in People Management Building a company Personal The Design of Work ~ read.

Are we ready to let go of our offices after the pandemic?

I did an analysis of the team's productivity while everyone's Working From Home. To do this, I had the engineering team cobble together quick MySQL tables using data available through Time Doctor's API and did the analysis using Microsoft Power BI.

The takeaways are:

  • Team members are logging more hours. From averaging 7.2 billable hours/day per team member in December 2019, the team is now averaging nearly 7.7 billable hours/day per team member in April 2020 MTD.  'Billable' time is defined as time spent by a team member being active and does not count any time spent by a team member in meetings.

Remember that Growth Rocket didn't do a cold transition into a Work From Home arrangement when the COVID-19 pandemic started getting worse and the government mandated it; we were actually working under a hybrid Work From Home/Compressed work day starting mid-December and we already saw a marked increase in a.) productivity as measured by billable hours and b.) happiness as measured by team member responses on our quarterly team member survey.

Being forced to good to adopt a full WFH arrangement seems to have further improved this.

This corroborates my earlier statement about how in the end, it's all about empowering team members by giving them a choice. The choice of where they can work and the choice of when they can work to produce at their best.

  • Team members continued to log work within a wider range of time throughout the day. This is consistent with the shift we observed when we moved to a compressed work day arrangement. I wrote about this in the past but, in a nutshell, prior to the pilot we ran for a compressed work day arrangement, nobody logged work earlier than 6:00am and later than 8:00pm. That window widened to almost a full 24 hours within the pilot. This remains true when we moved to a full WFH setup.
  • There's a lot more "Measuring Twice and Cutting Once" going on. The type of tasks the teams in Growth Rocket engage in have shifted heavily from production work to strategy/planning-related work. You can see the maroon band in the ribbon chart below which represents the time spent by team members putting together strategy-related artifacts catapult to second place starting March 2020 in terms of the activity category team members in the company spend most of the time on.

This makes sense as a lot of the clients we manage needed to pivot and change up their strategies to cope with the changes brought about by COVID-19.

Additionally, and not everyone is going to be honest enough to admit this, but one of the biggest challenges of working remote as a team is that it's objectively harder to collaborate compared to when everyone shares a common physical space. You can argue that there isn't a dearth of tools that would allow for better remote team collaboration, but the experience still isn't the same as being able to have small huddles with your team throughout the day and the risk of ideas losing fidelity or getting lost in translation when strategizing remotely is higher. This is the reason why the team needs to spend more time on strategy work (measuring twice) even if it means they end up spending less time in production (cutting once).

Looking at this data and after living through the experience of being punched in the mouth by the black swan that is COVID-19 made me question the relative importance and necessity of even having an office in the first place.

Apart from the empirical data that supports the fact that we are at our most productive historically and are operating nominally, expenditures related to maintaining an office represent a meaningful percentage of any company's overall operating costs.

For us, expenditures related to running and maintaining the office represent 5.5% of the company's total, and we've been very deliberate in controlling this cost. I'm sure the share of rent along with expenses related to maintaining an office is higher for a lot of other companies. In any case, these are expenditures I would gladly convert to profits to build a nice buffer that would soften blows similar to what COVID-19 hit us with.

And honestly, in a climate where everyone probably became germophobes and hypochondriacs overnight, would people even be comfortable spending 8 hours a day in an environment where their risk or being exposed to disease-causing agents is heightened? How about the commute to the office for people who use mass transportation?

While I submit that there's still tremendous value to be had in gathering everyone in a common physical space periodically (i.e. monthly team meetings or town halls), I'm not convinced that value, great as it may be, warrants maintaining an office especially if majority of the people you employ are knowledge workers.

When the quarantine lifts, the most likely scenario is that we are going to give up our office in favor of a small serviced office with far less seats than we currently have. Bigger meeting rooms will be availed of on an ad hoc basis to support team meetings and town halls.

This is the first of the undoubtedly many steps we are going to take to redesign the way we work to adapt to the new normal.