For all of human history, one thing was ever-present in the world of work: a manager being physically close to their people, watching them complete tasks. Feudal lords watched their peasants tend crops in the 1500s. The Boss peered over their staff’s shoulders as they filled in spreadsheets in the 2000s. Little changed.
Henry Ford’s invention of the assembly line back in 1913 further entrenched things. With his staff now completing simple, short tasks, emphasis had never been placed so much on simply being present at work — and so little on being valuable or creative. Companies came to see employees as commodities that add value according to time worked. Put simply: all that mattered was the hours punched in and out.
But the recent shift to remote work turned that dynamic on its head. Now, those at the top are information-poor when it comes to how their people are working.
To ensure that work gets done, businesses need a singular focus on what employees are doing — the tasks they need to complete, and how well they need to do them. This is often known as a results-focused work environment. Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised — here’s where we’d start…
1. Work back from business outcomes to individual ones
The first question is this: where does your operation need to be in 1, 2 or 5 years time, in terms of your main indicator of success (turnover, acquired customers, etc.)? To achieve this, what does team X (development, marketing) need to do? Bring in 4,000 leads a year? Build features A, B, C by the end of Q3?
How are these team aims then carved up between individuals? Does marketer X need to bring in 500 leads a month from pay-per-click adverts? Fantastic – you’ve established a clear outcome that is totally individualised. The staff member has an exact barometer of how they are doing at work, and how much time and energy they need to put in. If they hit their targets and deliverables, then how they choose to split their day shouldn’t matter.
2. Trust. Trust. Trust.
Some businesses, especially big corporations, have developed a taste for monitoring software that tracks employee’s screen time, mouse movements, and so on. They can be easily circumvented by wiggling the mouse now and then, and measure little more than the ability to sit near a computer. In fact, all they demonstrate is a deficit of trust and staff autonomy.
A report by Watson Wyatt shows that firms with high-trust environments outperform low-trust ones by 286% in shareholder returns (stock price and dividends). High-trust environments have 50% lower staff turnover than their competitors. In fact, trust is so crucial Juggle’s flexible working ebook uses trust as its central theme.
But the main benefit of trust is emotional. It endangers understanding between team members that they will do the work to a good quality, at the right time – and that it doesn’t matter if they are working unusual hours or from disparate locations.
3. *Actually* use planning software
Asana, Jira, Trello, Proofhub. There is a glut of project management software out there, so choose wisely and according to your needs. Do you need a Gantt chart feature? Do you want integrated chat? These are the kinds of questions that need answering before you begin paying subs.
Once you’ve decided the outcomes you’re reaching for as a business (read above!), pop them into the planning software with ambitious, achievable timelines that everyone can reference. Finally, make sure whichever you use gets company-wide buy-in – it’s surprisingly common for teams to get siloed using different platforms, leading to people pulling in different directions. When you’re creating your results-only work environment, software can be a big help – use it!
4. Meet to revisit objectives weekly
Meetings for meeting’s sake consume too much time and energy. But without regular check-ins on how people are progressing on their objectives, there’s little point in setting them; they’ll simply become things that vaguely hang over work, create stress, and don’t actually lead to greater productivity.
The accountability of a semi-public setting also provides a greater dialogue between teams about how work is progressing – that’s particularly important for teams that are working remotely.
5. Stop the lines being blurred when remote
With so many of us now working remotely, it’s easy for work to seep into life. The boundary created by simply leaving the office must be recreated to ensure that people aren’t working more than they should be. Simply suggesting people work 7/8 hour days, and asking them why they are still working when they send a message at 8pm is a good start.
Remote work is closely connected to outcomes-centric work, but to avoid burnout and an ‘always on’ culture, and to keep staff happy and productive, the former needs to be healthily implemented. Make clear what is expected of people, and what isn’t.
While hours worked will continue to have a degree of importance for most companies, research suggests that this is no longer the right measure of productivity. By trusting your employees, setting clear expectations and creating a transparent, outcomes-driven culture you will be on the path to success in 2021. As businesses return to the office and likely embrace a more flexible way of working, managing outcomes, not hours will be crucial.
#The future is flexible.