The Productivity Paradox—Understanding Different Positions in Your Organization

By Brett Derricott

The WFH vs WFO Productivity Debate

As the world grappled with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were forced to figure out how to do their work from their homes. As the pandemic has passed, the work-from-home (WFH) versus work-from-office (WFO) debate has taken center stage, with discussions primarily revolving around the impact on productivity. There seems to be an apparent paradox: while employees often report being more productive while working remotely, managers often report a decline in overall productivity. To explain at least part of this discrepancy, we need to delve into the essence of productivity itself and explore the two distinct types that shape our work dynamics.

The Two Types of Productivity

Productivity encompasses not only the output or deliverables, but also the collaborative and innovative aspects that drive progress. The disparity in employee and manager perceptions of productivity can be attributed, at least in part, to the reality that there are two distinct types: task-oriented productivity (Type One) and collaboration-driven productivity (Type Two).

Productivity Type One: Task-Oriented

Type One productivity centers around tasks that are inherently individual and deliverable-driven. Examples include coding, design work, writing, or building spreadsheet models. This type of productivity thrives in focused environments, where interruptions are minimized, enabling individuals to achieve a state of flow. The benefits of Type One productivity are clear: the avoidance of disruptions facilitates deep concentration and high-quality output.

Productivity Type Two: Collaborative

On the other end of the productivity spectrum lies Type Two, which centers more around team interactions. This type of productivity thrives on interactions that spark creativity, innovation, and brainstorming. Examples include strategy meetings, ideating about new features, project post-mortems, impromptu problem-solving sessions, and the spontaneous exchanges that occur during casual encounters. Type Two productivity enables quicker communication, serendipitous breakthroughs, stronger relationships, and a safeguard against individuals getting mired in a problem that a nearby coworker could easily help solve. The pursuit of more Type Two productivity is why so many companies are pushing for more in-office work. And this isn't just a post-pandemic thing, either: read about IBM's 2017 decision.

Identifying the Right Ratio: Striking a Balance

The crux of the matter is that both Type One and Type Two productivity play vital roles in organizational success. Finding the right balance between the two is crucial, yet it's easy to get wrong. Many companies err in determining this balance through either of two ineffective approaches:

Firstly, some firms leave the choice between WFH and WFO up to the employees, which inevitably leads to a focus on Type One productivity. Individuals, when given the choice, tend to opt for environments that enable deep concentration on their tasks. But letting everyone work in silos overlooks the potential benefits of collaboration and innovation fostered by in-person interactions.

Secondly, a one-size-fits-all mandate for WFH or WFO is another potential misstep. Different roles and positions require different amounts of each type of productivity. Disregarding the nuanced requirements of different job functions can stifle innovation and creativity or isolate employees in roles that benefit from higher collaboration.

Strategically Determining the Productivity Ratio

To navigate this productivity paradox successfully, organizations need to be intentional and embrace a more nuanced approach. The optimal productivity ratio should be based on a genuine understanding of each position's requirements. This entails acknowledging that various roles necessitate differing proportions of Type One and Type Two productivity. While a software developer might thrive with a higher proportion of Type One tasks, a project manager might require a more balanced blend of both types. And the needs of the organization itself might lead to a decision to prioritize more of one type versus another.

Truthfully, the WFH vs WFO productivity debate isn't simply about where employees work, but about the nature of the work itself. Type One productivity can also be facilitated within an office, while Type Two productivity can be missed even if people are all working in the same space.

By understanding the two types of productivity and strategically determining the right ratio for each position, organizations can unlock the true potential of each employee. Achieving both task-oriented and collaborative productivity will not only enhance individual performance but also foster innovation, creativity, and overall organizational success.

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