How leaders can sustain employee productivity in a virtual world

14 April 2020 4 min. read

As organisations adapt to new working conditions and a period of unprecedented crisis, KPMG has put forward recommendations for leaders to steer their business through this period and maintain productivity.

According to the firm, leadership across Australia is now undergoing a real test, at the same time providing them the opportunity to prove their leadership capabilities. The visible disruption to personal life has already been detailed by experts, and KPMG has now put focus on the changing environment in the workplace.

Ensuring survival in a challenging economic climate is one thing, but leaders also need to ensure that productivity among their workforce remains unaffected. Managing this range of tasks requires a clear strategy and a different way of looking at and overseeing performance management.

“Remote working does not necessarily result in more focused time, especially when your diary is full of virtual meetings. Add children to the mix, due to school closures, and it can feel impossible to get things done. While it can feel overwhelming for leaders individually, and also for leaders attempting to sustain the high-performance of a team, there are areas in which you can channel effort and consideration in order to give your organisation the best chance of maintaining productivity,” writes KPMG in its report.

Six performance dimensions

The Big Four accounting and advisory firm has developed a tool kit of sorts for leaders to consult when choosing a path forward. The first priority, according to the firm, should be the workforce. Keeping people engaged with the organisation’s objectives through clear and frequent communication is key, as is maintaining morale going forth.

A significant challenge to this is the new ‘work from home’ arrangement that most organisations are implementing, where leaders have to rely on technology to communicate maintain a coherent strategy within their team. KPMG terms this challenge one of ‘sustaining performance in a virtual environment,’ and has laid down a framework to manage these goals.

There are six dimensions to sustaining performance in a virtual environment. Clarity of expectations is high on this list, which includes a constant reevaluation of expectations in light of evolving circumstances, always giving employees a clear idea of their delivery targets.

The second dimension is examining performance from a distance. Part of this is checking regularly on output, while man management also plays a role according to KPMG. Routines such as having a “regular conversation with every individual to discuss and provide feedback on performance” are key, as is connecting with employees to check how they are coping with new working arrangements.

The plan, do, check, act framework

This is closely linked to the third dimension, which is enhancing motivation among employees. Strategies for this include organising virtual social interaction to boost morale, setting motivational goals, and finding the balance between management and autonomy, among others. KPMG suggests that leaders can keep their productivity up in this period to set an example for employees. 

The fourth dimension is more practical, and involves ensuring that the digital means to communicate and coordinate are all in place. Digital channels such as Skype, Zoom and Facetime are all examples of this crucial infrastructure, and their popularity has skyrocketed in recent weeks.

KPMG’s fifth dimension for sustaining performance in a virtual environment is to develop new support mechanisms, not only in terms of professional support from leaders and colleagues, but also in terms of emotional support and wellbeing, as employees adapt to working remotely.

The sixth and final dimension pertains to skills and capabilities. This relates to ensuring that employees and leaders have the skills and means to achieve their targets using the new working arrangements that have been put in place.

Once the workforce has been managed, the next three priorities for leaders become their clients, their context, and themselves respectively, according to KPMG. This involves checking up on clients and ensuring uninterrupted communication channels with them, keeping tabs on the contextual developments including the progress of Covid-19 and the state of government response, and efforts from leaders to maintain their own physical and mental health.