5 bad and good ways to measure productivity

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Highlights:

  • In a hybrid and remote-first workplace, old ways of measuring productivity—such as time-in-seat or number of projects finished—are outdated.
  • New ways of work require new ways to assess productivity, such as focusing on outcomes and making more human connections.
  • Here are some dos and don’ts of measuring productivity.

 

Productive employees are responsible for all areas of company output, from conceiving and developing winning ideas to sales and execution.

But how do we measure productivity? In the Industrial Era, it was straightforward. Time-in-seats was an effective metric, given that there was a direct line between how many hours people spent at work each day and their raw output. 

But we transitioned to a service-oriented world years ago, and productivity metrics have yet to catch up.

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Work doesn’t look a lot like it did even a couple of years ago. After the pandemic forced workers to do their jobs from home, many businesses found that employees could still be productive even when they regularly worked away from the office. It also turned out that many workers preferred remote and hybrid work, and that’s why a significant number of organizations are making these models permanent. 

Given the fundamental changes that workplaces are undergoing, it’s time to finally rethink what productivity means and how we measure it in order to drive more meaningful business results.

Bad ways to measure productivity

1. Time in seat

The amount of time people clock at their workstations makes sense when people are performing the same job over and over all day, and there is a clear correlation between time spent and output.

But from product design to sales and marketing, productivity is often now about value—and this weakens the link between clock watching and the results employees are able to drive.

2. Cameras on

Now that so many meetings have moved to video, some managers are using another way to gauge employee productivity: whether workers have their cameras on in meetings. But this metric also focuses on the wrong things.

“Time lost to performing for the camera is time that can’t be spent on thought. Analysis. Reading the temperature of the “room.” Sniffing out unstated agendas. Building consensus. Overcoming objections. Finding the best answer.”

Jeff Haden, Contributing Editor at Inc.

Turning on your camera is a way of signaling one’s presence (much like time in seats back at the office). But using cameras in meetings as a metric doesn’t actually say anything about a worker’s level of preparation, participation, or engagement in said meeting.

3. Hours spent in meetings

Nothing says “busy” like a jam-packed calendar, right? Wrong. While spending hours in meetings certainly promotes the appearance of being productive, this is yet another superficial way of measuring work.

In fact, we’d argue that true productivity includes the ability to communicate and collaborate efficiently and effectively—which can actually reduce the need for endless meetings.  

4. Time off

In many offices, not using vacation time is a badge of honor, seen as a reflection of a worker’s dedication to their job. That’s likely one of the reasons why Americans have some of the worst rates in the world for using their paid time off. Guilt about taking time off, or simply being too busy to take a vacation, are some of the most-cited reasons for leaving vacation days on the table. 

But this is yet another faulty metric. In fact, a failure to encourage time off is actually the enemy of productivity. That’s because when employees don’t use their vacation days, and go prolonged periods without fully unplugging, they risk burnout—something that we’re seeing during the pandemic.

5. Number of projects finished per week

In the Industrial Era, where output was often measured in units, the number of projects completed was a direct reflection of one’s productivity. But volume-based goals only measure certain types of tangible work and fail to account for high-value tasks such as developing strategies and deepening client relationships. 

Furthermore, implementing volume-based goals encourages people to rush through their tasks to hit their targets—with little regard for things like the quality and impact of their work

Good ways to measure productivity

1. Establish clear objectives

For starters, it’s important to align performance goals with the results you want to achieve. What does success look like for an individual or a team? Objectives should be clear and roll up to these high-level goals.

2. Focus on quality and outcomes

So how do you determine whether employees are meeting their objectives? Rather than using generic (and, as discussed, performative) measurements, it’s important to focus on how well employees are meeting their objectives. 

This should include identifying the appropriate metrics for measuring quality and outcomes and for ensuring performance is on track.

3. Regularly meet with employees

In many offices, remote work has meant the end of managers peering over workers’ shoulders to make sure they’re getting the job done. 

But the lack of opportunity to micromanage doesn’t mean out of sight, out of mind—in fact, it provides the opportunity for higher-quality discussions about worker performance. This means regular check-ins, and perhaps a different type of conversation than what one-on-ones consisted of in the past.

4. Assess employees’ engagement

It’s yet more outdated thinking to assume that worker productivity and worker engagement are not connected. Employee engagement is about more than just good feelings. There is ample research showing that not only are engaged employees more productive, they ultimately drive better business outcomes. 

Engaged business units outperformed disengaged business units on these outcomes

23%

Higher profitability

81%

Lower absenteeism

10%

Higher customer engagement

This means that if you’re trying to gauge productivity, it’s a good idea to focus on employee engagement too. Some things to look for include whether workers are contributing new ideas or helping out teammates, as well as keeping an eye out for signs of burnout.

5. Keep track of performance

At the end of the day, productivity is about how much value employees are able to drive for the business. This can encompass all sorts of tasks and contributions, from taking a lead role in bringing new workers into the team fold to developing strategies that outpace the competition. But it’s important to keep track of performance in order to reinforce good work and identify areas for improvement.

Originally published Aug 19, 2021

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