May 7, 2018

New Research Reveals Two Hurdles to Getting Work Done

This post by Joe Staples, Workfront chief marketing officer, originally appeared on MarTech Advisor. We think it will be useful to our readers. Enjoy!

You hire a team to get a job done. But what’s getting in the way of their work? According to new research, US workers only spend 44% of their work time on primary job duties.

You read that right—after email, meetings, and administrative tasks, workers have less than half of their workweek to do the work they were actually hired to do.

See "Your Office is Annihilating Your Productivity: 5 Ways to Stop It" for insight into how you can put an end to time wasters in your office.

The 2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report shows wasteful meetings and excessive emails top the list of more than 10 productivity-draining items. Wasteful meetings are the most prevalent obstacles, as identified by 56% of respondents, followed by excessive emails at 53%.

Let’s look at these two barriers to getting work done and ways to conquer them:

Excessive Emails

You probably opened your inbox to a firehose of new messages this morning. What’s the first thing you did? I am guessing you started by deleting irrelevant emails. When a room full of knowledge workers were asked if they purge the junk emails first, nine out of 10 hands went up.

Why do our eyes jump to the junk first? The only way to get to meaningful messages is trashing inbox clutter. The State of Enterprise research shows one third of emails are useless. No wonder employees waste so much time cleaning out emails instead of getting work done.

To Remedy the Problem, Use Email for the Right Purpose

Email is an excellent tool when used for the right purpose—to provide information. Use email when you need to communicate—usually to a larger audience—but you’re not looking for an ongoing, back-and-forth conversation. 

As soon as the topic requires multiple responses or additional questions, you’ve entered the unproductive email space.

When Not to Use Email

A red flag should pop up if an email volleys back and forth. Instead, pick up the phone and you can often resolve the discussion in a matter of minutes. Rule of thumb: don’t use email for any communication that requires a back-and-forth discussion.

Have you ever been copied on multiple email conversations that don’t apply to you? Perhaps a well-intentioned employee included you on an email to a team member in the spirit of keeping you in the loop.

Unfortunately, this person failed to realize that if others had this same “good idea,” you would spend most of your day sifting through irrelevant emails. With email, don’t copy someone “just because” or “just in case.” Same rules applies to “reply all.”

The Future of Email

Email is not going away anytime soon, so what’s the answer for a more productive workflow? Work management tools and technology minimize email problems.

While only 20% of respondents predict email will no longer be used as a primary collaboration tool in the next five years, other technologies will slowly replace the ineffective functions of email. For example, 61% of respondents expect an increase in video conferencing in the workplace.

Wasteful Meetings

Culturally, it’s become too easy for us to say “let’s meet.” Those two words seem like they’re free, but they’re not. Wasteful meetings lead as the most prevalent time wasters in the workplace.

Professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. Approximately 11 million meetings occur each day in the United States. Most professionals participate in 61.8 meetings per month.

With all this investment in meetings, how many are producing results? Research shows more than 50% of meeting time is wasted.

The Dreaded (and Inefficient) Status Meeting

Let’s talk about one of the biggest culprits of wasteful meetings—status meetings. For example, the boss wants a 10-minute update from each of 10 participants. In a typical status meeting, only one person actually benefits from the time input. The boss. 

This leaves the rest of the team waiting for their few minutes in the spotlight. While listening to irrelevant information that usually doesn’t apply to them, these people are wasting time that could be used more productively.

Another flaw of the status meeting is the lack of the timeliness of the information.

For example, let’s say a status meeting is scheduled for every Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. What if a status is actually needed on Thursday at 4:00 p.m.? Pending upcoming events, the information presented at the Tuesday meeting might not be timed correctly.

How much more effective is a status update in real time through a work management system? This way, anyone who needs access to project updates can see the status at any time—no more waiting around for a weekly update.

Unseen Costs of Meetings

Time is money. Tools like an annual meeting cost calculator help you quantify meeting costs in your organization. For example, if your management team of six people at an average annual salary of $100,000 per person spends two hours each day in meetings, it adds up to $219,000 annual meeting costs!

Also, keep in mind that an “hour-long meeting” rarely takes an hour. Realistically, each participant spends some additional time in preparation.

Beyond the time costs, there’s also the physical space costs. Imagine the cost of 600 square feet of real estate in New York City or San Francisco. Space is money. In-person meetings can also be a challenge for the ever-increasing number of remote employees (more than half of employees spend some time working remotely each week).

Meeting Best Practices

Cutting out wasteful meetings does not mean eliminating all meetings; meetings serve a purpose to communicate specific ideas or generate new ideas.

Be smart about how to use this collaboration tool. When you are deciding if a meeting is the best option for the task at hand, ask yourself, “Can I use technology to accomplish the task?” If the answer is "yes," eliminate the meeting.

An Attentiv study on the state of meetings shows 63% of meetings do not have a pre-planned agenda. Staff, task force, and information sharing meetings are the most common meeting type, accounting for 88% of total meetings. On the flip side, only 5% of meetings are used for brainstorming—the perfect use for a meeting(!).

Patrick Lencioni, author of business management books including Death by Meeting, explains meetings are not inherently bad. In fact, he says, “it is possible to transform what is now tedious and debilitating into something productive, focused, even energizing.”

One of the key issues he identifies is creating the right context for a meeting.

When you have a meeting, make sure it has a clear and specific purpose. Define the purpose of the meeting—is it to convey information, reach a decision, or brainstorm? After identifying the purpose, stick to it. 

Distribute material ahead of time so people come prepared. Lead your meetings with a clear agenda. If an additional topic arises in the course of a meeting, schedule a separate meeting involving only those who need to be there. Ensure technology is in place to accommodate remote team members.

The Potential of Productivity

Let’s take a look at how one company put work at the forefront—rather than distractions. Trek Bicycle Corporation employed work management software to cut down on email and meetings and recovered 30% of previously wasted time for innovation.

Steve Malchow, Trek’s vice president of operations, discusses the time saved through technology, “I used to go to project status meetings two or three time a week. Now I’ll attend maybe one meeting a month.”

With access to real-time status updates, he doesn’t need to waste his time on meetings and can use his time to improve products and processes, like the way they increased on-time delivery from 50% to 80%.

Looking to the future of the workplace, 63% of knowledge workers expect employers to encourage greater use of collaboration technology. This shift to work management software and collaboration tools will inevitably reduce excessive email and wasteful meetings.

Choose to be a part of the future by leaping beyond these two common work hurdles.

See "Fighting Forward: Three Ways to Prepare for The Future of Work" to learn how you can prepare for the future workplace.

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