How To Keep Staff Working From Home Productive

Productivity Is A Key Concern When Implementing Work From Home

Implementing a work from home program is a big decision for any company. One of the key concerns is staff productivity. Will people spend some of their day watching Netflix, shopping or some other non-work activity?

What does the research say about the productivity of people working from home?

Over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity amongst employees that work from home at least part of the work week, an increase that studies have pinned at anywhere from 13% to 55%. In one influential study, a Chinese company that tested a work-from-home policy saw a 13% increase in performance over nine months, and a staggering 50% drop in employee quit rates. Executives were so pleased that they rolled out the policy to all 16,000 employees, and then saw productivity increase further, up to 22%. Other large companies have documented even greater productivity gains: Best Buy, British Telecom, Dow Chemical, JD Edwards, American Express, and Compaq, to name a few.

So what exactly is driving these gains in productivity? Researchers found that the flexibility to work from home engages workers and fosters wellbeing, both of which contribute to employee productivity. In fact, Gallup research has found that highly engaged workforces lead to 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability. Interestingly, studies have also shown that the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend most––but not all––of their time working remotely. Gallup has found the sweet spot to be 60% to 80% remote work. As a Gensler Research Institute paper states, “effectiveness outside the office brings effectiveness back to the office too.”

Despite these promising statistics, working from home may not work for every organisation, or every individual, and some researchers have concluded that the productivity of remote workers is “theoretically ambiguous.” Talent professionals say team bonding, collaboration, and work oversight are the top challenges in managing a remote workforce. Employees themselves say top challenges are lower motivation due to feeling lonely, distractions from friends and family, and the temptations of phone, TV, etc. And although myriad technologies can enable remote collaboration, employees must first understand how to use them. Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, cautions, “Often, working at home is [allowed] because workers are demanding it, but, with no training for managers or employees, companies discontinue it and say it’s not working for them.” Additionally, an employee’s physical work environment has been clearly shown to influence employee performance, and even personal characteristics can predict success in working from home: emotional stability and a high level of autonomy have been found to be top indicators. Finally, job type makes a difference: those in administrative and support roles may need more days on location to be most effective compared to professional and technical counterparts.

Monitoring versus Productivity

Because companies cannot physically see their people working, some look for ways to monitor their remote workforce as a way to ensure staff are productive. However, monitoring can only tell you so much. It also has a downside. Relying on it can lower morale, engagement and ultimately productivity.

A better solution is to look at productivity from a number of angles.

Set Expectations

Setting expectations is a simple tool that is often overlooked and missed. If people don’t know what is expected of them, there’s a good chance they won’t meet the expectations.

This means you need to clearly set the ground rules for working from home. For most organisations this is done through a Work From Home Policy. People will be asked to read and accept the policy before they commence working from home.

Some teams may be required to work specific hours so that they are available to customers, can collaborate more effectively with other team members, take calls and participate in online meetings.

In addition to a policy and basic rules like working hours, setting expectations around what needs to be achieved and by when is a key tool for ensuring productivity. We’ll look more closely at this in the Measurable Goals section.

Work From Home Environment

A person’s work environment can make a considerable difference to their productivity. Making sure team members have an appropriate work space is therefore an important part of remote worker productivity. Team members need to understand what is required and companies need to ensure they are appropriately supported.

To whatever degree possible, employees should designate a discrete part of their home just for work, ideally a whole room to serve as an office. Within that space, having an ergonomic chair, adequately sized desk and reliable internet connection will set them up for success.

Use Measurable Goals and KPIs

Measurable goals and KPIs tell people what is important and where they should spend their time and effort. This makes them one of the most important tools for productivity.

At a basic level a goal let’s a person know what needs to be achieved and by when. For example: “Implement a new hire online induction tool by the end of April”.

A KPI is a metric that can inform how well a person is performing. Staff turnover, customer renewal rate, customer satisfaction, first response time are all examples of KPIs.

Tips for setting goals for remote workers:

Give people a say in their goals to increase their engagement in those goals and acceptance of them
Help people understand how they fit within the bigger picture of the company, how they contribute
Use team goals where appropriate to increase engagement and collaboration between team members

Find out more about measurable goals:

Help People Learn New Tools

Working from home requires a new toolset. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting will be essential for those who need to meet and collaborate with others throughout their day. Messaging tools like Skype and Slack will help connect people together. Collaborative project management and task list tools are also invaluable in keeping remote teams organized and up to date.

Learning new technology can be a source of significant anxiety for many, particularly in older generations. Get IT staff involved early to help set up and train team members on these and other tools to ensure they know how to use them comfortably and effectively.

Check-In Regularly

Regular check-ins are an essential part of the team leaders toolbox. This is even more true when team members are working from home. The basic questions of “how are you going”, “do you need anything” and “are you on track” provide a number of benefits such as:

Keeping people accountable and engaged
Identifying potential issues early
Reinforcing the bigger picture

Check-in discussions should also continue to address team members’ progress in professional development. Opportunities to learn and grow will help engagement and productivity.

Our articles on check-ins and feedback are a rich source of information:

Wellness Survey and Activities

Employees that struggle with working from home often report feeling isolated, lonely, and depressed. Combat this by conducting wellness surveys to identify any issues in your remote workforce that may need to be addressed.

Combine wellness surveys with wellness activities to build team cohesion and help maintain mental health. Activities such as team yoga classes will be a fun activity they can do with other people while also helping to maintain a level of fitness.

Team Engagement

Keeping your team engaged takes on even more importance when members are working from home. Developing relationships with coworkers can be extra-challenging when you aren’t sharing a physical space with them, but those relationships are essential to employee engagement and, therefore, productivity. Providing the team with tools they can use to connect with and recognise others and post about events will help them understand others in the team and build relationships.

All-In-One HR Tool To Keep Staff Working From Home Productive


Cognology’s online people management system includes all of the tools you need to keep your remote workforce productive.

  • Agile Check-In Reminders, Tracking and Forms
  • Goal Library and Management
  • Rapid Learning
  • Team Engagement
  • Wellness Surveys

They connect easily with your internal systems and can be setup quickly. See our full range of options.