Productivity is an important variable in your organization's overall performance, and you'll need a way to measure and analyze it if you want to improve it.
In this article, we'll explore what "productivity" truly is (and what it means to you as an employer), how to measure employee productivity and a bit about how to improve productivity once you have a baseline measurement for your team.
Establishing your definition of "employee productivity" in the workplace
How do you define productivity? Depending on who you ask, you might get a few different answers.
Consider the following:
- Hours and effort. Everyone claims to be busy all the time, but are they really? One way to consider productivity is by evaluating how your employees are spending their raw hours. Assuming each of your team members is working for you eight hours a day, five days a week, how many of those hours are being spent doing something worthwhile? And how much effort are your employees really putting into those hours? For example, if they spend three hours a day goofing off on social media, and another two aimlessly wading through email threads, you can't exactly say they're "productive."
- Bottom-line production. Rather than evaluating based on hours spent not goofing off, you could also evaluate productivity in terms of actual results, or bottom-line production. Just like charging by the hour is often a mistake, evaluating employees by hours spent often is a mistake as well. What really is usually bottom-line results. Depending on your roles and your industry, this could be measured in terms of the number of sales made, the number of logos designed or number of bikes repaired. Freelancers, for example, often work more efficiently and productively when paid on a per-project basis rather than an hourly basis. In some ways, this is the opposite of the preceding approach; instead of focusing on the number of hours spent or the amount of effort spent, it focuses on how much value an employee is bringing to the organization.
- Employee efficiency. There's also a hybrid approach to productivity that focuses more on efficiency. Here, we can define efficiency as the amount of value created or the number of tasks completed in a certain amount of time – or an employee's ability to achieve something for the least amount of invested time or effort. Maximizing productivity in this dimension is all about a higher per-hour return.
There isn't a single, right, concise answer here, but you should take the time to define what productivity means for you and your team. It can and should influence which tools you use to measure your team's productivity, and will dictate the strategies you use to improve it.
High-level employee productivity evaluation tips
Before we move onto the strategies that can help you evaluate employee productivity, we need to cover some important high-level tips:
- Consider both individual and team productivity. Focusing exclusively on individual productivity will blind you to the failings of the group, like inefficient processes or poor collaboration. Focusing exclusively on team productivity will blind you to the unique individual strengths and weaknesses that need to be exploited and mitigated, respectively. The only real solution is to measure both "team" and "individual" productivity, using both to improve different aspects of your organization.
- Measure and report consistently. Assuming your end goal is to improve employee productivity, it's important to measure productivity and report on it consistently. Depending on the size of your organization and how much you care, weekly, biweekly, or monthly reports may be warranted. Regardless of time frame, objective measurements will ensure that you're making an accurate analysis, and checking in regularly will help you see if all those productivity tips are making a difference.
- Incorporate the cost of your investments. It's easy to get lost in new investments to improve your productivity, such as new devices, new apps and software, and even employee training. However, you mustn't lose sight of these costs. When experimenting with something new, consider its role in your budget, and try to translate its productivity improvements into a bottom-line ROI (return on investment).
- Start with goals in mind. What are you really trying to achieve here? If you aren't focused, you may find it hard to make measurable progress. After taking an initial measurement, work up some goals for your team to target, such as improving daily ticket closures by 15%, or reducing "wasted time" (however you define it) by 10% within a month. Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, these goals will help motivate your team and give you a concrete picture of whether your tactics are working.
How to monitor employee workload
With those high-level tips in mind, you can begin your foray into employee productivity analysis by keeping an eye on your employees' workloads. Determining how much your employees have to do, at any given point, can clue you into which team members are outperforming the others, and help you determine how those workloads can and should be rebalanced.
- Monitor employee email activity. One of the best ways to get perspective on an employee's workload is by monitoring their email. More than ever, email plays a role in almost everything we do, from assigning tasks and clarifying scope to collaborating with the team. With an email monitoring system in place, you can see how busy each of your employees are, where they're struggling and how they're wasting time (if, indeed, they're wasting it).
- Use a project management system. You could also go a more conventional route and rely on a project management system to organize and track your employee workloads. Project management systems will allow you and your project managers to split all your high-level projects into digestible tasks and sub-tasks. Assuming those tasks bear somewhat equal weight, you'll be able to tell, at a glance, how the workload is split between your employees and whether an individual isn't pulling their load.
- Encourage self-reporting. As a general rule, employees are eager to prove how busy they are, or may go out of their way to seem like they're busier than they actually are. This is counterproductive for several reasons; pretending to be busier than you are prevents managers from assigning an appropriate number of additional tasks to you. It also gives you a skewed perspective on how productive your employees truly are. You can fight against this by making your employees feel comfortable about expressing a lack of available work, or a smaller workload than usual. Reward employees for voicing this perspective, and don't treat it as something to be ashamed of.
