Quality time versus quantity time. We talk about those two for parenting, but it applies to office productivity as well. Most office-based businesses have traditionally measured work in hours of physical presence, or quantity time. But rapidly changing workplace technology is creating a series of real issues with measuring and managing knowledge worker and office productivity.
We need quality time now, and to measure things done instead of hours spent at work. Three workplace trends may be undermining office productivity by focusing primarily on physical presence: the forever-in-the-office culture of high-tech startups; the work-from-anywhere advances of the virtual workplace; and the always-working routines powered by smartphones. The result is a series of issues with managing and measuring office productivity.
Has the Forever-in-the-Office Idea Run its Course?
Sure, there have always been workaholics. But offices offering table tennis, video games, showers, dinners ordered in and even gyms—seemingly to keep employees at work before and after hours—are a newer trend. It's the spread of the high-tech ideal that started in Silicon Valley. The workday that was once nine to five has become 10 a.m. to 8, 9 or 10 p.m.
But do those extra hours generate real productivity? Or could it be that there is only so much work that can be done, and the extra hours just spread it out? In your experience, does working long hours make your people more productive?
Our Team Is No Longer Always Physically Present
Whether you call it telecommuting, teleworking or something else entirely, there is a clear trend towards people working from home and from remote locations near and far. Based on analysis of Census data, the Global Workplace Analytics 2016 report says approximately 20-25 percent of the American workforce teleworks at some frequency and that employees "are not at their desk 50-60 percent of the time."
Business owners are turning to virtual and remote workers for software development, content production, web development, search engine optimization, personal assistance, editing and many other small-business functions. Gallup's latest Annual Work and Education Poll from 2015 showed telecommuting has grown to 37 percent among the 1,000+ American adults they surveyed, up from 9 percent in 1995. According to that poll, "the average worker telecommutes two days per month; 46 percent of telecommuters do so during the workday; and most say telecommuters [are] just as productive as other employees."
Are We Really Always Working?
As business owners, you and I are likely checking our smartphones at all hours for the latest email, social media notices and bank balances. We probably do that way too often. Most of us want to see our employees doing the same. And most office workers do, or so it seems—just look at people in line at your favorite coffee place, around you at the restaurant and even on vacation.
Is the always-available office worker more productive than the one who turns off work for part of the day? Do late-at-night emails correlate with higher office productivity? Is there a good argument for turning things off? Do you need downtime to reflect? I've seen several studies supporting this idea, the most recent of them a 2016 Harvard study "Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning." The working paper coupled past research with three separate field studies, one of which included 101 participants, 56 of whom were required to take 15 minutes out of their technical training for reflecting on the day and training.
"In our field study, we showed that taking time away from training and reallocating that time to deliberate learning efforts improved individual performance," the researchers reported.
How to Get a True Sense of Office Productivity
So quantity time may be on its way out, and even quality time, as a phrase, can be too vague and conceptual. If we don't measure hours, what do we measure in office productivity? We may want to consider moving from time as an input to getting stuff done as output by...
Developing the right metrics. Consider looking in your business for objective, measurable numbers applied to specific jobs. Seek metrics that measure output and results rather than hours. Consider measuring more than just dollars coming in as sales or dollars spent, metrics like:
- leads and closes
- minutes per call or support incidents per units of sales
- repeat purchases
- tweets, likes and retweets
- views, conversions, conversion rates, clicks and sales dollars per view
Whatever works for your business, you may want to find metrics to apply to jobs and function to start measuring getting stuff done.
Most people are happy to have metrics that are objective performance measures. Most people like feedback, and most would much rather have their numbers as immediate feedback than waiting for periodic, subjective reviews, or—perhaps even worse—occasional random comments.
Developing your business accountability process. The right kind of metrics may work pretty well on their own for management, measurement and incentives. Social media people watch likes and retweets whether you track them or not. Sales people want sales, telemarketers want closes, software developers want milestones met. Having the numbers available may improve your management and office productivity just because people care about numbers.
Beyond that, however, better metrics on getting things done work better with regular organized reviews. In my business we call our process "business planning." It pivots around a monthly plan versus actual review, which takes just a couple of hours per month. We use a lean business plan model to keep the planning focused on concrete deliverables, deadlines and metrics, not descriptions or summaries.
Do It Right, and Everybody Can Win
Your office productivity can improve with the right process and as people compete and measure themselves by getting things done instead of how many hours they spend in the office. People with good numbers are proud of it, and people with bad numbers are anxious for a discussion of what went wrong. People make themselves accountable for results, not hours.
To me, this seems like progress and improvement in the way we work, and the way we manage. Quality time trumps quantity time, and getting things done, not time, is the best measure of productivity.
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