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Seven hundred eighty nine ways to be more "productive" at work

At Every Turn TakeTurns Blog
|  by
Ken Brown
Ken Brown
Guest, MarxBrown Consulting
TakeTurns vs Email
Seven hundred eighty nine ways to be more "productive" at work

Seven hundred eighty nine is a reasonably big number under the circumstances.  One of the rules set forth by Ms. Rego, my high school creative writing teacher, was to never begin a sentence with a numeric number.  She instead insisted it be spelled out.  Interestingly, her other rule was, if a number less than or equal to ten is used, it too should be spelled out.  Greater than ten?  Just use the numeric version; well except at the beginning of a sentence that is.

But I digress, did you know that there are 789 mouse jigglers for sale on sells many, many mouse jigglers
If a group of mice is called a mischief, it must be a mischief of mouse jigglers!

The purpose of these gizmos is to keep your cursor zipping around the screen as if a human was behind it all.  The reason why there’s a mischief of mouse jigglers is that in today’s hybrid workplace, there’s a growing amount of performative work. Performative work is not actually getting anything substantive accomplished (at work), either by   

  • Giving the appearance of working while not working or
  • Working on mandatory tasks that have little value.

“But Ken,” you say.  “Where on earth are you going with this?”  And I’d respond, “We’re going to the office, the hybrid office.”

Seven hundred eighty nine ways to work performatively

As organizations have shifted to hybrid models, managers and executives have begun to worry about the productivity of their employees when they’re not in the office.  Because if your boss doesn’t see you working, are you actually working?

That concern about folks ‘slacking off’ has been dubbed by none other than Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, as productivity paranoia. To assuage those feelings of paranoia, many executives have authorized electronic tracking of their employees’ activities. It’s become commonplace. The New York Times has reported that “Eight out of the 10 largest private employers in the U.S.” track “productivity” metrics.  And Business Insider found in a recent survey, “96% of respondents working at organizations with a primarily remote or hybrid workforce said their firms used some form of employee-monitoring software.” Activity monitoring can include a wide range of things, from the number of badge swipes a week, the length of time required to write an email, the number of meetings attended, and how “active” their employees are in messaging tools like Slack or Teams. 

Every business messaging app I’m aware of has its variation of a status indicator.  You know, that little bubble that changes color depending on your situation.  Indications include: available, do not disturb, in a meeting, or the oh-so-feared away! 

“It’s ABC, ‘A’ Always, ‘B’ Be, ‘C’ Continuously active”

Given that we know the bosses are always watching, what does a typical line worker do to keep their status icon green (available) or red (in-meetings?). 

For ideas, we turn to this fascinating article on Mashable that details the creative ways remote workers game the system by keeping their status indicator bright green, denoting they're “Available.”  Being available gives the impression of being online, of working. One slacker put their mouse on a toy train.  Another taped pencils to either side of an oscillating fan set at the edge of their desk, the pencils physically moving the mouse back and forth as the fan oscillated.  Imagine if all that creativity applied to appearing productive was instead applied to being productive … the impact would be staggering. Of course, where there’s demand, our free market economy will provide supply (and then some) and that’s how one gets 789 results when searching for Mouse Jiggler on Amazon.  And lest you claim I am casting aspersions on the entire mouse jiggler industry, It’s worth noting that many of the descriptions proudly proclaim “Undetectable by IT,” so we know exactly what they’re for.   

Other ways of appearing active include “being in meetings.”  Speaking to a friend on this topic, she mentioned how her virtual co-workers would maintain an appropriate status by joining online meetings with each other.  Since most business messaging applications are aware of online meetings, Teams or Slack would automatically set their status to “busy” or in-a-meeting, both highly acceptable statuses. And, as a bonus, anyone seeing the “in-a–meeting” status would not expect immediate responses to their messages. Genius!  At least for cyberslackers.

