Can you measure productivity in the office?
Well Yes and No.
Yet another seminar and yet another opinion on how we measure productivity in the office. Well the problem lies in the question itself – What are we measuring? What is productivity? What do we mean by ‘the office environment?
Before I became what my children called a Spaceman I qualified as a Work, Time and Method study practitioner supporting ‘Package X’ for the then largest UK food retailer. This wasn’t another Blofeld plot to destroy the earth but a system for measuring – Effort in, Profit out – Productivity. No smart Q gadgets for me just a white coat, clipboard and fly back centiminute (100 divisions per minute) stop watch.
Here’s how we measured productivity
The mechanics of a time study aren’t complicated. Observe the activity and determine –
- how often it happens
- at what point it starts and finishes
- where it sits in the overall task
- define the smaller component parts that make up the activity
- Identify any other dependencies or special equipment requirements.
Now hard bit, you time all of the smaller component parts whilst at the same time assessing how efficiently the operator completes it. It’s a bit like using a police speed gun to capture the speed of work except you’re trained to make that assessment against a known British Standard. By rating each component part, regardless of how efficiently or un-efficiently the operator performs that task you can bring it back to an agreed standard.
Okay, factor in acceptable unoccupied time, add a few allowances such as T&P (exactly as it says) and with a bit of maths come up with a standard time per task. Apply an hourly or day rate add some overheads and you have a cost per unit/task.
To this we would add the cost of management, promotional activity, overheads and come up with a very accurate cost per unit/task. The retailer I worked for expected an accuracy of six places of a decimal point of a PENNY. Each new operation or operator I added into the process has a direct effect on ‘X’ and ‘Y’. It’s measureable.
So what was I measuring?
It’s the time a task takes at a known rate of work
Productivity in a manufacturing set up is fairly straight forward to quantify.
It costs ‘X’ to produce ‘Y’ units or completed tasks.
So can you measure productivity in the office?
I have undertaken time studies in working offices and it isn’t easy. Whilst filing, copying and travel time are easy to measure, computer work, reading and the different modes of communication are far more complicated and time consuming. So yes you can.
But what does productivity in the office look like?
What does the final output look like? – each new policy sold, new customer won, email instruction issued to produce a widget? How do you calculate the effectiveness of each operator or the system as a whole?
In our (the Spacemen) context it’s how effective and cost efficient the work environment is at supporting the clients business functions. This might be expressed as a cost per person or per sqm and form part of a more complex productivity formula.
What is the office environment and how do measure it?
Herein lie’s another problem as the office environment isn’t a self contained factory, warehouse or supermarket producing or selling boxes of widgets. Work isn’t space or time dependent anymore, it can happen almost anywhere at any time.
How can we (Spacemen) measure space performance?
- Workplace study to make sure the office environment and supporting facilities are well used, remain appropriate for the business functions therein and add value.
- Apply workflow analysis and method study techniques to ensure the current processes directly support the bottom line. I accept this is probably considered outside of our normal remit but it’s intrinsically linked to the functionality of the office environment.
- Customer and client satisfaction surveys to understand the users perspective and perceptions.
- Look at the effect of the environment on staff turnover
- Trend analysis and Benchmarking.
We don’t want data for data’s sake but real metrics that we can help our clients build meaningful and evolving space strategies around.
Yes, you can measure productivity in the office in the traditional sense but in most cases it wouldn’t be worth it.
So next time you hear “Houston we have a problem” don’t bother picking up the stopwatch but reach for the space measurement toolbox instead.