Remote Working Through The COVID Crisis: How You Can Achieve Long-Term Productivity Gains

Eeshita Pande
4 min readMar 21, 2020

During a black swan event, the questions we ask determine how well we fare. Faced by COVID-19, I choose to ask the following question: how do we respond in a way that (i) solves the current problem and (ii) leaves us with stronger businesses?

While the impact of the new COVID-19 disease has been overwhelmingly negative on the global economy and health, it presents leaders with a unique opportunity to transform modern workplaces: a silver lining of sorts in this desperately gloomy environment.

Some high-profile tech companies have made immense progress over the last five years in moving to more dynamic workplaces, but most industries have been left behind in this regard. In an estimate by the Office of National Statistics in 2018, only c.6% of the UK workforce regularly works from home. While this might have held true in a pre-COVID environment, the current landscape is ripe for the transition from desk-based roles to more dynamic roles.

There are many reasons why this shift in working habits could prove to be positive for companies, especially in the long run.

Increased Productivity

As anyone in a desk-based role would attest, social cohesion often comes at the price of productivity. It is quite hard to focus on deep, meaningful work in an open plan office, unless you are willing to socially distance yourself from your colleagues (which also comes at a cost). Working from home, assuming one is serious about the work bit, promises increased productivity, fewer distractions, and more opportunities for deep thinking.

In a normal situation, a middle ground would be optimal with a few days spent in the office and in meetings, and a few days spent focusing on deep work from home. As the current situation is forcing organisations to test and adapt to dynamic working, I remain hopeful that once the situation reverts to normal, some good aspects of this situation will continue to be practised.

Focus on Key Tasks

Initially, due to inefficient communication channels and less than desirable remote working set-ups, focus will shift from getting everything done to identifying the most value additive tasks and prioritising those.

It is only a matter of time before the less important tasks are weeded out completely as teams realise that focused effort on quality value-additive tasks adds more business value than doing everything. To put it another way, businesses will identify what they do well and stick with it rather than trying to do everything.

Positive Cultural Shift

Many industries still value “facetime” and have an unhealthy focus on working hours over output produced. I am hopeful that several months of mandatory remote working (and hopefully great work!) will convince naysayers of the benefits of flexible working.

Great leaders will take this opportunity to rethink KPIs measuring employee productivity and come up with more relevant incentive-driven metrics, especially for junior and mid-level employees.

For instance, while senior level compensation is often performance linked (to total shareholder return, revenue targets etc.), junior and mid-level discretionary compensation can appear arbitrary as it often linked to perception of more senior employees. This can drive the wrong behaviour, where junior employees feel forced to spend unproductive hours in the office to superficially “impress” senior employees. Setting the right metrics will force businesses to measure what matters and signal fairness to employees.

Meaningful Side Projects

Very few industries encourage employees to engage in meaningful side projects. Commute time is a good example of time which can be allocated to more meaningful work, notably side projects.

In the long run, even if the average employee utilises 2–3 hours of commute time per week on a side project, it would equal 100+ hours in the year or just over a whole week of work. By this calculation, a mid-scale 200 employee company could drive 20,000 hours of innovation per year just by allowing flexible working!

If one idea floated from the side projects moves to implementation stage, it could have the potential to change the future of the company. Look at Gmail, Twitter, and Slack all of which were built by entrepreneurial employees tinkering around in their “free-time”.

The current environment might be uncertain but it is ripe for experimentation. The transition to flexible work is being driven by necessity and the next few months will reveal a lot about the businesses we work for based on their response to an unprecedented global event.



Eeshita Pande

Founder & CEO at TheaAI. Interested in health, wellness, and longevity. Using AI to build health solutions.