The wrong ways to think about productivity

Good afternoon! In today’s edition, we asked the experts to think about how productivity has changed and reflect on the pieces of advice that are floating around out there that might not be totally on the mark. Questions or comments? Send us a note at [email protected]

Brynn Harrington

VP, People Experience at Meta

Async work has huge value, but we should be cautious about over-rotating too far toward it. Synchronous time is really important to maintain velocity, unblock decisions quickly and ensure everyone is on the same page. At Meta, we’re supporting synchronous time by building teams in collaboration zones, which ensure a minimum half-daytime zone overlap so teams can easily run standups and grab live time together as needed – whether that’s in person or virtual.

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Job van der Voort

CEO and co-founder at Remote

An unfortunate growing trend in remote work is the practice of monitoring employees to ensure they’re working on their assigned projects at particular times. This can look like tracking activity on their computers or tracking how many breaks they take and how many hours they work in a day. This is done in the name of productivity for the company.

While, in theory, it is useful to have a clear view into how active your employees are while they are working remotely, not only is it an invasion of privacy, it’s completely unnecessary. That’s because it doesn’t matter how much time someone spends in front of their computer or what time of day they’re completing their assigned work. What is important is that an employee’s output is what you expect from someone in their role.

Tracking your employees’ activity and keeping tabs on how many hours they’re working is an incredibly short-sighted way of dealing with productivity. If you’re not able to see a person’s work output or understand their work output just because you can’t see them sitting at their computer from 9 to 5, then there is a much bigger problem — and it’s not the employee.

Instead, managers and companies should support their remote teams with flexible policies that allow them to work when they personally feel most productive and get comfortable with their workers taking breaks to live their lives during the day. Then, assess the final work product. That freedom to do great work is what powers productivity.

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Sheela Subramanian

Vice president, Future Forum at Slack

For too long, productivity has been measured by hours worked or days in the office instead of impact.

Employee performance and work ethic are too often based on face time and presenteeism — recognizing employees who were the first in, last to leave — rather than whether their work was creating value. That makes it hard to create alignment around shared goals, but when work is judged by its value in delivering results around shared goals, alignment becomes easier and it creates trust in the metrics used to evaluate performance. When the pandemic forced companies to go remote, it gave leaders the opportunity to refocus their organization’s productivity mindset around outcomes and results.

Flexibility is here to stay. Employee expectations are changing and they not only want greater flexibility, but they expect it. Future Forum’s research shows that nearly all (94%) of knowledge workers want schedule flexibility. In response, leaders need to reset expectations — transition from the industrial age norms of fixed 9-to-5 schedules and help employees deliver quality work by enabling them to work when it’s best for them.

Traditional productivity measures are both ill-suited and inequitable ways of managing teams in the flexible work era. Managing to outcomes and focusing on results builds trust and success, but it requires us to redesign how we lead, promote and celebrate success. Leaders who want to retain top performers will need to invest in cultivating a culture of trust.

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Josh Zerkel

Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana

It’s crucial for organizations to connect their teams around clarity of purpose and a shared sense of accomplishment to ensure employees feel seen, heard and valued. Overcommunication, something which is so often seen as a positive, can also be a workplace productivity blocker. The adage that you can’t communicate too much simply isn’t true. More often than not, teams get caught in “work about work” with misused communication tools (like email), overwhelmed by notifications or lost in project trackers (like spreadsheets) — all in an effort to better coordinate and manage work.

In the U.S., mental health among workers has declined as work worries have taken over — contributing to burnout and impostor syndrome. Work-related anxieties are distracting us from family dinners, disrupting sleep and creating a culture where employees feel obligated to check email on vacation and respond to every ping. Asana’s recent Anatomy of Work study showed nearly 1 in 4 workers experienced burnout four or more times in the past year and almost two-thirds (63%) of U.S. workers are checking their emails outside of working hours, the most among workers globally.

