For every article heralding the rise of the open office, you can find two more decrying the trend. Likewise, an article arguing that remote workers are more productive can be countered by another on how they are more lonely than their in-office peers.
The truth? There’s too much nuance among businesses to make broad declarations about what works. When it comes to the working world, one size does not fit all.
That there is a one-size-fits-all solution is one of many myths about workplace effectiveness. The truth is, in an era when working norms change faster than ever, it’s hard to know which solutions apply to your business.
With that in mind, let’s learn some common myths about workplace effectiveness and gain some advice to follow instead:
Myth #1: Remote workers are less productive
The myth: People want to work from home only so they can slack off. It’s an excuse to watch TV, go on Facebook, and produce less work.
The truth: Employees are most productive when they balance remote work with in-person work. Research from Gallup found that the best engagement boost occurs when employees work remotely 60% to 80% of the time. In a standard five-day workweek, that means the most productive employees tend to work remotely for three or four days.
That’s a good thing since remote work isn’t going away. According to Software Advice’s research, remote work increased nearly 400% in the last decade. Our survey found that 36% of respondents work remotely once per week.
But not every manager is on board: 29% of survey respondents say they don’t work remotely because management doesn’t see the value.
Our advice: Roll out a remote work pilot program if your workforce performs tasks that don’t require them to work onsite.
You can set up a remote work policy ahead of time, outlining important considerations, such as which positions are eligible to work remotely, when remote employees need to be on call, and which meetings they are required to attend in person.
Set goals for all your employees, whether they work remotely or not, and track their progress. The standards should be the same for employees that work remotely all the time and none of the time.
Myth #2: The more work employees have, the more effective they can be
The myth: If an employee is able to finish their work by 3 p.m. one afternoon, or has a slow Friday, you’re not getting enough out of them. If your employees aren’t working all the time, you’re not maximizing their productivity.
The truth: According to Gartner analyst Robert Handler, the “sweet spot” for the most effective employees is actually between 70 to 80% utilization. Trying to squeeze anything more than that from your employees makes them less productive.
Our advice: Plan and manage workloads at about 80% capacity. This will get you 100% of the planned work done.
If you choose to plan at 120% so that your team can overdeliver, you’re more likely to underdeliver. Apart from not meeting your goals, you and your team will feel like you’ve failed for falling short.
Myth #3: The employees who sign on first and sign off last are the most effective
The myth: Your most effective employees—high performers who are on track for promotions—are online before the sun comes up and still sending emails 12 hours later.
The truth: Expecting long hours as a standard for success will burn your employees out and cause them to leave. It will also cost your business millions of dollars in employee turnover.
If you’re trying to scale a growing startup, some early mornings and late nights are part of the package. But they should be few and far between, not a standard expectation.
A 2018 Gallup study found that 66% of respondents cited working late hours or on weekends as the key cause of their burnout. The same study found that close to two in three full-time workers today experience burnout on the job.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” In the Gallup study referenced above, 74% of respondents said that burnout had led them to consider a career change.
Our advice: See Myth #2, and plan/manage at 80% to get 100% of the planned work done and increase morale.
As a manager, you should talk to any of your employees who are working excessive hours and find ways to reduce their workload. If your employees feel like they have to work late, that’s a sign of burnout.
Other ways you can help minimize burnout due to overwork:
- Keep an open dialogue with your employees so they feel comfortable voicing concerns.
- Encourage and allow remote work.
- Offer an employee wellness program.
- Make sure that your team is equipped with the right tools and technologies to do their best work. This will prevent them from excessive work to make up for insufficient infrastructure.
Myth #4: Frequent breaks are counterproductive to effectiveness
The myth: The employees who are always going for coffee, or hanging out in the break room, or going for walks, or hitting the gym during lunch aren’t doing as much as the employee who sits down at their desk at 9 a.m. with a giant cup of coffee and doesn’t get up again until they sign off at 5 p.m.
The truth: Working without breaks isn’t efficient. According to Psychology Today, taking periodic breaks can:
- Help you retain new information
- Replenish your motivation
- Improve your emotional and physical health
- Help you think through decisions better
- Increase your creativity and productivity
Our advice: Encourage your employees to take breaks and move throughout the day. Some ideas to start with include a break room stocked with healthy snacks, a ping-pong table or board games, and a wellness room for quiet reflection.
Does your business lack a budget for board games and snacks? Coordinate social groups—at work or virtual—that can meet up for coffee walks or chats as a free way to boost employee engagement. They are also a great way to take midday breaks, meet new friends on other teams, and get much-needed exercise.
It also helps to set strategic breaks so that “frequent” breaks don’t become 45-minute breaks for every 15 minutes of work. You can use the Pomodoro Technique: Take a five-minute break for every 25 minutes of work, with 15- to 30-minute breaks every few hours.
Myths about workplace effectiveness matter
Social norms and practices about workplace effectiveness have changed and evolved in recent years. Advancements in technology provide today’s employees with more freedom to work wherever they have Wi-Fi and a laptop. Many employees nowadays expect—and will even take pay cuts—to work remotely with more flexible hours
Business leaders who want to keep employees healthy, engaged, and productive should prepare to build programs that offer flexibility and question common norms about workplace effectiveness. Learn more about your organization’s preparedness for remote work.
Methodology and Disclaimer
Software Advice Remote Work Survey, November 2019
Software Advice conducted the remote work survey referenced in this article in November 2019. In doing so, we surveyed 912 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States. We also conducted a follow-up survey in November 2019 among 394 respondents who reported full-time employment in the United States, 140 of whom reported not working remotely on a regular basis.
Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Any references to specific tools are examples to show them in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.