursue different development methodologies, like Agile, or innovate new solutions or developing new product lines, services or capabilities to take to the market. Any approach that enables employees to channel their productivity toward positive outputs for the organization is to be encouraged and supported.

Organizations won’t get positive productivity right in one go. Instead, it will require an iterative, trial-and-error-based approach. Leaders will need to collaborate with their talented people to identify the sources of fear-based productivity—and eradicate them over time. They need to encourage positive productivity if they want to ensure their own long-term success in the next normal.

Fear is a short-term game; you’re not required to play it, nor likely to benefit from it. Be positive.


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