The way out of communication overwhelm is to set clear guidelines for communication, including which channels to use, expectations around response times and where actionable information should live. Employee engagement is deeply connected to the amount of time employees are able to spend directly impacting the company’s purpose. Enabling clear communication processes, goals and tools at a company will improve focus and reduce burnout.

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Colleen McCreary

Chief people, places and publicity officer at Credit Karma

I’m not a proponent of performance reviews and feel it’s an antiquated practice to only deliver feedback to employees once or twice a year. Delivering a “score” doesn’t define the “hows” and “whys” of a person’s ability to meet or exceed expectations. Oftentimes, performance reviews overlook achievements made earlier in a cycle, and in many cases, employees feel penalized and demoralized instead of feeling motivated to focus on engaging in their strengths or finding opportunities for success.

I recommend an approach that accounts for ongoing, regular feedback – perhaps through a weekly or bi-weekly tool. Managers also tend to be more honest with their feedback when delivering it through a micro feedback model, versus having to deliver potentially bad news at one moment in time, which can feel very permanent. And, when you tie compensation to reviews, people are less likely to focus on potential growth and development areas, and instead hone in on how they’re “being scored” or the monetary outcome.

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Chris Byers

CEO at Formstack

New software rollouts are a common strategy for improving workflows. But implementing solutions before taking time to understand the specific process or workflow issues at hand can actually do more harm than good. As organization leaders, we have a bad habit of assuming that simply investing in more software will solve our process or workflow problems. It’s easy to find a “quick fix” when looking to boost productivity, but implementing software without a thorough understanding of the root problem often leads to even more time-consuming and inefficient tasks, plus money wasted.

Instead of rushing to add to the tech stack, leaders need to spend time getting to the root of our productivity problem first. Start from scratch and map out the better or faster way that a particular task needs to get accomplished. From there, start to look at software that will resolve specific problems and sustain increased levels of productivity.

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Christa Quarles

CEO at Corel Corporation

The pandemic turned our world upside down and businesses were forced into remote work with no warning. But miraculously, many of us discovered that remote work actually works. Not only did our businesses grow and thrive, but our people got more than just the flexibility they needed — it gave them freedom.

With restrictions lifting, many companies are pushing people back to the office. And while this approach may be in line with industrial revolution thinking, it seems remarkably out of touch with the way our teams work today. Especially for those of us who are, as I say, in the “bits” business, rather than the “atoms” business of making physical goods. We don’t need to be together to be productive.

The genie is out of the bottle. Trying to put it back does your people a disservice. Respecting employees to determine their own productivity pod and schedule not only pays off in terms of results, but also loyalty. Plus, empowering remote work keeps people happy, while leveling the playing field. Giving people the right tools to work how and where they want makes your businesses more accessible to many teammates, including women, employees with disabilities and people who are neurodivergent.

Productivity no longer depends on location or hours — it’s time to measure outcomes, not butts in seats. When you care about results vs. counting the clock or filling a cube, the returns speak for themselves.

Flexibility and freedom are no longer nice to have, but a must for today’s workforce.

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Jamison Powell

Vice president, Sales at monday.com

In our new way of working, there’s a lot of opportunity for wasted time, and the things that are supposed to help us become more productive often end up holding us back. A lot of teams traditionally take a siloed approach to projects, where everyone does their own work and comes together at the end to pull it all together. This approach has only intensified in the past two years as teams became more distributed geographically. While it may seem like an effective way to work, creating unnecessary silos can hinder a team’s ability to collaborate effectively, think creatively, and prioritize the activities that are most important in order to meet their goals.

Instead, teams should take a more dynamic and digitized approach to collaboration so they can support each other’s strengths and work creatively, regardless of whether they’re operating from the same office or from different time zones. This looks like creating processes to build more visibility into each aspect of a project, so teams can collaborate more efficiently. By doing this, teams will have more opportunity to align on goals and do more meaningful work that focuses on what’s truly important for the team, as a whole, as well as to individual team members. Beyond that, it gives more space to recognize and celebrate the achievements of each contributing team member and ensure that each person is reaching their full potential.

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See who’s who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated June 30, 2022).

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