Redefining workplace productivity after a pandemic

Productivity is a buzzword used by professionals to describe how much you’ve achieved in a day. Workers have long been judged on how many hours you spend online vs offline, which supposedly correlates with how productive you’re being. But is this the most effective way to measure productivity? The pandemic has caused significant challenges for businesses when it comes to workforce productivity. Living and working from home has likely caused your team to reconsider how they feel their most productive. As we move into a new era of business, it’s essential that your workforce has a work environment that supports effective productivity.

What does productivity mean?

In its most basic and frankly outdated form, you can measure productivity by dividing how much work an employee has produced by their active working hours. This calculation is often shown as productivity=output/input. This explanation is a very linear approach to productivity and isn’t how most businesses would view it. There are a lot more factors that need to be considered when judging productivity; more important than the amount of work produced and the number of hours worked.

Why is this an outdated view?

The output/input model is practically impossible to measure nowadays due to tasks that aren’t definitively tracked. Sitting in back to back meetings, sending non-stop emails and engaging in frequent calls may mean you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you’re productive. The quality of your work, as opposed to the quantity of work, should determine productivity. You could work on a project for days on end, making small amounts of progress until you reach your goal. If you look at the output/input model in this scenario, there would be very minimal output.

Measuring productivity also depends on your industry and job role. Account management firms won’t produce a physical product as a graphic design company that creates tangible assets would. As many agencies do, tracking your times manually against a specific task would be the only way to use the output/input model effectively. Employees begin a timer when they start a job and end it once it’s complete. This gives you a total time it took you to complete that task. The times in your day add together to determine how many productive hours you’ve worked. The confusion here is caused by meetings, emails, admin and calls that may not be considered trackable tasks.

Employers can look at the timelines of specific employees to determine if you’re working efficiently or if a task is taking longer than expected. However, this approach can result in team members feeling micromanaged and under pressure to do as much work as possible; compromising the quality. A benefit of this approach is that it allows employers to see where teams and departments are under or over capacity. You can identify where a larger workload is needed so more clients need to be acquired. Or, where the workload is too large and more employees need to be recruited.

What has productivity meant during a pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the early stages, the definition of productivity is up in the air for many businesses. Suddenly, having to abandon the workplace and work from home introduces personal circumstances into the productivity mix. Employees in positions of care, for example for children or relatives, have to overcome the challenges of providing support as well as working. 

Businesses have to consider the responsibilities that workers have and whether they have a reduced capacity compared to in the workplace. Where workers don’t have the time they did pre-pandemic, the priority has to be put on the tasks that are the most important. Alternatively, many businesses have given their employees the flexibility to work during non-core hours. For example, those with childcare responsibilities may choose to work after 7 pm when the children have gone to sleep. This isn’t without its problems either. Clients and broader team members have to ensure communications and expectations are clear as some workers aren’t contactable outside of core working hours.

What is the future of workplace productivity?

As some businesses transition back into the workplace, other companies are adopting working from home full time. Productivity will look different for businesses depending on your industry, service or personal circumstance. The future of productivity is a flexible and inclusive approach based on the quality of work. You are placing the focus on the output part of the model rather than the input. Instead of getting caught up with the number of hours worked, you’ll look at what has been achieved. Did you make progress with your project? Did you give support to a colleague? Did you move closer towards your goal?

Changing your view of productivity means you have to change the way you approach work. As opposed to prioritising calls, meetings and answering emails, you should prioritise tasks that will make the most significant impact. Whether it’s an impact on your own goals or the wider team, you can make progress without worrying how many hours you’ve logged with little to show for it. Flexibility also comes from the way you work. Employers should trust employees to work with the tools, resources and methods with which they produce their best work.

There is a lot of trust and communication involved in this flexible, inclusive approach to productivity. Particularly where remote working is concerned. Employers have to make sure all employees are working under the same expectation to deliver quality work within a reasonable timeline. This requires regular communication and alignment between team members and goals. Discuss the work that needs to be done, which tasks are a priority and which can be moved down the list. Check if any support is required from team members, what needs to happen to receive this help and how you can move forward. 

Scrapping the output/input approach to productivity is one of the best things you can do for your workplace. Gone is the need to have something to show for every hour in your day. You can be trusted to make progress on your project and move closer to your goals. Flexibility gives you the freedom to work in your own way within a realistic timescale. Your workforce can be productive and deliver a high quality of work rather than worrying about ticking boxes. Employees will value your workplace, and the bottom line of your business will feel the benefit of good productivity.