Ways to work smarter in the digital age

| October 29, 2018

I’ve previously discussed types of employee engagement, now let’s take that as a given and look at how to recognise and assess engagement in terms of the hours they work – and whether it’s a positive thing or a drain on your resources.

We all know the symptoms that apparently point to people with maximum engagement – traditionally they are the employees who are first in and last to leave. In our digital age these hours at the workplace can be replaced by hours working, or attending to work.

But how do you know who is doing what when?

In the days of manufacturing, time cards were the guide – time in, time out, the difference equalled time at work (minus the occasional manipulation of the system).

Today many organisations, particularly those whose income depends on client-chargeable hours, have replaced the time clock with digital time sheets. The degree of granularity reflective of the billing process and internal audit/assessment requirements.

When it comes to assessing employee engagement, these are blunt instruments.

I have a colleague whose very senior manager was well known for firing off emails in the wee small hours of the morning, with a rider that said words to the effect of “I am sending this email at a time that suits me. Please don’t take this as a requirement to respond immediately, but do so when you are in work mode.”

To me, there is something vaguely unsettling about this. It’s passive aggressive – an unspoken expectation that your engagement should match theirs. Technology makes it easy to batch send emails at a given time – say 7 or even 8 am – which would demonstrate both commitment to long working hours and a consideration for the people they manage.

Today a well-configured IT department should be able to provide you with data that shows when, and from which devices, if not a geographical location, people access their shared work files.

Now, if this all sounds a bit Orwellian and Big Brother, it shouldn’t. Your responsibility, as a manager, should be to both the wellbeing and productivity of your people. Information about their working hours and locations (if available) should help inform your perceptions – along with performance KPI’s and other inputs – as to whether they are coping with their workload and allowing themselves enough breathing space for a sustainable work-life balance.

Now, if you’ve been following the drift of this article, you will realise that people work in different ways, and what may be an efficient working pattern for one person is not for another. Or, to put it another way, two people may do the same job in very different ways. One may take a full working day, or even a bit more (too much more is a warning sign), while another may seem to do it in a canter in less time.

Here’s a question for you, the reader, as a manager; do you effectively punish the latter worker for being efficient? You might be tempted to increase their workload, but that may be counter-productive and lead to burn out. Experience has shown that output is not necessarily related to input, especially when it comes to working hours. And, more importantly, forcing some efficient people to increase their working hours (a.k.a. ‘engagement’) in the expectation that it will lead to increased output may be counter-productive.

This is a fascinating area and one that is all too seldom addressed by managers. In my next article, I’ll unpack some research results that will add empirical data to some of the things we’ve been discussing.

Don’t be surprised if they rock your management boat!

Topics like this are just some of the areas we cover in our executive coaching programs, and they are informed by the findings of some of the world’s leading management and workplace analysts.

This article was published by Melinda Fell Consulting.  If you would like to learn more about how to increase efficiency whilst maximising engagement, send her an email at melinda@melindafellconsulting.com.au or enquire here.