Organisations, beware of this invisible revenue leakage!
I am talking about productive time of your employees.
In the last 10 years, the time employees spend at work has increased manifold and yet at the same time, the productivity of employees are at an all time low.
Isn't it weird? Should it not be directly proportional? You bet!
What is not said is that even though employees are spending more hours, but not making most of every minute they spend. Primary reason is distraction! Distraction due to multitasking, distraction due to the non-conducive environment — open office, distractions due to meetings.
An interesting trivia, even if we are completely focused (no distractions), a normal human brain cannot work beyond 5–6 hours in a peak state. Add in chatter, meetings, context switching, multi-tasking — even achieving 1–2 hrs can be a real struggle.
Let’s call a spade a spade and say that very rarely and less often, anything of importance has come out of so many hours of meetings which many employees are made to go through, at times including myself. I pity all of us.
Adding to it, the open office culture is taking a toll on employees who are essentially “makers”. (Not to confuse a flat org chart with a open office layout.)
Let us first understand the concept of Maker vs Manager.
Each one of us (be it in Marketing, Finance, Product Management, Design, Research, etc) are primarily paid to either be a maker or a manager. There are obvious exceptions to the rule when one does both, but they are less and hence calling them exceptions.
So what does a maker do and what does a manager do? Simply put —
Maker — makes things, creates a tangible output, say a product.
Manager — manages things (conflicts, work, etc) and ideally paves way and clears any roadblocks for Makers in their team(s).
Usually the higher we “grow” the higher we let go of making things and more enter into the role of managing things.
Makers need a lot of “me-time, heads-down time” to make things worthy.
The Manager, on the other hand, need to “network” or build connections, fire-fight, resolve conflicts, etc
Irony is that Managers as they grow higher, get their own cabins whereas Makers continue to work in the fish-market aka open-office plan struggling to get things done.
Take any known person who has achieved something path-breaking and no one would say “I made that thing thanks to so many meetings” or “I love meetings” or anything similar.
The fact is that making anything worthy needs some serious (and lots of) ideas and ideas come from thinking. We human being are not programmed to think collectively and thank God for that.
The irony, especially in tech-related firms, is that we are aspiring or working with cutting edge technology, aspiring to — changing the way we work, impacting our users and customers and yet the way we work continues to be behind our times and hasn’t caught up with changing needs of people. Companies may be changing lives for other people but at the expense of their own employees.
Here are 5 ways to ensure both your Makers and Managers are productive —
- Work-from home (WFH)
The fact that I am even mentioning this is a travesty.
In the last 7 years staying in Bangalore, my commute time to anywhere has literally become doubled. I am lucky and feel privileged to stay next door to my workplace (however long it may last), but that is not the case with everyone. I personally know my friends at work who spend a minimum of 2 hours on road every day. And at times this 2 hrs easily stretches to 3–3.5 hours during rains, holidays, etc.
And mind you, it’s not that this travel time is on a smooth 6 lane expressway. Far from it. There is road rage, there is ample time just sitting idle, there is pot-holes, cows and what have you to navigate around. My FULL respect for people who have to travel and still get the work done, every single day.
They deserve better.
Its high-time, organisations have a WFH policy in place. It should be mandatory.
Now before you scream that in your nature of work collaboration is key, its a fair point, but there are several ways to collaborate without being physically present. It’s 2018 if you didn't realize.
One common objection which arises is that employees will misuse. To which I want to ask 3 questions —
1. Are we kids that need constant supervision?
2. If we cannot trust our own employees to use their time wisely, are we even hiring the right people?
3. How will you measure whether your employees are wasting time and it is being misused?
The fundamental issue is our mindset which equates a successful high performing employee as one who is at work 12–14 hours and this has taken over from the outcome/output which seems to be a better way to gauge an employee’s performance.
We reward and talk about people who spend 12–14 hours a day and label them hard-working, where-as the right term for these people are either that they are inefficient or bad at time-management.
2. Work from anywhere outside office
There are tons of co-working space available at a fairly reasonable price. Why not provide 1 day pass each month to each employee? Or ask them to reimburse on actual (whatever the limit as per policy might be).
Even if employees work for 5 hours in a place without the distractions of the office, the output and the outcome would be tremendous. 1 employee doing this and multiply by X employees doing this, imagine the results.
Trouble is the above may get flagged as an extra cost, where-as companies don’t realize they are anyway missing the leak in terms of wasted hours and other ancillary expenses like electricity, tea/coffee, etc
3. Unnecessary evil made necessary — Meetings
I wonder often, whether companies are in the business of meetings or in the business of providing things (service, products) for the end user/customer.
As Jason Fried articulated perfectly —
“It’s hard to come up with a bigger waste of money, time, or attention than status meetings.”
Most meetings (with a lot of people, most are not required) tend to be about status. Who did what, what is pending, what is the progress since we last met, what are the bottlenecks?
Why the hell should one meet for this? Share the update in email or using other methods (Slack, WhatsApp, etc) and if one has a question can meet in person.
Why waste the collective time of employees (more so when all the audience are the top layer in terms of salary, so the wastage is that much more exponential) for a routine thing as status.
Some best practices for meetings —
- Have as fewer meetings as possible (not more than 1 a day).
- Have for as less duration as possible (ideally 15 mins).
- Invite only those people who are absolutely required whether in terms of an update, adding value, inter-dependencies (ideally 4–5 people).
- Set the agenda, expectations from the audience and end outcome clearly. Without this meetings tend to become about meetings and nothing else.
- Make it mandatory for the host to share pre-read and mandatory for the audience to read the pre-read.
If meetings are what the culture has become, start with one day a week of “No Meetings”. Lock all the meeting rooms. Those who want to meet can meet in the cafeteria, elsewhere in the campus or in one of the cabins of the privilege as more often than not they have the need for meetings (and at times rightly so).
4. Comp (compensation) Off
Sometimes I feel that the week has passed by without accomplishing much either in terms of the deliverable or my own inner satisfaction. For these times I usually come to work on weekends (the privilege I have is that I stay next door) and I absolutely cherish and love my time. No one is at work, no distractions, no meetings, no small talk, pure focused time for work. Its always happened that by working only for the first half, I usually get the whole day work done. Bliss would be an understatement.
As much as I enjoy coming on a weekend, I wish I was provided a weekday off for coming on weekends. At present, since I enjoy or have some deadline coming up due to which I come to work on weekends. But if I had the option to take a comp-off I would be happy to come and get more and better work done. Its a win-win for both Company and Employee and ultimately the users and customers we are serving.
The trouble is if everyone starts coming on a weekend instead of a weekday then it would defeat the purpose. But many have weekend plans and its unlikely everyone will turn up.
Or we can also stagger it such that any dependencies are not impacted. So one team gets a comp off on one week/month and other gets on another week/month.
The fact that there will be zero meetings on a day will itself be worth the value.
5. Quiet Zones
When I read about “best office to work at”, more than the free food, ping-pong tables it is the “pods” which attract me the most. These are zones built for 1–2 people who can work without any distraction and in a quiet peaceful space.
Something like the below pic —
Organisations can also tailor their meeting rooms in a way which encourage employees to get their own space without any distractions. These rooms follow “library rules” where speaking is prohibited so that others are not disturbed.
Co-working spaces are a perfect example of layouts which can lead to better productivity.
It is high time we improve the EX — Employee Experience. This will impact many other “Experiences” in a very profitable way.
Are you facing the same issue or work in a place where distractions are handled? Would love to hear your thoughts.