Stop wasting employees’ time

Obviously the pandemic and the explosion of work-from-home for white-collar professionals, which is essentially class warfare even if we don’t admit it, has made all this time management stuff a bit worse. It’s all impacting females more, especially working moms, and it feels like the kind of stuff that gets mentioned in Wall Street Journal articles and people nod and say “Oh, that’s too bad” and then go right back to living their life. And now there’s this, from a recent HBR article:

Researchers at Harvard Business School and New York University found that the number of meetings increased during the pandemic by 12.9%, on average, and the number of attendees per meeting grew by 13.5%. While the average length of meetings declined, the total time consumed by meetings increased substantially. Sadly, for most organizations, this investment of additional time yielded very little. The Harvard Business School and New York University data is consistent with what we have observed at many companies: Poor collaboration and inefficient work practices have reduced productive time by 2% to 3% for most organizations.

Not surprising.

Why does that happen?

Short answer is that most managers aren’t very good, and they tend to focus on control above all else. If you’re a generally-plodding manager, and COVID smacks ya team in the face, what are your concerns?

  • Supporting them emotionally?
  • Making sure they’re productive?
  • Checking in on their situations and offering help?
  • Figuring out a way you can see them so you know they’re working?

Functional managers = bullets 1–3.

Most managers = Bullet 4.

That’s why # of meetings are up, as are # of attendees. It’s very logical.

The paradox, of course, is that seeing Tommy and Rachel on a call doesn’t mean they are working. It means they have a call up, video on, and are reading articles until they hear their name. You’re not scaling supportive behavior or productivity. You’re scaling “I control these employees.” But again, that’s what is important to many managers.

Wasted time

Organizations are a massive mess of wasted time, often. At one company (I think it’s insurance?) studied years ago, one weekly meeting — 48 weeks/year, give or take — ended up consuming 300,000 man hours to prepare for across the year. There’s such a massive time suck in companies, and people’s time is not generally respected, with the exception being sales and those closest to the power core. Everyone else basically can get sucked into whatever, whenever, and essentially has to do it or they get labeled as having a “bad attitude.”

Why don’t managers respect time?

Lots of different reasons, including:

  • Their time is not respected, so they lash out and want to do it to others.
  • They are scared of their bosses getting on their ass about productivity, so they ride their teams hard and give them lots of meaningless crap to attend and complete.
  • They are passing the buck on stuff and that’s adding to the plates of their direct reports.
  • They are depressed middle-aged males who lack friends and intimacy, so controlling the calendars of others is the closest thing they have to relevance.
  • Etc. etc.

Could we be more respectful of time in organizations?

Psychologically? No, probably not.

Functionally, it’s possible. I’d say it would involve a focus on simplicity — reducing all the busywork and tasks that litter so much of work — and embracing concepts like uninterrupted work time or the 15-minute check-in. It’s true that your time at work isn’t always your own — people pay you to do certain things, and if you want to keep getting paid, you need to do them — but you can use concepts like The Eisenhower Matrix to determine what to work on and when to work on it.

If managers were trained more on effective time management approaches, instead of meeting meeting meeting call call call lunch meeting meeting meeting back-of-house back-of-house back-of-house, and those managers could transfer that knowledge and priority-setting to their directs, maybe we could have more priority-laden cultures where time isn’t wasted.

In the meantime, fuck off because I’m racing to my next call and then a standup and then I need to resolve some emails.

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

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