From homeschooling children to finding a work-life balance, we are experiencing an unprecedented set of challenges for the modern workforce. Since the COVID crisis hit in March, my wife and I have been predominately working from home. My three adult children, along with their families or roommates, are also working from their homes. Unlike many others, I am fortunate to have the benefits of 5G and a separate home office, but it got me thinking – am I more or less productive than when I work at my office in the city?
Stanford economist, Nicholas Bloom calls it the new “working-from-home economy,” which he says “is likely to continue long past the coronavirus pandemic…and it poses new challenges – from a ticking time bomb for inequality to an erosion of city centers.” In this new normal of work, business leaders and employees alike must ask: how do we continue to maintain productivity?
In this piece, we will cover:
- The future of work in the wake of COVID-19
- Personal productivity in the new remote model of work
- How you can assess your work-from-home productivity
The Future of Work: Remote is Here to Stay.
Let’s look at the early numbers from Nicholas’ study.
“We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time. About another 33 percent are not working… And the remaining 26 percent – mostly essential service workers – are working on their business premises. So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy.”
– May Wong, ‘Stanford research provides a snapshot of a new working-from-home economy’
What is most troubling, is half of the respondents to this study, claim they are not efficiently working from home. This is attributed to roles that cannot be done remotely such as transportation or retail. However, for those who can fully operate remotely and complete all of their responsibilities digitally, it begs the question – is this cohort more or less productive working from home?
How Has Personal Productivity Been Impacted by the Remote Work Shift?
One New Survey claims a 47% increase in productivity for remote workers. Nevertheless, there are two perspectives in this story. Pre-pandemic, a number of high-profile companies with work from home, remote and open/hoteling office plans were regressing to traditional models. An article in the Wall Street Journal states that IBM, a Pioneer of Remote Work, will call workers back to the office. This “…will improve collaboration and accelerate the pace of work… [IBM] is giving thousands of its remote workers in the U.S. a choice this week: Abandon your home workspaces and relocate to a regional office—or leave the company.”
So how are these employees spending their time? How are workers adapting the way they allocate time in the new normal?
For many, “Work life balance has been shattered… but savvy employees are putting the pieces back together in innovative and surprising ways. According to a survey…here’s how team members are making the most out of their home office:
- The average worker starts work at 8:32 a.m. and ends work at 5:38 p.m
- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the most productive days, in that order
- Telephone calls are up 230%
- CRM activity is up 176%
- Email is up 57% and chat is up 9%”
– Prodoscope, Enhancing Productivity in the COVID Era
How Can We Assess Personal Productivity in the New Normal?
One thing is clear – measuring productivity is tricky. Without a real consensus on how to measure it, we see a wide range of results. Although there are a variety of productivity metrics, for me, productivity has always consisted of two parts:
- Are you working on the right tasks and addressing the right problems?
- Are you working on the right tasks – efficiently?
Part 1: Are you working on the right tasks and addressing the right problems?
Broadly stated – is your business model structured to focus your precious resources on the highest valued activities? Are you working on the right projects and are you efficient in working toward the desired results of those projects? As a CEO, I own Part 1 of this measurement.
The best tool I have found to identify the right problems to solve is Objectives & Key Results (OKRs). I am a believer in setting clear objectives, directly connected to strategy, with the corresponding key results to measure success of those objectives and continue to refine along the way.
For example, you state the objective and then assign key results to said objective to clearly outline how you plan to achieve your outcome. One of our OKRs at Accelare regarding our consulting methodology is:
Key Result: Grow brand awareness by signing on 20 new customers per month.
This objective can be difficult to achieve when the entire sales and delivery model has moved from on-premise to remote, but to avoid this, we clearly track our progress. Each month, we engage in conversations about our performance against this objective and assess where and how we can improve.
These OKRs are not departmental activity metrics – those measurements are meaningless. The objectives are strategic in nature and cascade down from executives to managers to front-line employees. Our productivity stems from performance and measurable metrics, it is not a matter of time and attendance.
Part 2: Are you working on the right tasks – efficiently?
As it relates to efficiency, I rely on managers, supervisors and front-line performers. How many of the right tasks can we complete and how quickly? For this, you need to assess how you spend your time. So, I kept a diary for a few weeks to dive into my daily activities.
Here is what I found.
When I work on-premise, during a typical workday, I spent one hour commuting each way. Specific to work activities, I separated the day into two categories: work and personal time. I further divided the workday into direct output on the right tasks, overhead/administrative activities, lunch, personal activities during business hours and commuting.
- The most significant gains came from the 2 hours of commute (1 hour of which was redirected to the right tasks) – the other went to personal time (more specifically walking or biking).
- I picked up an additional hour of productivity by participating in information-filled compact meetings, sticking to the allotted time and automating a number of administrative meetings with on-line workflows.
- My personal activities and sharing of household tasks during business hours noticeably increased even as an empty nester.
- I have virtually no social-business commitments whereas previously, my week always had one or two evenings committed to internal events or client dinners. This has been eliminated completely and seems to have no negative effect (at least in the short-term). Time is so precious, so I am sure everyone appreciates the time back.
The Result of My Productivity Exercise
After this exercise, I confirmed my hypothesis: I am more productive remotely. I got 2 hours back from the commute and only part of that time has been dedicated to work. I now walk every evening before dinner – something I did not do before. I am spending less time in administrative meetings primarily attributed to a newly instituted video call structure. One of the current goals for the moderator is to give time back and by adjourning the meetings.
Based on time allocation, I have seen a 37% increase in time spent on high-value work shifting from 4 hours (on-premise) to 5.5 hours (remote).
Objectives & Key Results to Measure Work-From-Home Productivity
The real experiment is proved through Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) and the early results are looking great.
Interestingly enough, we found our highest performers are doing their best work at home because of their flexibility. Spending 4 hours during the day and then another 4 or more hours late into the evening, reaching out to prospective customers and participating in online forums.
So, my challenge to you:
- Make your own efficiency diary and analyze how you spend your day.
- Ask yourself: are you working on the right things? Is your work contributing to the strategic OKRs you’ve outlined?
Your efficiency, coupled with your ability to work on the right tasks, will lead you to answer: are you more or less productive working from home?
How is your business and team navigating the work from home in this new normal? Explore our SAFE Return to Work solutions for more information on how to support your remote teams and increase productivity.