It’s funny: measuring activity and calling it productivity is simply asking for employees to monkey with their stats. After all, if the slackers are shifting the performance benchmark with their jigglers and fake meetings, others will have to adopt the same techniques or be punished for underperforming.  And this is how we end up with employees reporting that they spend about a third of their day on performative work.

Having worked in sales and sales management for longer than I care to admit, I’ve frequently seen metrics used as indicators of effectiveness nearly at the expense of results. After all, if managment requires an entire sales team to “get more opportunities,” the organization will quickly have more opportunities than could ever be qualified.   

All that said, there’s a better way. 

One way to work more productively: TakeTurns

Efficacy, which I covered here, isn’t just about counting activities; it requires understanding how and why those activities increase our chances of success.  Attaining that level of understanding requires transparency between the individual contributor and their management team. Knowing why, not just how many, enables the whole team to move forward constructively.  And that’s why TakeTurns is something you need in your toolbox if you’re suffering from a bit of productivity paranoia (or if you’d like to dispense with working to look busy). 

TakeTurns is an asynchronous collaboration SaaS app designed to reduce the hours spent per day wrangling email, especially when document collaboration with external stakeholders is required, such as with legal agreements, RFxs, and the like. It also addresses many common problems found with synchronous work (some of which can be performative, e.g., interminable meetings) and asynchronous alternatives such as email and business messaging tools.

The idea behind asynchronous collaboration is easy: collaborate in a way other than in real-time. Email is the incarnation of asynchronous collaboration. Send an email, then go work on something else.  Read and respond to emails when it fits your schedule.  Voila, asynchronous.  TakeTurns is asynchronous in that each party takes turns trading responsibility over one or many documents. You provide comments and redlines, end your turn, and then the external stakeholder takes their turn to review, comment, and revise.  The big difference between the two is that TakeTurns organizes everything into a nice, neat package (we call it a collaboration), while email is a horrible unstructured mess.   

Oddly enough, business messaging systems tout their asynchronous collaboration credentials.  You receive messages randomly but respond in your own time.  Yeah, right!  As pointed out above, everyone knows they’re being judged, not on the quality of their work, but on the color of their status dot. The color of that dot is the biggest reason why there are 789 mouse jiggers for sale on (I was paying attention, Ms. Rego).

Async can be possible with tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, etc, but the reality and expectation for those collaboration tools is your immediate and undivided attention–respond now and make it snappy. As a result, employees spend an inordinate amount of time interacting with and responding to work-related instant messages.  Sadly, those instant messages interrupt real work for questions, comments, and water cooler chatter that frequently do not tie back to actual work-related objectives. Those ‘slacks’ are keeping your status dot green, however, so that’s something!  The unfortunate thing is, regardless of intent, business messaging tools are becoming a leading driver of performative work, albeit not necessarily of the nefarious variety undertaken by our mischief of mouse jigglers.  Heck, ever received a meme in Slack?  Ever seen a co-worker's baby pictures in Teams?  Ever shared a recipe on Google Chat? If not, I salute you (🫡). 

Email, though asynchronous, is hardly immune to useless work.  How often have you found yourself spending an inordinate amount of time searching through email for some specific thing you know is in there somewhere?  How often have you struggled to keep up with ever-branching email threads?  How often have you thought the right person was included on the expansive cc list only to find out after missing a deadline the person was on a different branch?  How much time have you spent apologizing for forwarding an email with content buried in a thread inappropriate for the recipient’s consumption?  Ever replied to a message you were bcc’d on?  All this may not always be performative work but it’s not useful work. Further complicating the challenges of email, our need for external asynchronous collaboration is almost exclusively fulfilled by email.  And that is where TakeTurns solves email’s problems.

TakeTurns brings structure, security, and transparency to your collaborations. With TakeTurns, you and your parties will know whose turn it is to work, track the full history, and maintain confidentiality.  Learn more in our Help Center or follow us on LinkedIn. And when you’re ready to leave the chaos of email behind, subscribe to TakeTurns; it’s free for 30 days.

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