IT Employment

Physical presence does not equal productivity


I've always been one of those people who like to get to the office early and get all my work done before I leave or take a break. That sounds like bragging but it isn't.

The problem is, if I have a finite amount of work to complete, I usually get it done early with an hour or so to spare at the end of the day. Yet, because of the traditional 9-to-5 mindset of corporate America, I can't just pick up and go home. I have to stay at work until the "official" time to leave. I deeply resent losing that hour or so in limbo-land.

And I'm not saying that I'm unwilling to work ahead. I do that all the time. There are just some duties that have to wait for someone else's input before they can be taken further.

I've tried pacing myself but my work speed feels pretty much ingrained in me at this point.

If I were to go ahead and leave early, my colleagues and boss would get the erroneous impression that I was shirking my job. For some reason, the person who stays late, even it it's caused by his using two hours in the middle of the day for personal web surfing, is seen as a harder worker.

So you can imagine how I felt when I read about a new work-environment experiment at Best Buy, the electronics retailer. The experiment, called ROWE (Results-Only Environment) seeks to transform a culture once known for long hours and tough bosses.

An article in Business Week says that Best Buy is seeking to "demolish decades-old business dogma that equates physical presence with productivity." Bravo!

The article points out that tech companies have been going this route for several years.

"At IBM, 40% of the workforce has no official office; at AT&T, a third of managers are untethered. Sun Microsystems Inc. calculates that it's saved $400 million over six years in real estate costs by allowing nearly half of all employees to work anywhere they want."

Such a system seems to be working so far for Best Buy. Their spokesperson says that average voluntary turnover has fallen drastically. Also, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures, employee engagement is way up too.

Here's to hoping it catches on!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

16 comments
GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

With my current employer, I used to work 7.5 hours per day - I would arrive before anyone got in the office and leave "early." My boss knew I was giving my all for those 7.5 hours and was pleased. Others were not. Now I am teleworking for the same organization - boss knows I am putting in more hours (it is easier to do, actually), but co-workers think I am working in my PJs and surfing the net all day. Most employers do not really have a good way to measure productivity - and I think they default to something that is easy to measure (number of hours at work). Luckily for me, I produce a bunch of reports, and although my employer does not count the number of reports I produce each day, I give her a list of my weekly accomplishments in an e-mail at the end of the week so she knows what I have been up to. She did not ask for the update - I just provide it. It lets her know how I spend my time, and allows her to comment on projects (and tell me which ones, if any, she does not think are important). For most employers, they cannot really tell how productive their employment force is (scary). If they could, I think work hours would be less important than they are.

anurag.aggarwal
anurag.aggarwal

This is quite true statement, I have seen people staying late unnecessarily, they usually leave office after their boss leaves office blushing at them. But what i think these people are screwing up whole productivity, play harm to people who actually work hard in background.

anita
anita

I'd like to believe that this will be a practice that will catch on everywhere, but the truth is, it comes down to individual managers. If your boss doesn't believe you are really working unless your butt is warming that office chair, then your butt has to be in that chair. The key is that this philosophy MUST be supported from the top down, and continually reinforced to individual managers. And, I'm afraid in this tough economy with a lot of people fearing layoffs, there are going to be a lot more rear ends glued to those chairs for long hours. Still, there's hope that the numbers will continue to show that not treating employees like children pays off with a better bottom line, so we can always keep our fingers crossed. Anita Bruzzese

The Listed 'G MAN'
The Listed 'G MAN'

Arrive / leave at the regular time (well you do anyway for the second) Problem solved.

$dunk$
$dunk$

[/i]Most employers do not really have a good way to measure productivity[/i] Do you know any companies who have a meaningful way to measure productivity in the computer field? If only there were some meaningful way to measure productivity in the computer field. #1 - There would be a whole heck of a lot of people unemployed. #2 - You wouldn't hear the grumbling from people who don't think the really good people put in enough hours. #3 - There wouldn't be as many complaints about the best and brightest not being compensated/recognized enough. Is there anything that can be meaningfully measured like batting average or RBIs?

tim
tim

I agree that if working from home is not going to be supported by top management then it is not going to happen. As the IT Manager with a lot of evening and weekend work, I tried to make a case for flex time or comp time with a previous employer and got thrown out of the HR Manager's office. "We don't use those phrases here. If you work more than 40 hours in a week then you need to work something out with your supervisor to be able to take some time off the following week." What a joke. I can't do some of my work during regular work hours because if I took down the server to do an update nobody could do their work. So I had to sit around during the regular work hours waiting for the employees to go home so I could do my work. Waste a waste of time. And what about all those late night remote desktop sessions from home to fix some problem on a user workstation that I couldn't touch during regular business hours because the employee needed it to do his job? I had just about given up the idea of equitable recognition of hours worked until I came to my present job. I was shocked when the boss offered to allow me to work from home part of the week and set my own hours for the days I came in. Imagine that - a computer guy working from home! I guess it all depends upon the type of work you do. It seems to me that writers and editors should be able to work from home these days. I can imagine that it would work for programmers and database admins and all kinds of tech positions. I don't feel bad about leaving early from work anymore because I do so much work from home. The boss is OK with it and the co-workers have gotten used to it. I guess I'm really lucky to have the kind of job where so much of it can be done via Remote Desktop. In some ways I'm kidding. There are times I work more hours from home than I ever would if I were onsite. I agree that physical presence does not equal productivity but it sure takes a trusting boss to let it happen. Tim Malone, MCSE

jrichardsjm
jrichardsjm

My reply is simple and brief and I believe captures the essence of the point being posted. Work is something you do, and not a place you go.

