Productivity is one of the most talked-about topics in the pandemic. But sometimes, it’s easy to be misled by numbers and fall into the trap of false efficiency. Here’s what to do to see the truth behind the numbers.

A recent survey stirred up HR professionals on Twitter and LinkedIn. It was conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and investigated the productivity trends of 150,000 employees at a large IT service company. It also provided a partial answer to a question that has been on everyone’s mind: “is working from home more productive than working in an office?” Here are the results:

LocationHours worked per day
OutputProductivity
Office5.08100.821.36
Home7.04100.301.11


Source: University of Chicago/tomtunguz.com

The data shows that employees who worked from home achieved the same results but spent more time on their tasks than in the office. So the productivity of this company decreased. Further research reveals that employees who work from home spend more time on working after hours, email, and meetings.

While the data here isn’t strong enough to prove any regularities, the talk around productivity has peaked. But why has productivity become the Holy Grail of today’s workforce? And why can measuring productivity be misleading? Let’s look at some pitfalls and discuss how to avoid them.

What is productivity?

Productivity is usually defined as the ratio of the volume of output to the volume of inputs. Historically, it comes from the Industrial Revolution, when people moved from fields to factories and their employers needed to determine the desired number of goods or services produced in a given time.

Much of this approach has survived until today. We believe that better time management leads to increased productivity and, consequently, greater output from the same amount of input. If, for example, a sales team meets or even exceeds its productivity goals, it shows to the outside world that it performs well. 

“This is the first trap of productivity assessment,” comments Daniel Aduszkiewicz, the CEO and Co-Founder of Human Panel. 

“If you assume that higher output equals a well-functioning team, you’re just collecting data, whereas your goal should be to understand what that data means. What makes the team perform above expectations? Is it their leader, the tools they use, the extraordinary motivation? People analytics can answer these questions and give you a more detailed insight,” Daniel adds.

Positive and negative impacts of remote work

Productivity at home vs. in the office

Collecting data without analyzing it is also a trap you can fall into when comparing the productivity of home workers to office workers. 

Recent surveys show that more than three-quarters of people say working from home saves them time typically associated with commuting and business travel. About half of employees who work from home say they are more productive. Sixty-two percent of employees will prefer employers who allow some remote work in the future. Twenty-nine percent would quit if they were not allowed to work from home.

Where’s the trap here? People say they save time while working remotely, and they say they are more productive. But it all depends on the workforce in your company – or even a specific department. 

“This is why you should ask detailed questions to know the real needs of your employees: what they prefer and why they feel more productive in a particular location. The answers might vary – they can be different for parents of young children and generation Z employees. But this is what people analytics does. It provides you with data analysis about your team and your people,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.

Who benefits from working in the office?

The best-selling author and business professor Scott Galloway claims that office space is most relevant to parents and young people who share an apartment with roommates and don’t have a professional space to work. But productivity levels depend on many reasons, and it is crucial to discover them.

“Productivity at home may be lower because people spend more time communicating and waiting for a response from decision-makers. Or maybe they’re less productive because they don’t have experience with meetings and spend a lot of time figuring out what they want to accomplish in the meeting. Or maybe it’s a matter of ineffective remote leadership,” Daniel Aduszkiewicz comments.

62% of people would like to have some flexibility in their workplace

Setting productivity goals

Another problem with productivity is that many business leaders set goals without thinking more deeply about what should be behind the numbers – and the problem emerges at scale.

If you’re running a large company, it’s easy to translate a 1-percent productivity increase into revenue and that’s a tempting option. Some companies measure, for example, how quickly their customer service representatives respond to customer calls and try to optimize the process. But again, you should always look at the big picture, especially if the team is not meeting the goals.

“When you identify and understand all inefficiencies, you work smarter. If your team isn’t delivering the results you want, maybe it’s because of poor tools? It’s similar to productivity levels in different countries. It’s popular to explain the differences by cultural context, but maybe it’s different levels of automation? That’s why it’s always worth digging deeper, asking questions, and using people analytics. The more data we collect, the more layers we see, and the more comprehensive conclusions we can draw,” says Daniel.

29% of people would rather quit than be not allowed to go remote.

The trap of time management

The final trap of productivity measurement is the constant need to increase efficiency and master time management. Squeezing long meetings into half-hour sprints, making room for more tasks, streamlining processes – it can all lead to increased stress and pressure, and, subsequently, burnout.

More than 75% of people said that working from home saved them time associated with commuting during the pandemic. Still, at the same time, the data from the enterprise software company Atlassian shows that the average workday worldwide has increased by a full 30 minutes. That means most people are working longer hours to see the same results. Just like the study cited at the beginning of this article – a straight path to loss of motivation and burnout.

What are some strategies to avoid burnout and escape the vicious circle of time management and always-more-productivity? The first step is to prioritize duties and stick to eliminating unnecessary decisions. Then it is advisable to eradicate excessive tasks and get rid of the ones that are not priorities. Finally, you can do everything you can to minimize distractions, even if that means turning off your wifi for a two-hour window of focused work. 

Conclusion

While productivity is one of the most critical metrics for any business, it should always be considered in context, as pure numbers can be misleading. The constant compulsion to increase productivity can be a trap, especially for businesses that operate on a larger scale. When comparing home and office productivity, always consider whose work is being analyzed. Only then will you discover the truth behind the numbers.

There are ways to avoid pitfalls and misconceptions. People analytics is one of them. By carefully analyzing the data at every step of the way, you can better meet the needs of your employees. achieve your business goals by creating a productive, non-overworked, and motivated workforce.

If you want to work with the right data and the right tool that will make your workforce management easier, check out our free demo and see how Human Panel can help you solve your problems. Contact us by filling in the form below.

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