If you’ve had difficulty getting as much work done in the first half of 2020 as you did in 2019, it’s hardly surprising. It’s been a difficult year, to say the least. The Western world feels more divided than it’s been in decades, international tensions seem forever on the verge of tipping over into full-blown warfare, and then there’s the small matter of a global pandemic taking many thousands of lives and leading to the near-total suspension of standard business practices.
Many people have been furloughed, paid some of their salaries to sit at home and wait to see if their jobs will eventually be viable again. Others have been fired outright due to their employers running out of money and needing to downsize or stop operating altogether.
But what of those who’ve kept their jobs? Well, they’ve started working from home, because remote working is the new paradigm. This has been a source of great frustration. For years, most employers have dismissed the notion of adopting remote working as standard practice because they’ve feared that letting people out of the office would allow them to become lazy.
Add up all of these factors and you have a recipe for major slowdown: workers worrying about the health of their friends and family members, feeling awkward being out of the office, suffering from survivor’s guilt after seeing so many others lose their livelihoods, feeling abject terror at the apparent state of the world…
But this doesn’t mean that productivity must grind to a halt. Indeed, as many people have already learned, we can still get things done in 2020 — and tech might just be the biggest part of the solution. Here’s why:
Video calls help us to stave off loneliness
One of the biggest reasons why many people are struggling to get work done is that they feel lonely. Isolation is something that many of us just aren’t used to. Consider someone who habitually attends social events, meets up with friends, and generally derives their positive energy from being around others. What happens when they’re forced into solitude?
Well, they lose their energy and motivation. They become somewhat unmoored. This naturally affects their ability and inclination to focus on their professional life. Tech is helping with this by helping them to keep in touch with the people they care about.
Just look at the rise in popularity of services like Zoom and Google Meet. Though they can’t fully replicate the experience of meeting someone in person, they certainly help a great deal. They allow people to hear one another’s voices, see one another’s faces… Having the occasional video chat can be enough to make someone feel adequately supported.
SaaS tools allow us to manage office collaboration
Moving from regular offices to home offices has been tough for various reasons, and one of those reasons is that it makes collaboration significantly harder. Many companies rely heavily on their workers being able to collaborate with ease: not only individually working on things that will subsequently be collated, but also teaming up to work on shared documents and designs.
When you can gather everyone to sit at the same table, this is easy to handle. But you can’t gather everyone together when they’re working remotely. This can cause some headaches, but tech once again comes to the rescue through the flourishing SaaS industry. SaaS (software as a service) provides people with tools that they can access through the internet — and this can be fantastic for achieving collaboration that comes close to matching what can be done in person.
In some ways, SaaS tools can actually exceed what could be achieved in an office setting before cloud computing matured. Look at the benefits of a shared inbox tool, for instance: though we’re all used to having convenient email inboxes, people working in the same department can bring their accounts together so they can share internal notes, allocate tasks to specific people, and generally achieve improved efficiency.
And for general document work, Google Docs is a reliable (and free) performer. You can have multiple people working on the same project at the same time, each one seeing what all the others are doing — and everything is non-destructive (better than classic pens and paper or whiteboards and markers). Teams can get almost as much done together using SaaS while working remotely as they could while working together in the same office.
Automation can let us focus on key creative tasks
Working smarter instead of harder is a core part of effective remote working. Buckling down on monotonous tasks is easier in an office environment because you have set hours, bright artificial lights, and the implicit pressure that stems from being surrounded by your colleagues. At home, there are so many more distractions, and it’s harder to force yourself to do dull things.
Now, you can try to fight against this, but it won’t work. Instead, what you should do is accept that tasks so dull and repetitive that they drive people to distraction shouldn’t be done manually. Implemented smartly, automation can take care of most of those tasks, freeing up time for workers to address more creative tasks that can actually hold their attention. (It’s particularly useful in the ecommerce world.)
Data entry is the classic example of an area that’s ripe for automation, so if you’re not already automating things like that then you have an obvious route to take. Look more broadly, though, because there are many other things you can achieve through automation (apps like Zapier make it possible to easily produce automated workflows that span various tools).
Trackers show us exactly where our time is going
Productivity, like any other facet of business, requires close analysis: and when you engage in that analysis, you need to consider not only how the worker feels but also how their time is being spent. Just as it’s possible for someone to get less work done because they feel lonely or unmotivated, someone who feels fine can get less done because they’re not managing their schedule very well — or, though it’s relatively rare, because they are being lazy.
The time trackers that have become so popular recently (look at apps like Toggl or HourStack) make it easier for professionals to monitor how much time they’re spending on different tasks. It’s easier than you might think for someone to get absorbed in their work and end up spending twice as long working on a particular project than they were supposed to. Simply noticing that certain things are taking them longer than they should can help them make a change.
In addition, being able to pay attention to these things allows employers to know when their employees are doing what’s required of them and when they’re falling short of expectations. When there’s clearly something holding things up, they can reach out to the worker in question and address the issue in whichever way is appropriate.
It keeps us entertained (particularly during lockdown)
Lastly, tech is playing such a big role in bolstering productivity this year because it’s helping us enjoy our free time. Being a consistently-productive professional is tiring, and arduous work requires rest and relaxation to balance it out. Anyone who puts a lot of effort into their career but doesn’t have any rewarding free time will approach the point of burnout — and the closer they come to it, the bigger the drop you’ll see in their productivity.
How much time have you spent watching Netflix productions in recent months, browsing YouTube, or playing video games? Maybe you’ve picked up a VR headset and some fitness games in an effort to look after your health while you can’t go outside so often. Tech allows us to listen to all the music we want through streaming services, watch many of the latest TV shows and movies, download great ebooks, and generally enjoy our downtime.
Put together all the factors we’ve looked at here, and it’s clear that tech is playing a massive role in keeping people productive during very challenging times. Used effectively, it reduces our loneliness, helps us work together, automates boring tasks, shows where our time is going, and keeps us entertained. What would we do without it?