- Perfect your system of task distribution. Productivity is much easier to measure when you have a system that splits action items or responsibilities into relatively equal groups. As a simple example, restaurants frequently assign tables to servers on a rotating basis, adding new tables to servers one at a time so no one server is ever over or underworked. You could do the same with assigning prospects, tickets or other tasks related to your employee roles. That way, you'll intrinsically know that all employees in a given group will have a nearly equal workload at any point in time.
Tracking employee performance
OK, so your employees might have perfectly balanced workloads. But how can you tell how quickly they're getting the work done, or whether they're using their time at work effectively?
This becomes a measure of employee performance, and some of the strategies in the preceding section can also apply to this system of measurement. However, these strategies may be more appropriate, and can stand on their own or as a complement to your workload management:
- Implement a time tracking system. Time-trackingtools are designed to keep tabs on how your employees are spending their working hours. Assuming your employees are using the system as intended (i.e., using timers instead of manual entries and being honest about their reports), it's a great way to determine which of your tasks and projects are the biggest time hogs and where your employees might be falling short.
- Chart task completion. If you're using a project management or task assignment system already, it should be easy to measure how many tasks your employees are completing, and when they're completing them. For example, if you notice an employee closes 25 tickets during morning hours, on average, but only 10 in the afternoon hours, it could be a sign of a massive drop in energy and motivation after lunch. Of course, this system could potentially be fooled, but it should serve as a useful indicator – especially if you use it in combination with time tracking.
- Quantify your productive work. If you're looking for a bigger-picture perspective on how your employees are working, you could find a way to quantify productive work beyond just tasks, projects or hours spent. This will work for some professions and some industries far better than others. For example, you may evaluate your employees in terms of how many calls they take, how many words they write, how many lines of code they produce, or how many sales they close. The biggest weakness with this strategy is that it runs the risk of encouraging your employees to focus on quantity instead of quality.
- Use digital activity monitoring software. Many of the options on this list involve monitoring your employees' activities, but installed computer monitoring software can take things to the next level, avoiding potential problems like self-reporting bias entirely by determining what your employees are doing at any given moment. Depending on the service you use, you can see which sites your employees are visiting, which apps they're using, and generally whether they're being "productive" at any given point during the day.
- Call for daily check-ins. If you trust your employees to report their performance accurately, establish a system that calls for them to submit a daily report of what they've done. You can set this up simply by asking for a concise email from each of your team members with a short bulleted list of what projects they've finished, what tasks they've done, and what, if anything, stopped them from doing their best work. Some apps can help you automate and manage this system.
- Trust and empower your managers. If you're looking for a more hands-off approach, you can empower your managers and supervisors to track productivity however they see fit. For some, that might mean installing monitoring software and generating automatic reports. For others, it might just mean sitting back and observing how employees are working in the office. As long as there's some objective method to establish a baseline of performance and measure how it improves, there isn't a "wrong" approach.
Employee productivity improvement
Having the data on employee productivity is valuable, but you have to make those data actionable if you're going to improve employee productivity.
Improving employee productivity is a complex topic that far exceeds the introduction of mere measurement. Here are a few tips on how to act on the data you've managed to gather.
- Employee productivity questions. Most of the advice in this article encourages you to observe and measure employee productivity from your perspective, but don't forget that your employees' perspectives matter, too – in fact, they may be even more inclined to know how productive they're being and why. Ask them if there's anything in your environment or workplace policies or even their environment (particularly if they're working from home) that is preventing them from doing their best, and ask what they think could help improve their performance.
- Employee happiness vs. Satisfied and happy employees are almost always more productive. However, there's a distinct difference between these concepts, so you can't treat them synonymously; measuring both employee morale and employee productivity will help you make improvements in both complementary areas.
- Identifying distractions. One of the biggest challenges to overcome when improving productivity is finding (and eliminating) distractions. Distractions like amusing websites, social media, phone notifications, excessive office conversation, and annoying noise can negatively impact employee focus and pull them away from work that matters. Use your productivity data to determine if there is a root cause for your team's distractions.
- Investing in new tools. In many cases, employee potential is capped by the devices and tools they use one a regular basis. Upgrading computers, providing them with more efficient software and teaching them how to maintain their equipment properly can all help them become more productive.
- Investing in employee education and training. If productivity is a factor of the value your employees bring to your organization, you can objectively increase that value by providing them with more education and training. Employees with more skills, more experience and more education will be able to perform better, and cover a wider range of skills.
- It's hard to tell what factors will or won't impact your employees' productivity, and even the best, most experienced managers can't come up with all-consuming solutions that work for literally everybody. The only way forward is to experiment, trying many different strategies and approaches, and using your objective measurements to see what works and what doesn't.
Measuring employee productivity in the workplace is crucial, because what gets measured gets managed. Especially in current times, monitoring and maximizing productivity is more important than ever.