Productivity is an interesting concept. While the ability to work from anywhere has its perks, many of us also feel that it has altered our productivity levels compared to the days of working in an office.

Perhaps home working comes with fewer distractions from colleagues and not as many unnecessary meetings, in turn boosting productivity. Or maybe the absence of a specific workspace has left some of us feeling sluggish and having trouble concentrating. This could vary day by day or even hour by hour!

The examples above show us that productivity can be an extremely variable phenomenon. It can be affected by all sorts of things, from office atmosphere to an employee’s headache, to a coworker having a bad day.

Productivity is also very useful to track.

Whether you’re starting an online boutique or are the manager at a processing plant, your team’s productivity can hugely affect you — and the rest of the team.

It can point towards where people’s strengths lie and where they’re falling behind. It can indicate that your team is focusing on the wrong things — if their output is high but they’re not meeting their goals. It can even help you to recognize that a particular approach is useful and enable you to free up some time for other ventures.

However, it can be hard to track productivity consistently and fairly. It’s all too easy to favor certain employees for particular tasks, or to only track productivity intermittently — when there’s a performance review coming up, for instance.

If you track productivity intermittently, you won’t reap the full benefits, and you could alienate some employees along the way. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can follow to ensure that you’re measuring productivity the right way.

Decide on Your Team’s Long-Term and Short-Term Goals

In some industries, this is easier than others. Call center data analytics, for example, will give you an easy snapshot of which employees are resolving the most complaints or making the most sales.

In some sectors, it can be a little more oblique. You’ll have to think about your overall goals and which tasks are most suited to achieve them. You’ll likely have to track many tasks and goals, as very few jobs involve one sole, repetitive task.

In a marketing team, for example, you might decide that getting SEO-optimized content onto your site is top priority, so you need a system to keep track of how many pieces of content your employees are putting out.

However, you’ll also need to take into account how accurate and useful these pieces of content are. Are they being sped through and consequently full of typos and causing your editor headaches? Are they efficient at directing the right kind of traffic to your site? Are they even relevant as to how your brand operates?

As well as the above examples, you’ll need to consider what other tasks employees have. Perhaps an employee in charge of social media output is also in charge of other duties, and therefore has less time to spend on writing blogs.

You should also ensure that your team members know that productivity should not mean speeding through work to the detriment of its quality.

In another scenario, you might need to bring in a little tech help. Accounting software, for example, can be particularly useful when tracking budgets, especially if your specialty isn’t numbers.

Whatever you identify as your targets, you need to properly communicate what the main goals are to your team and break down how you think they should prioritize them.

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Consistently Measure Across a Set Period

The importance of measuring productivity consistently cannot be overstated.

Ideally, what you want to see when you measure productivity is a consistent upwards trend, even if there are a few hiccups along the way. Alternatively, consistently performing at a high standard can also be a mark of excellence — though you may want to consider that this particular employee may be getting a little burnt out with the task at hand.

Many people will tell you that productivity is a simple measure of output but — as detailed above — there can be many different factors at play within output.

Your measurements can be simple — say, noting on a spreadsheet who has taken which task. But you need to check in consistently — say, every week or every month, depending on the length of your goals — and consider that you might not be able to compare employees equally.

By measuring data regularly, you avoid the chance of catching someone having a bad week and mistakenly believing that all of their output has been similar. You also catch any potential issues early: it might be a simple case of your employee not knowing how to dial out that could be sorted in minutes!

By not comparing directly, you realize that your employees likely have different tasks to complete.

If they do the exact same tasks, one is likely to be more experienced than the other, or perhaps just more capable at the job. This is where productivity comes into play when considering promotions. Please don’t use a lack of productivity to criticize employees if you’re not going to take excellent productivity into account and reward it. That is one recipe for miserable employees.

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Remember That Employees Are Human — and Offer Assistance

If you discover that your employees aren’t being as productive as you’d like in meeting set goals, it might be time to reassess.

Either your goals are too lofty for the team you have, in which case you need to lower your expectations, bring on new team members, or perhaps offer more training to the employees you do have.

The other option is that something is holding your team back — and it might be worth chatting to them to find out where this hiccup is. Perhaps using a parked calls system might allow your customer service team to quickly transfer calls to the relevant person, saving time and allowing them to streamline their workflow.

It might be a nonwork issue, like being unable to find childcare — which is where accommodating working parents could make a huge difference to their productivity.

One crucial thing to bear in mind is that you want your team to keep being as productive as possible. That means that if you’re tracking their progress and they have a bad day or week, you don’t immediately flag that particular employee for under performance.

If it seems like an ongoing problem, gently try to find out if there’s something specific bothering them, and if you can do anything to help. It might be that they’re going through something tough outside of work, or perhaps just struggling with a monotonous workload or suffering from burnout.

In some cases, knowing how productive your team is can even help you to monitor their overall satisfaction within the working environment.

It might just be that everyone’s feeling the loneliness of remote working, and a few remote team-building exercises will help to reenergize the whole team.