Why you DON’T want your remote team members to be busy

Bucket Brigade

Trust me, you don’t want your remote team members to be busy.

Or, at least, you shouldn’t. You should want them to be productive. And busy and productive are two quite different things in most work environments.

If you’re like many organizations, this week is the first week that a good number of your team members are working from home (due to that damned virus).

And if you’re a business owner or senior executive it’s natural for you to worry that your remote team members won’t be productive.

When busy DOES equal productive

Now, there is one context where busy IS a synonym for productive.

Let’s assume that you send an employee home with boxes of envelopes to stuff. Maybe you want them to stuff those envelopes with invoices or promotional materials and deposit them at the post office at day’s end.

This person’s productivity will be (almost) directly proportional to how busy they are. After all, for every moment they sit idle, there are envelopes that aren’t being stuffed.

So, in this context, busy is good!

When busy DOES NOT equal productive

But what if your employee is a member of a team? What if, rather than stuffing envelopes in isolation, you expect them to collaborate with other team members to create something more significant than that which they might create working alone?

What if they are a writer, working with designers and editors to create a publication?

What if they are an application engineer, working with salespeople and production experts to propose solutions to clients’ problems?

Or, what if they are an analyst, working on a legal team to build a complex defense?

In all these cases, productivity is a measure of the output of a team, not the output of an individual. And, importantly, the output of the team is not simply the sum of individual outputs.

To understand why; consider the most simple of teams. A bucket-brigade. The purpose of a bucket-brigade is to move water, one bucket at a time, from one point to another. Obviously, productivity is a function of the rate at which buckets reach the end of the line. It is not a function of the rate at which individuals work.

In fact, we maximize the productivity of the line, long before we approach the maximum work rate of most of the folks manning the line.

In order to be productive, we do NOT want members of a team to be busy, we want them to be responsive.

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