Subscribe to The Digital Workplace
Join the journey to a better future of work
What are we talking about?
Creating the right environment for productivity in remote work.
Why is creating the right environment for productivity important for the future of work?
One of the core benefits of remote work has always been that workers can be more efficient with their time and more productive. But if you aren’t measuring the right things, you won’t know if remote work is better.
What did Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard teach us about measuring productivity?
Innovisor has always helped their clients get the right data at the right time. When the world suddenly shifted to remote work, they were ready to reconfigure all their tools to help team managers stay connected.
Productivity is a tricky thing to measure, but part of the importance is measuring wellbeing. Innovisor uses its tools to measure multiple aspects of wellbeing to make sure all employees are in a good place.
In general, productivity is very different in remote teams than with co-located ones. People are still able to get tasks done, but they are used to being able to just walk up to other people to get the answers they need instead of finding the data inside a central collaboration tool.
According to Innovisor, productivity peaked in the first few weeks of the remote work experiment. But this was largely due to people completing all the tasks they had been putting off. Once all those backlogged tasks were completed, it became hard to know how to move forward.
In short, we were ready for a small experiment with remote work, but we were not ready to do it indefinitely.
As this continues on, those who are just wading through remote work are finding it harder and harder. Managers are finding it tough to prioritize keeping up on social connections with team members. They have a lot of other things to get done too.
When we zoomed out on productivity, Jeppe said that productivity is related to three things:
- Meeting practices
- Availability of data
If you have a solution built in for all of these, then productivity can quickly rebound. Jeppe says, “Foucs on your people first. Do they have what they need to be productive? Micromanaging kills wellbeing and productivity.”
More from Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard
Today, our guest is Jeppe Hansgaard. He’s the CEO at Innovisor, and we’re talking about productivity and remote work today. Hi, Jeppe. How are you?
Hi, how are you doing today?
I’m doing very well. We’re all in the midst of this kind of new period that we’re in. But I want to start with you. You do a lot of interesting work. We’ve interacted before in the past. So just tell us a little bit about Innovisor and the bigger scope about what you guys do.
Innovisor is one of the global leaders within organization network analysis. What we do is that we map out networks and relationships inside organizations. We identify who has the most influence, who’s collaborating with whom, and so forth, all with the objective to make sure that the clients can succeed with change.
So it’s a big topic you can go in multiple different directions with. The thing we’re talking about now is a recent study you guys have done regarding productivity and remote work. So tell us why did you choose that topic? Why was that important for you guys to get out?
So actually, when the Coronavirus hit in Europe, which was early March, we figured out we wanted to help our clients cope with that challenge. So we decided on reconfiguring our tools to give our clients a possibility to understand what was going on their own stations in the minds of their people basically. So what we did was that we developed a tool for team managers to connect with their teams. So making sure that while they were disconnected, they could stay connected to their teams and also knew what exactly was it that they needed to focus on while they were talking to the teams over virtual media, like the ones we’re using right now. So we decided to do that within a split second almost. So after 10 days after being sent home, we actually developed the product, we had sold it and delivered it the first time. That’s our way into starting to look at remote work and data and productivity and so forth.
Yeah, it’s amazing to hear all sorts of stories around the world about different companies who have retooled themselves and made very, very quick pivots around this topic, both in the production and manufacturing side, but then it’s nice to hear even on the analytics and technology side, we can be quick and nimble. So tell us what are you finding about remote work? Well, first, what’s your experience with remote work? Is this something you’re used to, your teams are used to or is it also new for you?
It is new. Actually, one of the things that we have discovered people in our work networks, the most coherent teams were the best performing teams. And my thought on that was that, because we wanted to stay coherent and well performing, we needed to stay together. So we’ve always kept people together in one office, and actually prioritized that. So the change in starting to work remotely, like overnight, was a big change. But it has actually been going really, really well. And I think it has, amongst others, has been going really well, due to the team. So the team already having those connections in place, I think that has helped tremendously. And then we’ve had a couple of principles for how we wanted to do that. And then I mean, like, making sure we had a rhythm in how we were talking to each other, making sure we kept the social connectivity, making sure that we had a direction, but also making sure that we actually track the well being of everyone while we were working remotely.
What are some ways you’re tracking well being?
We have a tool for that. We developed a simple tool, a version one, like I said, initially had nine different parameters. Now it has 13 different parameters that we look at. And it takes one minute to respond to every team member, and then I get the response, the overall responses right after basically.
Great. Let’s shift the discussion to productivity. I think that, like so many topics that we talk about, productivity is something that, as we look at the future of work, we can’t just accept the old definition that was there for what it meant to be productive, which is just how much stuff did you get done divided by the amount of time that you spent on it. So what’s been your experience? What have you found through your research about how productivity has changed as we move to remote work?
As I can see, at least now when we look across the data that we’ve collected now, in the past probably five, six weeks, the productivity has been dropping gradually. People are actually managing to getting the job done, the daily job done, but it is when they have to work with something which is outside the immediate daily job, that’s where it lacks. So the creativity and the innovation and every, you have to find a colleague somewhere in the office, where you would normally jump out of your chair and then walk over there and talk to that colleagues. That doesn’t happen anymore. And that productivity element is really tough for people.
