category
By Adam Turner   |  
June 15th, 2021

Effectively Measuring Your Distributed Team’s Productivity

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Adam Turner

Adam Turner, SafetyCulture guest contributor, former deputy editor of the Sydney Morning Herald’s IT section,has been writing about the technological challenges facing Australian businesses for more than 20 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven beyond any doubt that you don’t need all your people in the same place, at the same time, in order to get things done. The goal now is to make working from home sustainable as it becomes a permanent fixture of the new normal. This requires effective ways to measure your distributed team’s productivity.

Many businesses who had previously resisted letting their people work remotely had no choice during the pandemic. Much of that fear came from managers not trusting people to work when they’re not in sight. They want to see their people working hard.

People might look busy rushing around the office, but of course there’s a big difference between busy and productive. That’s why you need to judge productivity on empirical evidence, not just a gut feeling.

Once you’ve got this empirical evidence at your fingertips, you can make sure you’re getting the best from your team no matter where they are.

Why is it important to measure productivity?

Measuring productivity isn’t simply about wanting to crack the whip and squeeze more out of your people, in the long term that’s likely to be counterproductive.

Instead, measuring productivity is about wanting to ensure that your team is consistently achieving its best and improving over time, especially under difficult conditions like the pandemic. While there’s a risk of some people slacking off when they’re away from the office, the lessons from 2020 indicate the greater risk is that your people will burn out, which poses an even greater threat to productivity.

Studies show that happy employees are productive employees, so when productivity drops it’s a potential sign that something is wrong with individuals or the group dynamic. Regularly measuring productivity lets you watch for the warning signs of issues.

Alternatively, you might realise that it’s a case of your people not having the right tools, skills or training for the job, rather than them not working hard enough. You can’t make assumptions, that’s why you need reliable data.

Remember, your efforts to measure productivity need to be built on a foundation of trust. They need to be introduced in consultation with your people, making it clear what you’re tracking, how you’re tracking it and why.

Bring your team on the journey and show them how measuring productivity can benefit everyone, not just the business’ bottom line.

What do you measure?

The basic formula for measuring productivity is to track the quantity, quality and efficiency of your team’s work. They say that two out of three ain’t bad, but not in this case – if any of those three fall short then productivity will suffer.

Don’t make the mistake of primarily focusing on hours worked, that’s just one metric. Pay more attention to the quantity, quality and efficiency of your team’s output. If they’re working long hours but not getting much done, or not doing a great job, that’s a sign that something’s wrong. Making them work longer hours, or micromanaging them such as timing their toilet breaks, won’t fix the problem.

Useful efficiency metrics can include tracking the completion of tasks, including key milestones, and the time spent on each task. When it comes to quality consider errors and defects, along with customer feedback and satisfaction. Also listen to your people and take onboard their feedback. This way you’re basing your productivity measurements on both quantitative and qualitative data.

What are ‘leading and ‘lagging’ indicators?

Keep in mind, most of these quality and efficiency metrics are ‘lagging’ indicators. They tell you what has happened in the past. It’s important to also consider ‘leading’ indicators, which predict what’s likely to happen in the future.

Lagging indicators are outputs and outcomes which are easy to measure but perhaps hard to change. Meanwhile, leading indicators are inputs which can be easier to change but more difficult to measure. As a result, it’s tempting to mostly focus on lagging indicators but best practice is to pay attention to both.

For example, the number of injuries on a building site is a lagging indicator of safety. It tells you what has already happened and you can’t change the past.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people wearing hardhats on a building site – in order to proactively reduce injuries – is a leading indicator of safety. It tells you what is likely to happen in the future.

When it comes to productivity, leading indicators can include whether people know their goals, what’s required to achieve them and exactly what they need to get done today, this week and this month. 

Think of leading indicators as benchmarks which can help you meet your KPIs and objectives. Get them right and you’re setting yourself up for success.

How do you make the most of all this data?

Each of these indicators can tell a story on their own, but you can also learn a lot from combining them.

Common productivity calculations include revenue per employee, revenue per hours worked and labour cost per project.

Don’t just dive in, before you start you need to define clear objectives and your plan for achieving them. This means determining which metrics are most relevant to your team’s productivity and establishing a way to collect, measure, review and act on that data. You also need to regularly review all this to assess its effectiveness.

You’re wasting your time if you don’t ensure that your productivity efforts are actually productive.

Dig into the insights you need to reset your operations and get back on track in 2021.

Download the full report here.

Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.