No management conversation is complete without discussing productivity. Workers’ capability to deliver desired results within a specified period is an integral part of the success of any business organization.
In the metrics-based and evidence-driven pursuit of improving productivity, several generations of leaders across entire industries have formed a number of management principles that may have been accurate at some point but are no longer necessarily true. These outdated beliefs can often limit how leaders perceive employees’ productivity levels in the context of the 21st century workplace, where there are more options than before to help sustain or increase productivity outside of the traditional methods.
Take a look at these productivity myths and see if there are any that your organization should be leaving behind.
More hours means more work done.
“The longer you work, the more you get done.” This is probably the oldest belief about work, and for a reasonably long period of human history it was very much true. What makes it a myth today, however, is the fact that it originates from a time when the means of working were very different from today. Work has existed for a very long time: it was here before digitalization, before the assembly line, and before even the simplest of machines. And without those developments and innovations, workers in centuries past had to spend more time accomplishing tasks.
Therefore, it made sense that work performance was assessed and compensated by the hour or other longer measures of time. On the flip side, workers who only spent a minimal amount of time working were often mistrusted as slackers who contributed little or nothing at all. A constant state of “busy-ness” became the standard of productivity.
Due to the ever-growing variety of workplace and workflow innovations we enjoy today, this is no longer the most conducive way to measure performance. Efficiency is a far more relevant metric today, especially since modern businesses are very mindful of resources and time spent for each task within the organization. Performance is now best measured in outcomes delivered as compared to the resources and time spent in the process. This mindset recognizes workers who can deliver the best results according to the plan, using the least amount of resources and spending the least time – in other words, the opposite of the old mentality that more hours put in means more work done. And the way to increase efficiency is not by making employees work longer hours, but by building up their capabilities while properly setting expectations and timelines.
Even with this paradigm shift, workers at any level of any organization may still believe in the myth of more work done through more hours. Do your best to discuss and help them understand why this is no longer the best way to go about measuring accomplishments and why efficiency is a better metric.
Speaking of efficiency: it’s a great way to measure performance and productivity, but it’s only one of many metrics. Efficiency on its own and taken to the extreme presents its own problems when it comes to how leaders view employees’ productivity – such as the next myth, which is very much related to this first one.
Finishing scheduled tasks early means a worker needs to be given more to do.
Picture an employee with a fairly standard set of responsibilities, majority of which are routine and uniform for each day of the week. Over time, this team member will learn to optimize tasks to the point that there will be significant savings in both resources and time.
This will, no doubt, lead to the employee having more vacant time near the end of the day. This is time that can be used to volunteer to help teammates who may be struggling, or to conceptualize new opportunities for the team and the organization.
They won’t be able to do any of those to help the company, however, if their leaders fabricate more work for them to do just so they won’t have any free time.
One of the most obsolete perceptions is that free time equals down time – in other words, time spent without being productive. But a lot of things are happening even during employees’ free time through their own initiative: they observe their workplace and their team’s effectiveness, offer to help with colleagues’ particularly challenging tasks, brainstorm new solutions that can be beneficial to the organization, or identify new prospect business partners. And these are things that didn’t need to be assigned to them!
Organizations need to free themselves of the paranoia that free time derived from finishing tasks efficiently will be abused. For one thing, the number of tasks necessary for any team or unit to finish within a day is not unlimited. If you’re a leader who feels the need to keep your team occupied even if they’ve realistically done everything that needs to be done on any particular day, then at some point you’ll have to accept that there’s nothing more to assign them – at least, nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. Your organization is not losing money just because they’re doing nothing, since they’ve already finished what they’re being paid to do on that day.
Also, you can’t simply assume they’re not making good use of that free time. If you’ve trained your team members to exercise initiative, let them use the time to explore other ways they can bring value to the team and the company that may not necessarily be included in their existing tasks.
Finally, just let them enjoy the free time they’ve earned through finding a way to accomplish their tasks using less time and resources (which translates to savings for the company.) Consider it a non-monetary bonus for their efficiency and talent for optimization. This might even incentivize them to keep coming up with time- and cost-saving improvements to different tasks they directly or indirectly handle!
On the subject of finding ways to be more effective for less, recent events have sparked reevaluation of how productively beneficial different work arrangements can be while ensuring workers’ safety. The next myth is heavily involved in this conversation.
Remote work can never be as effective as on-site work.
For centuries, satisfactory work performance has been linked with strict managerial oversight. Aside from obvious considerations for work that cannot be taken home or the relative recency of remote collaboration solutions, this principle forms the basis for why work has historically always been done on-site where management can keep an eye on employees.
To be clear, it’s valid for employers to be concerned about workers possibly slacking off when no one is watching. From a simple business perspective as well as a social contract perspective, paying employees’ wages is their part in the employment arrangement; naturally, they have the right to expect paid workers to do what they’re paid for.
Still, the world of work has come so far forward in terms of tracking deliverables and measuring performance. This means that not only can output be submitted and measured remotely, but the definition of “work done” has been reevaluated as well. Organizations that have lasted decades and evolved to thrive today have done so partly through adopting a more realistic perspective on performance: employees who deliver adequate results through legitimate means are contributing to the organization’s success, no matter where they may be working and whether or not they are seen working.
This perspective works because a worker doing nothing cannot deliver adequate or better results through legitimate means. The output delivered – in particular its quality, accuracy, and timeliness – is proof positive of work done. A worker who slacks off because no one is watching can only produce either adequate results through dishonest means or sub-par results through legitimate but rushed means. Exceptions do occur, but more often than not this is how slacking off affects performance.
This perspective may seem more reactive than preventive: if a worker has already slacked off during a period when they should be working, then the damage has been done. But bear in mind that compared to centuries past, in today’s world mistakes at work are seldom irreversible. There are so many conveniences and solutions an organization can use to recover from a team member’s blunder and even convert it into an opportunity.
Thus, business leaders today can afford to be reactive to the possibility of slacking off, while reaping the benefits of being perceived as having confidence and trust in employees. Coupled with modern workplace staples like internal communications platforms and remote file processing and transfer tools, workers can fulfill their responsibilities and submit their output from any location that has adequate network connectivity. Hence, remote work can be just as effective as on-site work.
This doesn’t mean that every business can thrive purely through remote work arrangements for everyone. Your leaders should consider distinct individual and departmental roles and varying levels of access to company information in order to find the right balance of on-site, remote, and hybrid work arrangements for your organization.
Part of the human dynamic of work is that it will always evolve to match the evolution of the workforce. Where workers become more effective despite traditionally disadvantageous circumstances, the definition and parameters of productivity must also change to enable more precise and appropriate measurement.
That’s the way the history of work goes, and it’s pointless to resist change when it’s actually more beneficial in the long run than clinging to the status quo. If your organization hasn’t already revisited and adapted its perceptions of productivity, try to communicate with them and your coworkers about these busted productivity myths and get the discussion rolling – hopefully, the company will then be on its way to properly assessing and maximizing how productive you all are.