One of the key issues that managers faced as the Covid-19 isolation period started, and remote working kicked in, was monitoring, and tracking employee status. In other words, they weren’t sure who was working, and who wasn’t, without going to extraordinary measures. Employees, in return, became glued to their keyboard, or conversely would take measures such as turning off their global chat functions so that others on the team could not see the ‘away from my desk’ status icon appearing after a few minutes of inactivity.
The knock-on effect? Instead of a quick ‘chat’ on the shared application, the team member would have to call or write a more formal email. It became more difficult to get information that could have been transmitted with one line on the chat. This increased stress levels in workers and team leaders alike and impacted productivity negatively.
Years ago, I read a study that indicated that for every 5 people working in an office, the equivalent of almost 1 day (yes, 8 hours) of work was ‘lost’ to occurrences such as: multiple people waiting for one person who was late for a meeting; individuals being asked to, and attending meetings, that had no direct relevance to their work deliverables; idle chatter; surfing the internet; going for longer coffee and/or smoke breaks, etc. At the time, I was doing research for a programme that would help employees manage their time more effectively, but this sparked a bigger question in my mind; ‘Is anyone looking at organisational achievement tied to time management?’. With the advent of remote working, we could assume that teams automatically became more productive as they recouped at least some of that ‘lost time’.
With vaccinations being rolled out across the world, the conversation about work time and work location is heating up. It is a great opportunity to redefine expectations and to talk about Meaningful Strategic Management. The main concept is a focus on the level of output and quality of work which impacted the delivery of priority activities, not how much time employees spent at work (in Canada, the colloquial terms was ‘bums in seats’), whether working remotely or in the office.
When I coach managers, I use 3 key messages:
1. Focus on What Matters
I’m sure at least once in our career, we’ve heard some version of the old lament…. ‘They only got promoted because they stay late every evening! But what are they doing?? Surfing the net!!‘
Still today, many corporations reward people for the time they spend at their desk and not the quality of work or achieving their deliverables. Focusing on deliverables and allowing team members to work according to a schedule or rhythm that fits them, actually frees team members and managers to focus on the more strategic components of the jobs.
By negotiating deliverables and the timing around those ‘chunks of work’, managers are also teaching their staff a valuable lesson in workload management and influencing skills. Moving to the ‘deliverables’ method of team management soon shows who the high performers are. It also allows a conversation to begin about which activities truly support the goals and mission of the organisation. Focusing on deliverables and not the time someone spends staring at a screen, provides a clearer view of the effort required for each activity. A real advantage for any corporation!
2. The 3 x 2 Rule
Most people are not able to work or concentrate steadily on one activity all day. No matter what type of work, there will be tasks that require immense concentration and others that are rote. Everyone needs to take breaks, ‘switch gears’ or just take a step back from high-pressure activities. It is incumbent upon managers to encourage staff to follow a rhythm that allows them to produce great, high-quality work product without exhausting themselves.
Throughout my career, I have used the ‘3 x 2 rule’ with my teams. I ask them to focus on important and critical deliverables for 3, 2-hour segments each day. Between these 2-hour segments, they can answer email, grab a coffee, complete non-urgent, non-essential tasks, follow up with a colleague, or take a walk to clear their head – in other words, do anything that helps keep their mind sharp for the next 2-hour segment of work. Syncing up the 2-hour segments so that that whole team has uninterrupted time to work can be very productive – and liberating. How many times have you just gotten back into a complex spreadsheet or project plan to be interrupted by a colleague who could have easily waited an hour for the answer to their question.
The great thing about using the ‘3 x 2 rule’ is that by the end of the day, the agreed upon deliverables are complete, and the team leaves work with a feeling of accomplishment. I have worked with teams from Canada to Kazakhstan and have always seen great results and superb motivation from this method.
3. Value Strategic Voids
Before I describe this approach, an important caveat is that in my career of 40+ years, I have never, ever worked with a high performer who wasn’t always on the lookout for the next big project, a way to improve a process, or a million other things that would keep them busy. In fact, the manager who feels they must fill every minute of a high-performer’s schedule, is doing themselves as big a disservice as they are doing the company.
Clearly, this approach works best in teams built on mutual respect and a strategic understanding of high value output. It does not work if the manager keeps piling non-essential work on their best performers – which can, of course, be perceived as punishing high performers for being able to work more quickly and/or efficiently than others. Giving work that can be done by administrative or other staff, to a high performer, defeats the purpose of grooming top talent.
At the foundation of giving more autonomy to team members, is the manager’s strategic understanding of engagement and motivation toward achieving priority corporate activities. The underlying behaviour required is daunting. If a team member asks to off-load work or tries to refuse new work, it requires the manager to have a meaningful conversation!! 😉 And… to really listen! This simple, but difficult behaviour = listening and negotiating – is Integral to ensuring your top talent’s time is optimized.
By valuing strategic voids – especially if it allows someone to concentrate on work that requires more expertise (therefore higher value-add), the manager sends a message about what is important for the team and the organisation.
Following these three simple tenants allows the team to reap the incredible results that stem from one guiding principle: Focus on strategic deliverables, not ‘busy work’.
Want to learn more about time and strategic workload management?