“Have I caught you doing the laundry?” A better way to measure productivity

6/10/2016 |
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My first experience as a remote worker was less than satisfactory. Every time I answered the phone it was the same joke, “Have I caught you doing the laundry?” It wasn’t “hello- let’s talk business!” I had to account for my dirty clothes.

Attitudes have changed a lot since then, but not completely. In a recent British study of 2,000 adults, most still didn’t see the benefits of remote working, and older managers (55+) were the worst. The most popular factors against the idea were “lack of routine and close supervision” and “distractions of a non-work environment.” It’s that laundry issue all over again.

The research is unequivocal. Flexible working arrangements are the best way to increase motivation and productivity as well as lower workplace costs. Just ask any remote worker what its like and you’ll hear comments like: “I get so much more done outside the office” or “I’m less frustrated when I haven’t spent over 2 hours a day commuting,” or my personal favourite “I no longer waste time having to listen to the latest Kim Kardashian gossip.”

A new way to evaluate productivity

There’s another argument that Productivity Ninjas like—working remotely forces managers to measure productivity by what gets done, not how it gets done. This can be difficult for supervisors who are accustomed to measuring performance by counting how many employees are physically working at their desks (or in some instances, at least sitting at their desk). Known as measuring “face time” or “chair time”, this kind of evaluation doesn’t measure performance at all. And according to the HBR, when all you do is focus on measuring face time, all you get is …face time. But when you actually focus on performance, employees respond through superior performance.

Ryan LLC, a global tax consultancy known for its intense work culture, put the above notion to the test. A new evaluation system tracked employees by performance metrics (rather than working hours). The result: turnover plummeted, satisfaction, engagement, and financial performance soared.

Getting work done remotely without guilt

It’s a lesson that all managers can learn from, and for remote workers, a way to ensure that you are being evaluated by your productivity, regardless of where you are physically working.

Some tips for remote workers in order to avoid the “laundry” questions:

  • If you are assigned tasks you can do from a home office, be clear about deadlines, and set milestones so you can update your supervisor. Regular updates are a simple and smart way to remind a supervisor that you are making progress and meeting expectations.
  • Good communication is key for building and keeping relationships with colleagues, supervisors and clients. If you aren’t able to physically meet, make full use of technology tools like Skype to put a face to a name.
  • When working remotely, don’t feed the prejudice about distractions with actual distractions. That is, keep the kids, dog, TV, guinea pig, etc. away from your working space, especially when you’re participating in online meetings.
  • If remote working doesn’t work for you, speak up. One person I know is very clear about her inability to focus outside the office. Similarly, managers should monitor how well it is working, and be ready to increase flexibility with those who show they perform well outside the office.
  • Be sensible. Some aspects of a job lends itself better to flexible work (like preparing reports, doing research), other tasks are better performed at set times in the office (meeting new clients).
  • Finally, resist the idea (and the guilt) that you have to be available 24/7 just because you’ve been given “the privilege” of working remotely. Protect your personal time by knowing when and how to separate out being at work from being at home.

The new way to value work

Both telework and telecommuting have grown significantly over the past decade, According to Global Workplace Analytics, over 3.7 million employees now work remotely around the globe and at least half the North American workforce has a job that could at least partly be done remotely.

If remote working is here to stay (and it looks like it is), maybe it is time we figured out a better way to value productivity beyond sitting in an office cubical!


Want to learn more about the upsides of working remotely? 

Breaking the Status Quo with Remote Employees

Perfecting Productivity with Flexible Working


By Beth Parker

Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.

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