Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 86 – Productivity and Placement

In this issue we will look at:

  • Productivity: Are we doing enough?
  • Getting people up to speed
  • How does noise impact on your working day / Multi-tasking vs. Individual Task Priorities
  • Hot desking and open plan offices
  • Connected to the grid

Productivity: Are we doing enough?

We all like to think we are busy, but are we productive as well?

I read an interesting statistic some time ago that said (and I paraphrase) for every interruption that occurs we spend another 8 minutes trying to get back to the same level of thought / productivity we were in BEFORE we were interrupted.

But what do we mean by interruptions?

Well to be fair it could be anything – for example:

  • Screeching tyres outside the building,
  • A ringing telephone,
  • Pop up messages we get when a new email comes through,
  • Someone holding a conversation that you can hear – they may not be actively speaking to you – but you can hear them anyway.

And then there are the direct interruptions we get when people do stop by to speak to you, customers who need serving, and telephone calls we need to take and so on.

When you think of it like that, it’s amazing to me how we can get anything meaningful done in a day at all. And the problem does not stop there, especially when we look at new hires and contract placements.

Getting people up to speed:

When you are paying someone by the hour it should stand to reason that you want contract staff to be as productive as your permanent employees.

It should also stand to reason that you as the host employer would ensure they would have their computer logon, security passes and silly things like access to printers – and if codes are needed for same, then these should have been arranged, workstations set up BEFORE their start date.

While we are aware there will be a period of time when the contract / new hires will need to get used to the vagaries of the different ways of working, differences in system setups and where to find, departments, who’s who and “stuff” – that period of time should be minimised to hours rather than days and certainly not weeks.

The importance of getting day 1 organised:

If you are responsible or going to be responsible for a new starter – be they contract or otherwise it is essential you get Day 1 right. Day 1 sets the tone for the entire working relationship.

If the new hire or contract person sees time wasting on Day 1 they MIGHT be tempted to assume that it’s OK for them to be less than productive during the rest of their contract. On a related note, always practice what you preach – don’t get annoyed when people are wasting time / doing their own things during working hours if YOU as the senior person is not being entirely ethical in how much time you use for your own / personal business.

How does noise impact on your working day?  / Multi-tasking vs. Individual Task Priorities:

Do you like to think you can multi-task with the best of them, or are you a single minded individual when it comes to working on tasks, projects and to-do items? To be fair, I feel it depends what you are attempting to do as to whether multi-tasking can increase or decrease your productivity.

As you know I run my own business and during an evening when I am sending out the Daily e-zine I can do other things as they run through the send mail program. But trying to get them to the point of sending can be almost impossible when I am for instance being distracted by my kids or the cats or people phoning the house.

And it is the same for most of the writing I do. Writing anything that requires any kind of concentration (which is a huge part of my day at IEA) with the noise of a busy office happening around me – takes a massive amount of effort, and I find I am unable to multi-task anything, and have taken to playing music to provide some kind of white noise to counter the other noises that I hear. Eventually the brain does tune out some / all of the noise – but I know the louder the office is, the less productive with my writing I usually am.

How does the issue of noise impact on your working day? You might be surprised. Consider:

Hot desking and open plan offices:

And it’s not just open plan offices that that may struggle with employee productivity either. Consider organisations that have a culture of open door policies, to be fair you might as well knock down the walls.


For organisations that have a number of employees who spend more time on the road rather than in the office, hot desking may have a number of benefits. For example, the parent organisation may be able to utilise a smaller space, saving money on rent and associated overheads. However, there are a number of downsides too:

  • You may find the desk you normally use, being used when you go into the office. Whilst this may be OK – what happens if the computer you use has specific applications and programs related to your job on it AND it is being used by someone else? It doesn’t matter if you move to another desk you are still not going to be able to do the work you were being paid to do.
  • People move things. I worked with one organisation for 1 day a week recently, each week I could almost guarantee stationery items such as staplers would disappear, and any pens that weren’t tied down were never there when you got back. And one day I arrived to find someone had taken the chair. When you are being paid by the hour it is very frustrating not to mention expensive for the client to pay for your time as you try to find / replace them.
  • You cannot personalise your workspace – if you have to carry everything with you – do you lack connection to your workplace and fellow employees? Studies have said this is in fact the case.
  • Work habits have to change
  • Employers / Supervisors have to trust you – especially when you are “working from home” or on the road. However, this does work both ways – if you are contracted to an organisation for a number of hours, and there is no chance of being paid overtime – make sure you don’t do more hours than you are being paid for.

For those people who contract staff to work within their office environment on an ad-hoc or part-time basis, please be aware that there will be a period of down time during the start of every attendance at the office. Can these be minimised?

Connected to the grid:

It’s becoming easier than ever before to remain connected to the network when you are supposed to be “working”. Even organisations who tie down their Internet connections to prevent their employees accessing “inappropriate” sites and material cannot prevent use of mobile devices during office hours.

Of course there are obvious signs work is not being completed, too many “personal” phone calls and time away from desks being two of the easier to spot items, but mobile apps?

Check the fine print of the contracts, and ensure your new hires / new starters are aware of the relevant policies. Again you cannot complain if you have failed to advise them.