Remember the time…
Recently I read that most office workers are only productive at work for about 1.5 to 2 hours per day. If in fact it is the case, then that’s significant. If you roll those numbers across your team then you’re averaging 10 or so hours of productivity, per person, per week. Ouch. ‘But don’t I pay them for 40?’, you ask? Well indeed. The numbers are one thing, but it also begs the question of how we actually accurately measure ‘productivity’. There are a bunch of different approaches here. The traditional ‘clock in, clock out’ is one method. This one relies on ‘well I’m here, you can see me’ approach. There are tasks set for people and they get on with them, then they finish or leave it for tomorrow. And so it goes. This is a particular hangover from the industrial revolution where big ideas required lots of hands on deck. These measures of productivity on the manufacturing floor were defined by the levels of output that management and the customer demand. It’s always fascinating to hear a car manufacturer proudly say that they produced ‘four million units’ last year. I wonder if they were trying to produce five million?
Tangible progress in small steps
In my experience, productivity is measured by the structure of a timesheet. This is a daily or weekly event for most – or in some cases, as with creatives, the moment before pay day is closed off. Whenever it occurs, it’s part of the deal for professional services. But how effective is a timesheet at measuring productivity? According to Monique Valcour from the HBR, ‘productivity’ doesn’t have to be neatly measured by the somewhat draconian methods. By putting the onus on short, sharp progress provides a better yardstick in delivering on productivity. Interestingly, this isn’t about staying tethered to your desk, it’s about trying different ways to work. Even different environments can play a part in building on productivity. Let’s face it – we all spend far too much time emailing and watching a screen.
Try something different. Engineer the required workflow for ease and progress from a ‘downhill start’. The basic idea is to get some simple things done quickly and get into a flow pattern. The trick is getting a few steps underway, finishing them and counting these as ‘tangible progress’. Then, by their measures, productivity increases more easily. The old saying that you don’t eat an elephant in one bite perhaps rings true here.
The world of work is changing and there are new demands from both employers and employees in this context. What’s clear is the desire from both parties to engage in new approaches to work have been massively enhanced by the emergence of technology, big data and the rise of the ‘always on’ employee. But just how more ‘productive’ this makes people is still open to debate. At the culture conference I attended in San Francisco in July one CEO got up and said he no longer answers emails on the weekend. He wanted to set the example that for his 250 employees that they are expected to work regular hours, but not on the weekend. That’s for family, friends and recuperation time. Many more organisations are heading in the direction of ‘times of disconnection’. Being able to unbundle from the work challenges may actually lead to living a more productive working life. It’s an evolving topic with more and more layers to be explored. But as customers demand different experiences and outcomes, ways of working need to respond and reflect that. That doesn’t mean more work – it means working smarter.