The pandemic has changed how tech companies view productivity on their teams — it’s not about time spent, it’s about outcomes.
“I used to be the kind of person that would show up to the office at 7 a.m. and just stay until dinnertime. I was just always there, and I feel like that gave me this broken advantage over other people who were maybe just quietly toiling away on their stuff,” said Phil Wheaton, chief marketing officer at Copia Wealth Studios, a financial intelligence platform. “In a Covid world, I realized that maybe I wasn’t as productive as I thought I was before, and I need to change the way that I view productivity in general.”
By 2025, it is estimated that 40.7 million Americans will be working remotely, according to Upwork’s 2021 Future Workforce Report. As companies allow more employees to work from home, how can leaders ensure their teams are being productive?
Built In spoke to four tech companies who all said productivity comes down to measuring outcomes, not so much focusing on time spent on tasks or hours online. These companies share their tips for ensuring productivity, and no, it doesn’t involve tracking every minute of active work time.
Remove the Barriers
To measure productivity of its 21 geographically dispersed employees, Copia Wealth Studios relies on Shortcut, formerly called Clubhouse, a project management software to help teams manage workflow and track tasks.
“The reason that we like it is because it’s super fast. It’s versatile enough that you can configure it how you like it,” Wheaton said. “We basically say that everything that’s a to-do or a task or a function has to be tracked inside Shortcut.”
The team also uses Slite, a knowledge management software, to track its objectives and key results. Wheaton said Slite is helpful for the big picture, looking at monthly progress toward OKRs, and Shortcut keeps track of all the little tasks that funnel into the OKRs.
Productivity tracking at Copia Wealth Studios also includes just observing that employees are actively engaging with each other on the company’s tools like Slack, GitHub and Figma. Plus, the company requires employees to participate in weekly demo meetings where they can showcase a project they worked on that week.
“For us, being a software company, it’s more about are the milestones being met? Are the features that we planned to do four months ago actually getting out into the product? Is the customer experience living up to what we thought it should live up to?” Wheaton said.
“It’s less about these super tangible things like we got 27 to-do’s done this week. It’s not about that. It’s more just about managing the overall ebb and flow over a long period of time.”
Wheaton said Copia Wealth Studios likes to think of its talent as race cars on a racetrack. The more barriers the company can remove from the track, the faster the cars can go. That translates to being particular about the tools and processes the company implements, so employees are not bogged down with needing to overreport, and leaders do not feel the need to micromanage their team members.
“I think the number one thing that I’ve been preaching about recently is just autonomy and trying to enable as much autonomy as possible,” Wheaton said. “The more people feel like they have control over their day, the more they’re going to want to work hard on stuff.”
Consolidate Your Tools
ClickUp is a productivity application that keeps all work in one place, such as documents, chat, email and project management. The platform’s dashboards provide high-level overviews of progress, which Shailesh Kumar, senior vice president of engineering at ClickUp, said serves the company well given its outcomes-driven approach to productivity.
“The teams have the visibility of looking at the dashboards, how the outcome’s trending. We have visibility on the tasks, and everything is together in the same place,” Kumar said. “That brings everything together and helps us with not letting things fall through the cracks, having good communication.”
Kumar said the appeal of ClickUp is the ability to reduce redundancies and not have to manage multiple tools in different places.
“Every large organization is dealing with the fragmentation of different tools that they have,” Kumar said. “It becomes a nightmare for anyone to manage their work, especially in a remote environment where you can’t just walk up to people and ask them what’s going on.”
The application offers automations and integrations, so organizations can bring their tools into the platform. Kumar said the more tools companies integrate, the more productivity they report seeing.
Clearly Communicate Expectations
Clockwise is a smart calendar assistant powered by artificial intelligence that helps people find dedicated blocks of time to be productive. The time management platform learns your calendar and preferences like when you usually take lunch, your working hours and your most frequent collaborators.
Anna Dearmon Kornick, time management coach and head of community for Clockwise, said the platform is especially useful for engineers and other professionals who need “maker” time to dive into projects with deep focus.
“We’ve heard from Clockwise users that having Clockwise has changed their life because it really does enable them to move the needle on big projects. It enables them to have that maker time, so they aren’t staying up late, or they aren’t cutting into that family time,” Dearmon Kornick said. “Clockwise’s mission is to help people spend time on what matters.”
Communication is the key to productivity at Clockwise. Dearmon Kornick said the company focuses on giving employees a clear picture of expectations and articulating who has ownership of the goals the teams set. Regular check-ins are an important way to make sure everyone is working toward meeting milestones that align with the company’s mission.
“For us being a productivity-focused company, we’re not tracking our time to the minute. We’re not intensely measuring the amount of time, the number of minutes, spent on specific projects because that’s not how we measure success,” she said. “Are we being authentic? Are we staying curious in exploring new strategies? … If we’re staying true to our core values, then we know we’re successful.”
As a time management coach, Dearmon Kornick offers some advice for becoming more productive in your day-to-day work.
“My number one piece of advice is to create more structure in your workday. It starts with having boundaries,” she said.
Begin with a workday startup routine, she said. It can be as simple as opening your computer, checking your email and opening your project management platform. You need a shutdown routine as well like closing all your tabs, doing a final email scan and shutting your laptop, she said. Be sure to follow the same order of completing these tasks each day.
“Having a work day startup and a work day shutdown routine in place helps you engage in a short physical sequence that creates a mental mindset shift,” she said.
If you find yourself getting distracted during the day with thoughts of different personal tasks you need to take care of, Dearmon Kornick said to create a “shiny things list,” where you simply write down the tasks you need to take care of after work, instead of interrupting your focused work time.
Zipwhip, a texting software company that allows companies to interact with customers via any business line, was recently acquired by the cloud communications platform, Twilio, in June 2021. Zipwhip’s engineering team started using Uplevel in 2020 to generate data-driven insights on engineers’ work after transitioning to a remote work environment due to the pandemic.
“Of course, when you’re going through an acquisition, there’s a lot of disruption. There’s a lot of uncertainty as well, and I think one thing that this analytics tool has done for us is provide consistency. We’re still doing our monthly engineering dashboard reviews,” said Melanie Zens, chief of staff to the head of engineering at Zipwhip.
The software identifies “blockers” when engineers would get interrupted, Zens said. This has encouraged the company to rethink how it approaches meetings and how to find ways to carve out dedicated deep work time where developers dive deep into problem solving.
Uplevel seamlessly integrates with the developers’ most used tools like Slack, Jira and GitHub to provide insights on how they are working. By creating standards around times when using tools like Slack, Zens said they can minimize distractions and interruptions.
“We’re trying to instigate a cultural shift. We want people to use data to empower themselves, to use analytics to find out where their own blockers are and to have better conversations with their manager, so it’s more of a two-way conversation,” Zens said.