For many years, we have sought to understand and measure the productivity of knowledge workers, whose inputs and outputs can’t be tracked in the same way as a builder, shelf-stacker, or call center worker. Knowledge workers apply subjective judgment to tasks, they decide what to do when, and they can withhold effort (by not fully engaging their brain) often without anyone noticing. This make attempts to improve their productivity very difficult.
In this 2013 HBR article, we presented research showing that knowledge workers spend two-thirds of their time in meetings or doing desk-based work, even though they found these activities mostly tiresome. We proposed some steps people could take to shift time to more worthwhile activities, such as talking to customers or coaching subordinates. Of course, we all get stuck in patterns of activity reinforced by the routines of office life.
But, then, in March 2020, the pandemic struck. Suddenly, many of us were sent home and forced to develop new ways of working. After several months, we now have a good sense of how our own day-to-day schedules have changed. But we don’t know how generalizable our experiences are. So we decided to replicate the 2013 study, using the same questions as before and interviewing respondents with similar profiles.
Here are the key findings: Read more…