Most leaders have internalized a belief that productivity means “focus, focus, focus.” Get projects and meetings done with maximum speed and efficiency. Any time spent discussing kids, dogs, or weekend plans is seen as an unnecessary part of an otherwise productive day.

But this mindset limits our ability to achieve true productivity with a connected team. This was the lesson of the past year as many of us learned to work 100% virtually almost overnight — and as many are currently deciding whether to stay virtual or implement a hybrid policy moving forward. Just as COVID-19 redefined how we communicate, collaborate, work, and live, it also changed our definition of productivity.

Productivity is more than checking off tasks on to-do lists — especially without the safety net of informal in-person interactions. Efficiency means nothing if teams aren’t engaged and valued, and productivity suffers when people feel disengaged at work. How do we fix this? By shifting the focus from productivity and responsibilities alone to responsibilities and connectedness.

Interactions Must Now Happen Intentionally

Finding the best way to foster connections in a virtual work environment can be difficult. Small interactions like an informal conversation at the coffee bar or walking out of the office together no longer exist. We rely almost entirely on technology to connect us, and that trend is here to stay as more organizations embrace hybrid working for the long term.

As leaders, we have to intentionally find time to connect. We should check on team members, create space in meetings for connection, and model that connections between team members are just as important as tasks.

Cultivating an Engaged and Productive Workforce

Now is the time for leaders to rethink their definition of “productivity.” Efficiency and connection can go hand in hand. Instead of measuring success solely on completed projects and checking off tasks, they should add creating a culture of connectedness and engagement to the list of necessities.

Here are a few ways to ensure your remote team feels valued, motivated, and engaged in the pursuit of this redefined productivity:

1. Plan for connections. Outline your daily and weekly schedules to include the tasks that must be done and the connections that must be made. Carve out time for these informal check-ins. They aren’t extra — they’re essential.

2. Be intentional with meetings. Although videoconferencing tools can be great ways to connect with others, they can also contribute to Zoom fatigue. Determine which meetings require interaction and which don’t. Ask team members to use video when it’s necessary to foster connection so everyone participates in the same way.

3. Plan an agenda that allows time for interaction and discussion. Set aside a few minutes in team meetings to just catch up. Listen intently when everyone talks, following up with people when you can tell they need support.

4. Rely on technology to make connections easier. Applications like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Donut are great tools to create informal connections across teams, and some don’t require the use of video at all. You can’t connect virtual or hybrid teams without using technology, so find the right tools for your company to keep connections and culture strong.

The pandemic transformed the way we work and showed us that productivity is more than a “no distractions” mindset. Providing space for connection and engagement increases morale, which ends up boosting productivity. As we continue to navigate this new era of hybrid and remote work, remember that connection isn’t an addition to productivity — it’s a necessity.