Work and Productivity
5 ways your company is wasting your time — and their money.
Too many employers are penny-wise and pound-foolish with employee time and company resources.
Here are 5 workplace time and money wasters to be on the lookout for — and some ways to deal with them.
#1 Unnecessary Meetings
“I wish I could spend more of my workday in meetings.” Said no employee. Ever. Surveys confirm what many of us are already feeling. Meetings are often a waste of time and take us away from productive work, at a terrible cost to the organization.
If 100 employees lose one hour per day due to unnecessary meetings, in one year that costs the organization $612,500. So why do unnecessary meetings keep happening? Many of these meetings are the result of missing or unclear processes, while others are caused by confused or controlling people.
Organizations need to follow two essential rules when they develop internal processes. First, gather input from the whole organization when developing them. Second, follow industry best practices. Following these two simple rules will drastically reduce the number of unnecessary meetings.
For example, if customer service gets a complaint from a key customer, there should be a process in place to handle that. There should not be an emergency meeting called every time this happens to put out the fire. These “emergency” meetings just elevate stress levels in the affected team. They also send the message that we are not a professional organization.
Another tell-tale sign of an unnecessary meeting is the lack of a clear agenda or decision point. Meetings called to discuss a topic with no clear goal are usually a waste of time. Sometimes the goal is to brainstorm ideas (divergent thinking) and to avoid making a snap decision (convergent thinking) and that’s fine. The point: there needs to be a point.
Teams that can’t collaborate well often have endless meetings. Why? Because they lack the structure, process, and facilitation to achieve their goals. This is true even when they have clear objectives. So they spin and spin, taking months to accomplish what they could accomplish in days if they collaborated properly. And sometimes they fail anyway.
Process-related issues overlap with people-related causes of unnecessary meetings. This is because people will call time-wasting meetings when processes are not clear. But they also call such meetings when they lack clarity on what management wants them to do.
How many leader town hall meetings have you attended? And how many times was the “rah-rah” followed by people walking away wondering what it all meant?
You and your colleagues (the people who must implement the leader’s vision) should not be left scratching your heads.
Leaders and colleagues often call useless meetings for many of these same reasons. But sometimes they do so to exert their control over others. When you call a meeting and demand that others attend, you are literally setting the agenda for others. You are deciding how others spend their valuable time.
#2 — Necessary Meetings, Which Start Or End Late
One sign of a dysfunctional corporate culture is that people don’t respect each other’s time. Case in point: showing up late to meetings. Corporate culture isn’t some fuzzy concept; it’s actually quite tangible, demonstrated by behavior, and starts at the top. A tell-tale sign of a low-accountability, low-respect culture is when leaders often show up late to meetings.
Can this kind of culture be changed? Of course it can, but it takes leadership, hard work, and small steps. In the workshops I facilitate, we usually have to round people up after breaks to return to breakout meetings. But after a few meetings, participants usually get the idea, start self-managing, and even help to round up stragglers.
You communicate a profound respect for someone and their time when you show up on time. And the reverse is true. Yes, emergencies and exceptions do occur, but it’s the rules not the exceptions that express corporate culture.
#3 — Slow Computers
I once worked at a publication that expected its writers to type up their stories fast. Really fast. And often these were technical articles that contained lots of jargon that we had to look up, as we typed, after we did our interviews.
To make the challenge even harder, we had to work on old, slow laptops. When every minute counts, it’s excruciating to wait for the laptop to catch up. You’re waiting for the slow, mechanical hard drive to stop spinning every time you hit <save> so you can get your cursor back and resume typing. And that doesn’t include the times the laptop would crash, losing my work, and I had to start over.
And I’m not alone. Surveys show that many workers complain that about computer problems or having no computer at all (because it was away being repaired). These issues dramatically reduce their productivity at work. When you add up the minutes per day waiting for a slow computer to boot up, save documents, and reboot after it freezes — the losses are significant.
An old, slow computer might be all the company says it can afford, but often this isn’t the case. First, consider the opportunity cost. If 100 employees lose one half-hour per day due to slow desktops or laptops, in one year that costs the organization $306,250.
Even upgrading the slow mechanical hard drive to a fast SSD (or boosting the RAM from 4GB to 8GB) will help And it’s cheap. I made these two upgrades on my wife’s 2010 MacBook, and it now runs much, much faster.
Next, look around. Are their ping-pong tables, bean bag chairs, or big screen TVs in the office? Are there large expense accounts for when executives travel or entertain clients? The money can be found. One good place to look is the HR department, and the money they spend on team building activities.
#4 — Team Building Activities
As I wrote in a previous article, most traditional team building activities are a waste of time and money. Team building has to relate to actual business goals (and organizational context) to work.
Save those thousands of dollars you’d otherwise waste on whitewater rafting — and give your people the tools they need to do their jobs. Upgrading their slow computers would be a great place to start.
#5 — Open Concept Office Space
Improving collaboration is the alleged reason for moving to open-concept work spaces. But there is new evidence that teamwork and productivity actually suffers as a result.
Even companies that sincerely believe open-concept will improve collaboration often just stop there. This is their one-and-only attempt to get teams to work better together. But collaboration is about people and culture, not about how you arrange the furniture. This means that the behaviors leaders model and reward are more important than where people sit.
For example, are individuals recognized or rewarded for being good collaborators? Are managers evaluated (and compensated) based on how they demonstrate and foster collaboration in the teams they lead? Does the organization use a proper collaboration method? One that brings people together in a structured way to focus on achieving organizational goals?
Often the answer is No.
Simply moving desks closer together and hoping for the best doesn’t work. It’s short-sighted at best and often is counterproductive. Why? Because different people have different working and collaboration styles. Millennials are different from Boomers.
I consider myself to be an awesome collaborator but I prefer to work in a quiet space off in the corner when I’m not working with my team. Put me in the middle of a busy office, filled with non-stop chatter and distractions, and you’ll be getting less than you’re paying me for.
So, How to Address These 5 Issues?
There is no easy answer. And there definitely is no single answer because different organizations have different needs. At some higher functioning organization, employees can raise these concerns with their manager and expect to be heard. Hopefully this will start a dialogue that moves up the ladder and eventually leads to some changes. Culture change is usually slow but it begins with small steps. Ideally, it includes rewards and recognition for those positive changes. The first step is identifying and articulating the challenge.
At lower functioning companies, the situation is less clear. If you ask to meet with your manager about these issues, will they show up 30 minutes late to the meeting? And will they immediately push back, saying this is just how all companies operate? Perhaps.
Where you go from there will depend on the situation and your personal approach. You may choose to stay at the company and model the behavior you wish to see in others. For example: organizing only purposeful meetings and showing up on time to meetings called by others.
Or you may start looking for another employer with a better corporate culture, one which values your time (and their own resources) more. As you evaluate prospective employers, you can keep these 5 critical items in the back of your mind. And ask the interview panel how they would describe their corporate culture.