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Finding opportunity within remote working

Why Make My Blinds is trialling task-oriented management during the social distancing movement

The merits and flaws of home-based working have long since divided company owners. Proponents say it promotes trust, aids flexibility, saves on costly commutes, and allows for long periods of focus that busy workplaces just can’t offer. Detractors claim it hinders collaboration, allows work and home life to bleed into one another, and generally picture an indolent workforce bunking off at the pub in a false moustache.

However, with the new government mandate for home-based working comes a unique opportunity for all office workforces to trial new ways of working – namely a move from time- to task-oriented management. While the daily decamp to an office lends itself to measuring productivity within a ‘blocked timeframe’, working from home creates a need for more intuitive forms of oversight.

Task-based management is more commonly seen in manual labour roles. Flyering or house painting pay per project, meaning workers can choose their own pace of work. However, there are huge benefits to this system for office workers, too. Perfectionists, or new starters need not fret over their extra time requirements, while employees motivated to finish can see real-world returns on speedy output.

Online retailer Make My Blinds is one such company trialling task-oriented management during the working from home period. As the company previously allowed working from home for up to two days a week, they had some remote practices in place to build on. “We use Slack to stay in touch while working remotely, which works really well. Plus, teams have always had a kanban-based workflow, which gives an overview of what each employee is working on,” comments James, Co-Founder of Make My Blinds. “However, the sudden switch to home-based working presented its own challenges, not least in altering how we measure productivity and order workflow.”

Setting previous plans aside, the senior management team created a 90-day progress plan, focusing on progressing areas better suited to independent working. “It’s been challenging, but we’ve found ways around the shutdown. Although our film studio is out of use for the foreseeable future, we think there’ll be a lot of opportunity to develop written content such as our buyer’s guides. And while we’re anticipating our work with external partners will slow, customers spending more time at home will create more visibility on social media.”

With no clocking in and out, James and his team turned to task-based productivity. “We have a daily meeting at 10am where everyone says what they did the previous day, then pledges what they’re going to achieve today. Tasks are based on our 90-day progress plan.” This can be anything from a new pay-per-click campaign to making a range of products live.

While it’s early days, the Make My Blinds experiment seems to be getting results. “If anything, people are held more accountable now, and early signs indicate a boost in productivity,” says James. “While people themselves used to be visible in work, now it’s their work that’s visible. Everyone likes recognition for what they achieve during working hours, and this new approach gives them that – even if it’s just a shout-out to their team.” James’ real-world findings accord with Microsoft’s 2019 ‘Work Life Choice Challenge’ experiment. Microsoft found offering flexibility with working hours for their employees in Japan resulted in a 40% productivity increase year on year.

A task-oriented approach isn’t viable for every company, but with such affirming results coming out – coupled with uncertain times – it might be time for company owners to consider a fresh approach to how they measure productivity. At the very least, working imaginatively to find opportunity in crisis is a goal every business can aim for.

2018