“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer
Most of us have heard that working remotely increases productivity. Several times a year I receive emails from employees wanting to work from home citing increased productivity. Still others send a link to a Chinese study that found remote workers are more productive. If it makes an employee more productive then I am all for it! However, the social scientist in me comes out and I want proof. I was a college professor for many years, and before that I was a student very accustomed to having college professors make me prove that what I took for a fact was indeed a fact.
Do I believe self-reporting data in which the overwhelming majority of employees claim to be more productive when working from home? I believe they believe it, but it doesn’t meet the criteria of fact. Do I believe the Chinese study often cited (primarily because such studies are few and far between)? I do believe that study could be quite factual, yes. But, the problem with the Chinese study on call center behavior is that it is limited to measurement via phone/ACD records. Not all work that can be done at home can be measured via the phone or ACD – only work that takes place on the phone can thus be measured. I won’t even go into the cultural differences between the workforce in China and the United States, but it certainly a variable that must be considered when generalizing that study to other countries or for that matter, other occupations. There are products that measure email productivity, but they fail to take in disruptions between the time one opens the email and closes it. That is, I might open an email and work solely on it, or I might open it, take a phone call, refill my coffee, and so on.
So how might we go about establishing if remote working is more productive when the work is not phone related?
- One method might be to install a time and task tracker with a “pause” button. Not only does it track the amount of time spent on a task – it takes into account distractions. When the worker settles back into the task after the pause, the clock starts running again. The value of a pause button cannot be overstated when measuring accurately.
- The time clock data itself is useful – therefore, such a study would best be conducted on hourly workers who are accustomed to clocking in and out. However, it is legitimate for employers to require salary workers to use time clock. This will not earn you any awards for popularity, but is absolutely necessary if you really want to measure whether workers are more productive at home or in the office. (The worst case scenario here is that you will find you are better off paying exempt workers by the hour – a win-win).
- Another method would be to install an unobtrusive monitoring solution. This way one cannot only measure the amount of time remote workers take to fulfill tasks, but allows one to periodically check the quality of the product produced in that amount of time.
- Don’t forget to use the same methods of study on your control group. The in-house employees must be compared to the remote workers to uncover productivity.
The jury is still out concerning increased productivity for remote workers. While we wait for the researchers to fully investigate – a year to design and study, another year to write up the results, and possibly another year to get it published – employers today can perform their own case studies. The best part is that you can use your own employees doing the unique types of work that may only be valuable to you. No more concerns about whether generalizing the phone calls made by remote agents in China is applicable to your company. Randomly select workers into a control group who works in the office and an experimental group that works from home. Make sure everyone is trained on how to use their time clock/task tracker with a “pause” button. Assign someone to unobtrusively monitor the work produced. Set the date to end this experiment, accumulate the data, and find out the results. As an employer, it is up to you to decide whether having remote workers aligns well with your business needs. Take the time to find out for sure.
Use everything in your arsenal to increase the productivity of your workers, but don’t make major changes to your operations without testing them first to make sure they will in fact lower costs and raise productivity and add to your bottom line. To paraphrase Yoda: “Try not. Prove … or do not. There is no try.”
Interested in finding a time clock/task tracker with a pause button? Pipkins’ IntelliTRACK™ time management solution is one such tool for tracking the performance of non-phone-related tasks in real time.
Another new Pipkins’ solution for monitoring, mentoring and collaboration, IntelliVIEW™ is ideal for managing and communicating with remote team members and at-home workers.
A privately-held, American-owned company, Pipkins, Inc. was founded in 1983, and is based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm is a leading provider of workforce management solutions for the contact center industry. Today, Pipkins’ systems forecast, plan and schedule more than 300,000 agents in over 500 locations across all industries worldwide. In addition, Pipkins solutions have applications for back office and remote workers, as well as a range of other business operations.
by: Martha Heltsley, PhD