As I’ve been talking with some friends, I get the sense of, the first couple weeks, there was enough regular work that everyone knew what to do. It was just a little bit strange. But then, as we’ve carried on, we’re into a full month into this now, extending beyond that. Now we’re realizing, like you said, we’re having to create new projects, having to create new things, start from scratch, which makes that productivity line tougher to do. Do you think that’s contributing to what you’re talking about now?
Yeah, actually, I can confirm what you just said, because the productivity was actually peaking right afterwards. For some odd reason, you can see the first two weeks was just going up. And then it just goes down afterwards. And I don’t know where it is right now. So in Denmark, where we are, we are starting to talk about getting gradually back to work again, but it will be as two groups. So I’m not sure how that really is going to play out. And what I can see, though is that what we saw in the early stages of our numbers here was that, in the early stages, people had a need for knowing frequently or getting frequent information about what was going on in the company. So biggest need, frequent communication. Then as we moved on past that period where we peak with the productivity, we could see that people started to want or get more information about, how’s the organization doing? Still on a broadcast level, making sure everybody knew what was going on. And where we are right now, and that’s exactly the period you’re talking about right now. You need to get expectations aligned around, what am I supposed to do now to keep up with my productivity? And this is where companies are struggling. They do not have those things in place to get that executed.
Yeah, it’s almost like we were okay doing it as a little bit of a vacation as an experiment to say, let’s take two weeks, everyone do work from home, it’ll be fun, we’ll all get a little extra done. But we were not prepared to do this indefinitely. So let’s just step back a bit.
Can I do one more comment to this one? Because the third big component we look at, we look at getting the job done, we look at productivity, and then we look at well being. And then like I said, getting the job done, that is actually happening. People get that daily job done. The productivity is down. But then the well being is really, really down. So we manage all of what we do otherwise, but it’s on the account of especially well being right now. When you have kids that are doing homeschooling and so forth, you try to navigate whatever you can and be flexible and adapt. And since you’re a loyal and good employee, you actually manage, but it’s really hurting people now.
You mentioned kids at home, which is common for a lot of people, but not for everyone. There are other people who are totally alone in a context. What are the different types of well being? Is there anyone that’s doing really well? And what are the other types of profiles you feel like of people who are struggling?
Anyone who’s doing really well, I have actually not heard about anyone who’s doing really well. I can see three groups, or maybe more even. But let me describe three groups. You have the elderly people that are living either alone or together with their spouse. They are getting pretty bored by now I have to say, at least where I come from. Then you got the young singles staying alone. And sometimes, young singles can even be worse off if they’re living in a place where they’re far away from their own families. So at Innovisor, we have a number of international employees. So these international employees, they are not close to their families. So a lot of them are staying in one or two-room apartments. And they do not have any social context right now. They’re really struggling, that group of people, especially because that’s also the group that have been the most outgoing beforehand. So that’s one group. Then you got the group with the kids. And then you got the group of elderly people living like one or two people at home.
So if let’s just say that this remote thing lasts for a long time, or that companies really want to go to it, just on a social level, what do you feel like is a more sustainable pattern? Is there any way we can restructure how we live, how families live, how people connect that would improve the well being of people in this time?
I think there’s a lot to do for managers in finding out how they can actually keep that social connectivity up. I was trying to do the same thing at Innovisor, making sure we had a place where people could connect to each other and talk about social stuff, etc., but I quickly realized, actually, some of us, including myself, not good enough at prioritizing it, because I got my social stuff covered with three kids at home and wife, whereas the singles who are in much higher need of it, they really look for it. And so some of us have not prioritized and some have. So I need to find a different way. So one of the things that we’re trying to do, we have a rhythm of meeting with each other, so we’ve got daily check ins, and check outs. We have one-on-ones where we talk to each other. And we have other occasions where we actually talk to each other. We need a lot more daily contact, FaceTime, than we normally have. And actually, it’s very, very good also to switch away from the screen, from the Zoom meetings to the phone. I think that’s one of the practices that we should actually focus on in the future. Because when you’re sitting in front of the screen, it’s two-dimensional. And you actually very often also looking at your own picture, which means that you actually take focus away from actually listening to the other person. So if you can get to the phone and actually listen to people instead, then that will allow you to hear more nuances in their voice and actually focus and concentrate on one thing. So I think that’s probably a habit that more people actually should try to work out. We have been so focused on getting into Zoom.
It’s true. I feel like the level of focus that we have in a one-on-one conversation, which may be a generational thing, I come from a millennial background. I feel like a lot of people my age, we’re constantly thinking of something else. We’re thinking about how can I do something else while I’m talking to this person? So these video conferences are tough for people like us because we’re always trying to figure out what else is there. So we don’t really focus on these conversations. But I think it’s not really remote work’s fault that this is happening, but it’s more exposing what was maybe going on even ahead of time, too. So finding new ways to stay engaged and stay focused is really important, too.
