This post was originally published on July 25, 2022, and was updated on July 26, 2023, with the latest data and insights.
“No more working from home.”– yahoo, 2013
That was the directive from Yahoo in 2013 when the company announced everyone needed to be in the office.
“Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” read a memo issued by the head of HR. Yet fast-forward a decade, and American businesses expect that 22% of the workforce will work remotely by the end of 2023.
So was the Yahoo workforce more distracted than average to lead the CEO to take such drastic measures? Probably not. Instead, the issue may have been that Yahoo lacked a way to reliably measure and understand productivity.
Are you also making business decisions in the dark without the right KPIs and productivity benchmarks?
Quantitative insights into employee productivity help you accurately assess input and output to make informed choices around workloads, technology usage and even employee mental health.
Unfortunately, most organizations use benchmarks that are outdated, over simplistic or developed by a specialist without relevant know-how.
To combat this, the ActivTrak Productivity Lab analyzed data from more than 134,260 ActivTrak users and established benchmarks for three productivity components: multitasking, collaboration and focus time.
This guide will help you understand and establish productivity benchmarks to help your company make the most of its time and resources.
The 3 types of productivity benchmarks
Productivity, in its simplest form, measures inputs vs. outputs. But real work isn’t that simple given that each team member works on various projects, tasks and deliverables.
Here are three ways to measure your team productivity more holistically:
- Focus: How much time was spent on a single task, how much deep work was accomplished and how many disruptions took place
- Collaboration: How much time was spent in meetings and on communication
- Multitasking: How much time was spent on semi-important or administrative tasks
Ideally, each employee works on a mix of tasks that leads to fulfilling work yet avoids burnout. So what’s a “good” distribution and how long should employees spend in each category on a daily basis?
To answer that, we compiled a series of cross-industry and industry-specific productivity benchmarks based on people using ActivTrak that include:
- Cross-Industry productivity benchmarks (updated July 2023)
- Financial Services industry productivity benchmarks (updated July 2023, see page 2)
- Healthcare industry productivity benchmarks (July 2023, see page 2)
- Insurance industry productivity benchmarks (July 2023, see page 2)
- Professional Services industry productivity benchmarks (July 2023, see page 2)
- Legal industry productivity benchmarks (June 2022)
Here’s a summary of what we learned about an average employee’s day:
What do these numbers tell us? At a glance, we see four key insights:
- Productive time remained flat quarter over quarter but decreased 6 minutes year over year.
- The number of overutilized employees fell 13% in Q2, and year over year, indicating better workload distribution and an increase in overall engagement.
- Despite a positive shift in overall employee well-being, more than one quarter (28%) of employees remain overutilized.
- The length of the work day decreased 33 min from Q1, and 37 min year over year. This shift was exclusively at the end of day, with employees ending work ~30 min earlier than any of the previous five quarters.
Example: What can you glean from productivity insights?
Let’s review how to use these benchmarks in your productivity analysis with an example.
Say you’re a financial services company and your employees average 7.2 productive hours per day. On the surface, it may seem like you’re above the industry average and doing well. However, when you take a closer look, you realize chat and messaging take up 1.2 hours — which is more than twice the average time for your vertical.
If this is a short-term condition, it could be okay. But if you spend too long with an imbalanced work distribution you could face issues.
When employees distribute their time well between focus, collaboration and multitasking, their workload is considered healthy. On the other hand, if they are constantly overutilized it will lead to stress and increased risk of burnout. By contrast, underutilization can make employees feel unvalued and unmotivated.
Comparing your workforce analytics to others in your industry can help you identify potential areas of improvement faster.
How to use productivity benchmarks
Now that you’ve seen how productivity may differ across industries, it’s time to look at your own productivity metrics. Keep these best practices in mind as you use productivity benchmarks to review your organization and the way it works.
Benchmarks are a handy tool for understanding how you’re positioned relative to others in your industry; they also need to be contextualized. Every organization is unique and has its framework for deep work and collaboration.
For example, if your organization is remote, it will naturally need more time to coordinate tasks. Conversely, if you’re a small startup with a shared office, you’ll need significantly less formal meeting time. In this case, you should allow yourself some wiggle room related to the benchmark for collaboration time.
When working with benchmarking data, many companies make the mistake of issuing abrupt company-wide mandates that may actually hurt instead of help employee engagement and productivity. Cutting down on breaks is just one example. Requiring everyone to start work at 8:00 a.m. might be another.
The Mayo Clinic recognizes feelings of lack of control as a contributing factor to burnout. Employees might not be receptive to change if they suddenly feel they don’t have a say in their schedule or workload.
Implementing a step-by-step plan with employee involvement has a much better chance of succeeding than aggressive top-down measures.
Set non-time-bound KPIs
HR managers often set high-level KPIs such as ‘increase time spent on deep work by one hour’ to improve overall productivity. While this may directly translate to the benchmarking matrix, it is also hard to measure.
How will you tell whether an employee is meaningfully engaged in work or daydreaming while staring at the screen?
Instead, it might be better to identify key employee strengths and slightly increase their workload in those areas to naturally motivate them to be more productive.
Enhancing workplace productivity takes time and data
Measuring and enhancing workplace productivity is not a single-step process. It requires constant evaluation and innovation by managers and leaders — and a powerful tool that can differentiate between the benchmark metrics that matter, and those that don’t.