Work (and workflows) are changing
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of our personal and professional lives, and many of the changes and adaptations we’ve seen since early 2020 will likely be here for good. One of the most dramatic changes: WFH and hybrid models appear to be the new normal for many of us.
The shift toward new work models had an immediate ripple effect. We learned new ways of balancing work life with family responsibilities, new equipment needs were met, the line between work life and home life dissolved, and many existing policies and procedures had to be reworked or replaced entirely.
Other repercussions from this transition have taken longer to come into view. A 2021 study from the University of Chicago found that productivity dropped by up to 19% after employees transitioned to working from home. Researchers concluded that the decline in productivity was likely due to a decrease in available focus time. They also found that collaboration and innovation may suffer when we work remotely.
These findings raise two important questions: first, exactly how does WFH diminish our productivity? Second, what can be done about it?
Effects of remote work on productivity
The reason why working from home reduces productivity appears to be that it takes us longer to achieve the same work output than when we are in the office. U of Chicago researchers found that the average employee increased their working hours by 30% while maintaining the same output. As a result, productivity declined by 8% to 19%.
While it’s possible that working from our living spaces presents more frequent interruptions and distractions than working in the office, we appear to be facing additional challenges that stem from work itself.
Microsoft reported in 2021 that users of its Teams platforms saw the amount of time they spend in meetings more than double over the previous year. They also found that average meeting times increased by 10%, while the use of chat ballooned by 45%, and not just during working hours. Average Teams users were sending 42% more chats outside business hours when compared to the previous year.
It appears as though employees are trying to compensate for less in-office contact by scheduling more meetings and relying more heavily on email and chat. That makes it harder for us to find blocks of time to focus on our work, and it sends us into spirals of task switching that drain our time and energy. The lesson here is that being busier does not necessarily make us more productive. In fact, the opposite may be true.
Workflows will pave the path to the future
It’s within this new reality that we renew our focus on workflows, and ask how we can leverage them to our advantage. How can workflows help us reverse declines in productivity? How can we optimize workflows to bring more harmony to WFH and hybrid models? Which workflow tools cultivate collaboration and innovation across teams? Most importantly, how can we prepare citizen developers to help us build and optimize our workflows?
It is in the realm of workflows that we believe change is possible. By better understanding our workflows, we gain deeper insights into the processes that build our businesses. Workflows hold the keys to visibility, control, and — most importantly — better outcomes for our customers, and better work experiences for our teams.