In the 20th century, productivity meant something entirely different from what it means today. Working from nine to five, within the constraints of office hours and non-digital forms of communication, meant that you could only move as fast as the fax machine and phone lines would allow. Now, with the idea of the “work week” essentially obliterated, productivity has a whole new meaning.
But today —despite our reliance on emails, team collaboration tools like Slack and video conferencing across time zones—the productivity question seems more prevalent than ever. Even though we’re working more hours and have less down time, many workers still struggle to feel like they are getting enough done. Expectations are higher, and so too are workers’ insecurities about making an impact.
But what if the idea of glorifying working long hours late into the night is not the right approach when it comes to productivity? What if, in light of all the new digital tools we have at our disposal, we should be working not harder, but smarter. As one blogger for ThinkGrowth put it, “In the 20th century we measured work done by the number of hours each employee logged. On an assembly line each employee was doing the same thing, so productivity simply equaled hours worked. Employees proved they were at work by using time cards to measure attendance.” In other words, when our metric was merely “showing” up, working long hours were a badge of honor, but that is no longer the case.
Today, we don’t need to exert a physical presence to make an impact. As the same blogger went on to say, “Long hours don’t necessarily mean success. There are times when all-nighters are necessary (early days of a startup, on a project deadline) but good management is knowing when it is needed and when it is just theater.”
So what are some tools and tricks you can implement to work smarter, and not harder?
Here are some recommendations:
Clearly define the mission: Most company heads assume their employees are all working towards the same goal, but often those goals aren’t clearly articulated. Does company revenue trump all else? Or does it do so only if it balances with social impact? What if those things affect company culture? Writing a shared mission statement with input from all the department and teams in your company is key. Keep it relatively simple, and remind people of it often. That way, your workers will feel they have more autonomy in answering the question: “Does this help the company’s core mission?” without having to ask the boss first.
Encourage flexible work setups: Clocking in at the office from nine to five can be very draining for some workers, and not necessarily result in their best work. Allowing for remote or work-from-home arrangements, even occasionally, can help your team members be more effective, often in less time, and hold less resentment over their work at the same time. With video conferencing technology, Slack, Dropbox, and cloud servers, there is no reason your workers can’t work from home as effectively as when they are in the office; you just have to trust them enough to do so.
Do have employees report on output, not hours: One of the best ways to use a team communication platform like Slack is to have your employees share the output of their efforts each day, week, month, or whenever is appropriate. By creating a system of public accountability, your team can be more focused on what they have to report at the end of each week, rather than how long they spent in the office. This requires a little bit of flexibility on the part of the boss: if you are happy with the output of your team, make sure you don’t police them for the number of hours they’re spending in the office.
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