People Work Data: Revealing The Secrets Behind Remote Worker Productivity

What if today's people analytics data are actually better at measuring productivity than a manager walking the office floor? Spoiler: it doesn't involve logging keystrokes, measuring mouse usage, or any other invasive snooping.

Future of Work

"What are people doing all day?"

It's the question that keeps managers up at night, in the new age of remote and hybrid work. A 2020 Harvard Business Review study found that 38% of managers believe remote workers perform worse than those in the office, while another 22% aren't sure.

For executives accustomed to being able to walk the floor to get a quick read on how employees are spending their time, it's hard to get comfortable with a geographically scattered workforce visible only through their screens.

But what if that's looking at it backwards? What if butts-in-seats was never actually a good productivity metric? Sometimes the great ones make it look easy, while some others' biggest talent is looking busy. Was the "eye test" ever very reliable?

The reality is, we're in a golden age for measuring employee work performance that actually impacts your bottom line. With the right work monitoring tools and the right mindset, you can understand more about productivity than ever before, no matter where your staff happens to be sitting.

Employee Productivity Monitoring: Separating the Signal from the Noise

First of all, forget about intrusive software to track employee "productivity" through trivial metrics like mouse usage, keyboard usage, and screen activity. Not only do they damage the culture of trust that's essential to success in the virtual workplace, they don't tell you what you need to know anyway.

Truly tracking remote work performance demands an integrated work management system and a people analytics platform. These more sophisticated ways of measuring employee productivity deliver robust people-work data and insights that no time tracker ever could.

Struggling organizations watch the clock. Effective organizations watch the bottom line.

Identify the "Why" When Measuring Employee Performance

We'll assume your organization already evaluates employee performance. Whether through KPIs, OKRs, 360-degree feedback, or some other system, you have some understanding of where employees are performing strongly and where they could improve.

But why? Do you understand the context for these results? Have you made sure your systems and processes are optimized to get the most out of your people?

Here's where people analytics come into play. By going beyond mere project management to a holistic view of how things get done across the entire organization, it should give you the robust people-work data that answers questions like these:

  • Are staff spending too much time on low-priority tasks?
  • Are low-value meetings draining your team's productivity?
  • How engaged are your staff with each other?
  • Where are the blockers?
  • Is administrative work such a burden that it's keeping impactful work from getting done?

Even the most well-run organization must constantly fine-tune its processes as circumstances and people change. Understanding the "why" behind employee productivity gives your business a big advantage as that evolution unfolds. That's something you can never get from the eye test.

The Right Tools for the Job...?

By now, most companies have learned remote working is more complicated than just logging everybody onto Slack and G-Suite and carrying on business as usual. A recent Okta report found that large companies employ an average of 175 apps!

But we've also learned that just because a company signs up for a platform doesn't mean people are actually using it. We've all experienced the expensive, much-hyped rollout of a remote work tools that flopped. After squandering a lot of time and money, these companies were still left wondering why. Did certain individuals need more training, or did the company as a whole? Was there a certain department whose processes integrated poorly with the new tool? Or did using the new tool simply take too much time from people with more urgent things to do?

And is vital information organized so that your people can use it? By some estimates, employees spend 2.5 hours a day looking for information, and fail to find the information they need 44 percent of the time. That's almost one-third of every day, wasted.

When data from all of a company's apps are aggregated into a people analytics platform, these problems can be solved while there's time to right the ship. Managers can watch the ebbs and flows of individual employee engagement with specific tools, or with the company's suite as a whole. They can act while there's still time to right the ship.

Beat Burnout with People Analytics

Of course, it's not a success story if you succeed in increasing employee productivity in a remote workplace, only to drive away your best people because they're exhausted from the mental and physical strain. With some two-thirds of employees experiencing burnout while working from home, the image of the laid-back remote worker is a myth.

The unfortunate fact is, in a remote environment, some employees feel pressure to take on more and more work. A Microsoft/YouGov study found that 53% of remote workers feel pressure to work longer hours, be available at all times, and take fewer breaks. Not only is burnout bad for the employee, it also means the company loses their contributions and their ideas. And every burned-out employee who leaves costs thousands of dollars to replace.

Fortunately, we don't have to rely on our own vague sense of a person's behavior to identify when burnout is building. When workloads, meeting times, task engagement, and other data are combined into a work monitoring tool, managers can identify the patterns that precede burnout. They can help that person with their personal work management, give them the right to say "no" to low-priority tasks, and support them in other ways.

Track What Really Matters for Productivity

For managers and executives, the virtual workplace has required as much of a psychological adjustment as a technological one. Rare is the company equipped to go it alone. But by taking advantage of the full capabilities of today's employee productivity trackers, they'll find they have more insight into their staff performance than ever before. And that should help even the most nervous manager get a good night's sleep.

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