So the other thing we actually talked about today is when we then return to the office, there’s been this open office movement going on for a long time. Maybe we actually have to reintroduce it in the office so we can stay socially distance while in the office or physically distance while in the office. That’s another fun talk we are having right now.
Yeah, the open office is definitely more of a breeding ground for viruses, for sure.
It is. This is, again, to be really honest with you, productivity definition is not something I really have been spending a lot of time on. But what we do is that we try to see productivity as a result of a lot of other things. So internal communications is a result of how transparent you are in your communication about what is happening. It’s a result of the flexibility that you give your employees to plan their own work day. It’s a result of the worker meeting practices you have. It’s a result of how easy it is for people to find the data and information they need to get the job done and support. It’s a number of different elements that all together give you productivity. And the way we look at it is we say, so if productivity is the parameter for us, the one thing we want to achieve, an analysis actually shows what is then driving productivity? And what should you then do to actually get that productivity? I was actually looking at the numbers right before this call. And right now, productivity is a result of three things. One thing is the flexibility that you have when you’re planning the work day. And that makes a lot of sense because why is it that people want flexibility? They want flexibility because if they have kids at home or whatever, they need to make sure that they can structure the workday rather than being regulated by meetings in the calendar all the time. So that’s one thing. The other one is your virtual meeting practices. And you’ve probably also been in those virtual meetings where you have 30 people sitting and they talk in an unfacilitative manner. And that is just not productive at all. So you need to figure out who should be meeting about what, when, and why. And it’s pretty basic actually. It should be in place already. It’s not only a virtual thing, it’s just a meeting practice. But very often, you see that the leaders, they are in meetings, +60% of their work week. And if you’re in meetings +60% of your work week, that actually means that you’re not accessible for your employees when they need your advice or your decisions, which makes you slow. And when you’re slow, you’re not productive. That actually ties together. And then the third one, which is we see in the virtual world, which is really, really big right now is people’s ability to find the data and information they need to get the job done. And if they’ve been in the office, they would just walk around, they would ask friends, where can I find this data or information or do you know anyone who can help me? That’s the informal system, the informal way of working. But now when you’re working virtually, everything has to almost follow the formal principles. So I think that is a key factor also of productivity right now, at least it’s the three factors that are the most important in our data right now. It was not the factors that were the most important in the beginning. But right now after five weeks of working from home, it is.
Yeah, I love these, flexibility of schedule, virtual meeting practices is something we’ve talked about and written about a lot, ability to find information. I feel like what this underscores for me is this whole thing of the Coronavirus of moving to remote work has really just underscored and brought to light a lot of things that we struggle with in general, we just maybe don’t realize how much we struggle with because flexibility of work hours is there if you’re in the office or not. Some people just the regular hours in the office is difficult to do, but we managed to do it. I feel like our meetings in office are also not really constructive or they can do a lot of work, too. And so, again, all this thing just brings to light the problems that have been there all along but now they’re just much more obvious and cause us to really think about if you’re going to make a switch to remote work, or if you’re going to get back in the office as soon as you can, we all have ways we can really level up our communication practices or meeting practices, our document storage, lots of different things about how to become a better company throughout this. I hope we all can learn that lesson for sure.
Yeah, I do, too.
Good. Jeppe, I guess with all these things, if somebody is a leader of a company, they’re still trying to struggle through this, but they know they got another maybe month or two ahead of them of remote work, what’s one thing you hoped that they would focus on first?
The way we did it in Innovisor, I actually said, let’s focus on the people first because if your people are in a good place, then they can actually manage also to be productive. But you cannot do it the other way around. If you just want your people to be productive, but they’re not in a good place, it is never going to happen. So make sure you take care of your people, make sure they have what they need to be productive. So make sure you give them the flexibility that we just talked about to plan their own work day. Don’t micromanage. That kills well being and it also kills productivity. Make sure you get your virtual meetings in place. We all suffer from virtual meetings by now. And you need to do something about it. And then thirdly, make it clear, I don’t think you can manage that thing with making sure everybody knows where they can find the data and information, but you can actually help people find those key people that actually knows. So make those invisible people in the organization visible, the connectors, the ones that have the information.
That’s a great recipe for just trying to do the basics to get through this and do it well. And I like that you started with the people part of it because, again, one of our themes is just a company’s job is to remove as much chronic stress as possible from people’s lives. Because if they have that chronic stress, they’re not going to be productive, they’re not going to do well and their lives won’t be good. So great place to start. Jeppe, where can people go to learn more about Innovisor and the work you do?
Yeah, they can go to our website or follow us on social media. So our website is innovisor.com. We have a lot of clients studies, benchmarks resource available, or you can just follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you want to.
You guys put out a lot of neat stuff. I like following it so I encourage everyone to check that out and be there. So thanks a lot for being on the show.
It was a pleasure. Thank you.
Jeppe has 20+ years experience from change and transformation programs in Asia, Europe, and the US. He has earned his MBA from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom, and supplemented it with a certificate in Decision Making and Risk Management in the USA.
Jeppe shares his thoughts on change management, collaboration and leadership in general on Social Media. He can also be booked for keynotes and corporate seminars.