Colonial_Boy
Colonial_Boy

I don't know how it is for you and the author, but where I am, if I work off hours, I have a 20-minute commute. If I work 8-5, it's 60 minutes in rush hour traffic, and I arrive upset from endangering my life and my health (because the poorest drivers always seem to be late to work). It is even worse when it rains or snows.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I guess my point is why a person who can get accomplished in 7 hours what others take 8 or 9 to do be in some way penalized? Penalized, meaning perceived as not filling up a whole 8-hour workday.

Canuckster
Canuckster

that personal presence at the office does not equal productivity. Arriving on time and leaving on time just re-inforces that. Flex time is what she is looking for. On the one hand, institutions such as ING have had to establish a brick-and-mortar presence in order to attract leary customers who want to reach out and touch the corporation. On the other hand, if someone can work anywhere and be effective, the North American and European employee also faces competition from offshore productivity from such places as India and China. At least with an office in Chicago the employee will receive Chicago wages and Chicago benefits.

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

Some people might consider this response to be a bit off-topic, based on the original post by Toni. Still, I think it provides insight to the question posted $dunk$. The measurements you use would have to be based on what area of Tech you work in -- and that's part of the problem with using them. For a software programmer you can look at lines of code produced; yet that doesn't work for a help-desk person who never writes any code. So, how about the number of issues resolved? Well that is GREAT for the help-desk person but utterly useless for a programmer. Then there's the issue of what scale to use. For example, a help-desk job would use a scale where a higher number of issues resolved represents better performance; security staff would use a scale where higher number of issues resolved may represent worse performance (as they are reacting to issues rather preventing them). When you add into this that companies want to keep dedicated tech staff to a minimum (for whatever their reason), and the metrics really don't matter much anyway. You see, if you only have one person in a particular area, the only thing you can do is compare their metrics from the past with their current values. Even this does not work as well as you might expect. For example, if a programmer is involved in the largest project undertaken by the company, he may be in a lot of meetings to actually come to grips with the project's goals; these meetings will force down the programmer's "lines of code" metric even if the meetings are productive. Throw into the mix that management currently prefers to have a single person function across multiple tech areas and you really make it harder. Which set of metrics (measurements) do you use for this person? Someone who serves as both a network admin and help desk person would have lower help desk metrics than a dedicated help desk person. Similarly, the same person would have lower network ratings than a dedicated network admin. Therefore, whichever one you compare them to, the combo-person looks lower; yet this combo-person may be the equal of either one of the others (maybe even superior). And don't even get started with trying to compare two combo-people who only have one area in common (or even none). To take your analogy, RBIs only work for baseball players. This metric cannot be used for football players, basketball players or race-car drivers. Similarly "Top-5 finishes" is a useful metric for race-car drivers but utterly meaningless in any sport where there are only two teams playing at any one time (which means you ALWAYS finish in the top 5!). And then there's the fact that if any single metric is taken as "the standard", you can bet that some people will game that standard. For example, if you have a bunch of programmers whose advancement or raises depends upon the number of lines of code they produce each day (and no other standard), you'll find that all your programmers produce a lot of lines of code. Never mind that they often add meaningless comments or take 2,000 lines to do the same thing that could be a different way in only 200 lines of code. This is related to a quote I got from a Statistics professor: "Figures may not lie, but liars sure can figure." While metrics (measurements) may be important and necessary, they cannot tell the whole story. Metrics are an imperfect representation of some aspect of reality at best. Management would love to find a single measurement they can use for every situation. It means they don't have to think nearly as much -- just apply this formula to a bunch of scenarios and you know exactly what to do. But then again, if we could reduce life down to that formula, why would we need managers? Teach the formula to the workers and let them apply it for themselves. Suddenly we have no more need for managers. ;) But alas, we don't have such a forumula. Until then, managers cannot simply use "the numbers" to make their decisions for them. They need to apply some leadership to A) determine which sets of numbers to use B) determine if someone is gaming the system and deal with this issue C) evaluate complexities introduced by situational complexities such as a single person having multiple areas of responsibility. Unfortunately, such leadership seems to be frowned upon in the modern business world.

Sobe1Knobe
Sobe1Knobe

This seems to be more comparative in the real world. I definitely agree!

altaee
altaee

You are right ... great reply.

marc
marc

If you are paid to be at work 8 hours per day and you get your assigned role done in 7 shouldn't you work to be productive the remaining hour? Find more work to do or expand your job role to show the value you add. I have not worked a job that expected my to complete my work in 8 hours since high school, my carree expects me to continually strive to accomplish great things and my work is a continually cycle--more work follows behind the work I am currentley engaged in. This is the way it is for most IT people, so what really is the defination of "done" when there is always more work to do. It is an interesting perspective but I don't think it is one that will make you successful at your carree if you think that doing what is expected will make you successful. Most successful people will take 8 hours of work, figure out how to compress it to 5 hours and then fill the rest of the time finding other productive work to do.

ramesh_rajamoni
ramesh_rajamoni

It is not about saving an hour....suppose two individuals A and B are working with same work load and assume guy A sits in office between 9-6 only while guy B is available from 10-9 .. guy B is shown as a hard worker even though he was surfing the web for 3 hrs!... its the attitude with the managers which need to change...