Mon | Jul 6, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | Working hard or hardly working? - Work-from-home challenges

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:00 AMTrevor Smith - Contributor

MY SISTER Monica puts that question to me often. It is a question that will be on the minds of employers and team leaders during the enforced work-at-home regime.

Are my people goofing off or being productive?

How do I track what is happening?

Employees feel at odds because of the lack of clarity as to what to do or, more critically, lack of access to the required resources!


Despite clear warnings that the current situation, and worse, was to be expected, there has been a marked absence of readiness.

The best bet now is to imagine the worst and plan for it.


If I can be forgiven for a bit of personal indulgence, we foresaw the need for the infusion of technology to provide clarity as what is to be done across each job role and to make available tracking and compliance mechanisms, even in normal times.

Our SPIKE solution – Strategic Performance Improvement & Knowledge Enabler – answers Monica’s question as to whether I am working hard or hardly working.

It not only gives me clarity as to what I should be doing, it also gives me the ‘why’, because my electronic work plan is directly linked to my organisation’s vision, values and objectives.

And, should I lack the competence to do what is required of me, the built-in online learning resources are available to me.

That is the type of thinking and execution that will be required to get us through this and future existential crises, and to maintain high levels of efficiency during normal times.


The vast majority of workers want to do their best.

There are some important keys to maintaining high levels of personal productivity in the home environment.

1. Maintain the schedule that you would if you were going into the office – minus commuting. In effect, be at your workstation at the same time, ready to work.

2. Set out the deliverables that you will achieve each day. Focus on output. Consider those times when you stayed a little later to get something done after the bulk of your colleagues had left. Did you find that you were far more productive? Some people are able to finish their tasks in as little as half the time! That is a whopping 50 per cent increase in productivity just by ‘alone time’. That inspired a strategy that we use to increase the effectiveness of teams in time and task management coaching. It involves introducing clever ways of incorporating ‘alone time’ in the regular workday. The point here is that if you maintain your focus, you cannot help but get more done in less time.

3. Avoid the disastrous thinking that you have the whole day, into night, to get things done and so you can sleep late or delay the start. Habits are there to keep us on track. Once we start playing around with a regimen that works well, we invite distractions, unnecessary experimentation, and the inevitable missed deadline.

Stick with what works!


You are still in charge and responsible for the performance of the team.

You may have been in the practice of handing out assignments and instructions on the fly. You go around to members as things arise during the day.

That will present communication challenges in the new environment. We identify that habit as ‘blurting’, and it is a major deterrent to high performance. Each time you go to a team member, you interrupt their thought processes. Studies will vary as to how long it takes for them to get back into full flow, but it could be several minutes.

The current crisis gives team leaders the opportunity to develop better habits. Work with each team member to develop work plans, ideally for the next month.

Put in place reporting mechanisms and ensure that where cooperation with others is required, that there is clarity as to how that will be done. Convene regular whole-team meetings to keep everybody informed and to maintain a healthy team spirit.


I shared that ‘alone time’ will result in time savings. During the traditional hustle and bustle of normal work, there is the constant complaint of training managers that there is no time for training.

This is a golden opportunity to use online training to prepare teams for the challenges of the current crisis and its aftermath. Here again, the failure to embrace technology comes at a heavy price.


Whatever we do, there is only one real solution to this crisis – stay far from people.

NOTE: Send an email to to get information (including free demonstrations) on SPIKE, as well as on unlimited access to over 50-plus online courses 24/7.

- Trevor E. S. Smith – Success with People Academy. High-performance team behavioural coach | executive team and CEO advise | team dynamics and engagement expert | sales team activator | technology solutions provider.