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Productivity Metrics Matter More Than Ever for SMBs: How to Measure Your Workforce Effectively in 2021

Isaac Kohen
Isaac Kohen

Here's what small businesses are missing when it comes to making the shift from closely managed on-site teams to remote teams.

For many organizations, 2020 represents a critical turning point that will dictate their operational capacity, profitability and growth potential for years to come. For all too many small businesses, it dictates which ones will survive and which ones will go out of business.

The novel coronavirus has lasted longer and had more profound implications than many thought possible, negatively impacting everything from supply chains to consumer demands. 

Of course, one of the most recognizable results is a rapid shift toward remote work, as companies embarked on a full-scale operational transition virtually overnight. Now, even as some employees begin returning to the office, it's clear that a hybrid workforce combining on-site and remote workers will be a defining characteristic for most companies.

While enterprises have cultivated strategies from working with teams across national and global offices for decades, for many small companies, they are starting from square one in renovating how they manage their teams.

Similar to their larger counterparts in this environment, small businesses understand the importance of data-driven decision-making. However, they need to know how to unlock key insights, which they can then use to help them navigate this transition effectively and productively.

In the digital age, data is an abundant resource, and many organizations are surrounded by oceans of information. And for small teams without a data scientist on staff, the analysis for productivity, team engagement, and oversight for compliance and cybersecurity can be daunting. Therefore, knowing where to look and what to look for can be the difference between drowning in data and deriving actionable insights for the everyday business operator. 

Here are five simple metrics that matter most moving forward:

1. Engagement 

When accounting for remote workers, companies rightfully want to know that their workers are still engaged with day-to-day operations. However, fears of exceedingly long lunch breaks and Netflix binge sessions appear to be profoundly overblown. 

Instead, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people are working more hours with less division between their personal and professional lives. 

For instance, in the U.S., employees have increased their workday by three hours on average since the pandemic began, a significant surge in just five months. This extra time has not benefited companies or their employees. Instead, employees are reporting record levels of burnout, fatigue and depression.

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management, nearly half of respondents reported high levels of burnout, something that negatively impacts nearly every facet of an organization. 

For small operatons with shrinking profits, ensuring employees are engaged is important. While engagement is a valuable metric, it cuts both ways as too little and too much engagement can both be detrimental to long-term growth and sustainability. Since many companies are already using some variation of employee monitoring software, business owners can leverage these systems to measure engagement. 

2. Productivity 

To assess employee productivity in a hybrid environment, many companies are turning to employee monitoring metrics to ensure that their employees are working when they're away from the office. This data focus exists in many forms, and it's excellent at tracking actions, including mouse activity, app engagement, email quantity and data movement. 

However, these metrics are just the digital equivalent of productivity standards that have been implemented since the industrial revolution. 

Rather than tracking and assessing digital activity or hours worked, companies can harness data into an outcome-driven productivity model that can help employees be more precise about their work and more flexible with their work arrangements. This is key to staying productive in a way that impacts profitability. The best approach should take into account project-based metrics that account for outcomes and deliverables, allowing leaders to assess productivity in the most practical way possible. 

3. Efficiency 

Nearly all small businesses have seen their revenues shrink since the start of 2020, along with shifted consumer sentiments, and increased costs related to safety and security. It's more essential than ever to derive new efficiencies that reduce costs and maximize production. 

Leveraging the data delivered via employee monitoring and other digital efforts is a first step to achieving the insights needed to optimize your workforce and product. This can include changes to:

  • Process standardization

  • Communication methodologies

  • Scheduling best practices

  • Industry-specific improvements

Several companies, including Microsoft, have made transformative changes to their operations to maximize efficiency for a hybrid workforce. As a result, the company optimized its meeting schedule by avoiding peak productivity hours. 

By applying monitoring data to workplace norms, companies can glean new intelligent, data-driven efficiencies that allow their business to successfully accomplish more without drastically increasing resources or overhead. 

4. Well-being 

These are uniquely challenging times for everyone, and many of our traditional support systems have been dismantled or diminished. It's no surprise that employees are struggling. 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, today's workers are profoundly impacted by this disruptive moment. In a study of employee well-being, the foundation found: 

  • 53% of U.S. adults report that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.  
  • More than one-third of American adults are having difficulty sleeping and eating.
  • A concerning number of adults are turning to substance use to improve well-being. 
  • 12% of adults report worsening chronic conditions due to worry related to the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, each of these conditions are exacerbated by social distancing measures that leave many people feeling isolated and alone. And, in previous on-site small business work environments, many core small business teams felt as though they were family or may have even been part of an extended family depending on the nature of the business. When coupled with new remote work arrangements, small companies must especially aim to understand their employees' well-being and make adjustments accordingly. 

Ultimately, these challenges impact business development. In a study of the employee experience during COVID-19, Mckinsey & Company found that 80% of workers say that the pandemic is "materially affecting their daily work lives."

A flourishing business relies on thriving employees, and successful organizations must dig deep to ensure that their people are supported. 

5. Future-casting 

Across the board, 2020 is a difficult year. These challenges won't last forever. Eventually, the pandemic will subside, consumer demand will return and opportunities will abound. 

As small businesses transition to a new normal, now is the perfect time to begin future-casting goals and ambitions for the months and years ahead. Using new data about employee productivity, everyday business owners can chart new goals for organizational structures, collaborative teams and outcomes-focused hiring. 

At the same time, they can set clear and ambitious goals for employee well-being that addresses the felt needs of today and remedies many of the workplace challenges that have plagued employees for years. 

Many leaders may be hesitant to embrace large-scale change during a tumultuous time. Even so, the COVID-19 pandemic has made change a veritable necessity. This moment is best charted by data-driven decisions on many levels. By harnessing a new approach to derive meaningful insights into today's operational necessities, small businesses and their larger counterparts alike can emerge stronger, more agile, and better prepared to thrive. 

The data from these initiatives is abundant, but our ability to focus on specific outcomes is finite. 

Don't be overwhelmed by the task. Choose your metrics carefully, and make the effort to glean the best, most actionable data possible. It will help ensure that your next steps are founded and secure, ready to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Image Credit: AnnaStills / Getty Images
Isaac Kohen
Isaac Kohen,
business.com Writer
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