Understanding the Anatomy of Work

Posted by Shammah Banerjee | 05-Feb-2020 16:55:51

The pressure is mounting on digital marketing teams to complete projects at speed. However, the increased workload is causing employees to spend the majority of their time “working about work” rather than doing the skilled work they should be undertaking. Nimbus Ninety members sat down for breakfast at The Mercer in Central London to discuss best productivity practices and how to remove barriers that hinder efficiency.


“Work about work” refers to tasks that divert time from skilled, meaningful work, and the activities relating to it and its effects will surely ring a bell or two. The engagements that fall under this title are: responding to emails and internal messages, chasing other teams for feedback, chasing teammates for inputs and unnecessary meetings (the aforementioned survey mentioned that 66% of meetings were deemed unnecessary by knowledge workers).

A survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers revealed some worrying statistics. Employees spend 13% of their time planning and 27% of their time engaging in skilled work. This means that 60% of their working day is spent “working about work”. 

This can have detrimental effects on working culture and, ultimately, productivity. 73% of UK workers admitted to staying late as a result of the need to respond to emails and that they spend 4.5 hours a week on work that has already been completed. A real problem has emerged in that 74% of employees reportedly experience burnout at least twice a year. It’s obvious that burned out employees will rarely be able to work to their full potential. 



A key idea was the matter of clarity. When knowledge workers were clear on their workload, their productivity doubled compared to those who weren’t. The figures relating to employee clarity are concerning indeed. Only 43% of workers are clear on their organisations’ objectives for the year and 46% understand how their work adds value to their company. Moreover, only 48% of workers are clear on their organisations’ mission. 

If your workforce is already spending 60% of its time “working about work” then a lack of purpose with regard to their skilled work can wreak havoc on productivity. Bringing in a tool to show daily tasks, projects and goals will give your employees focus and an understanding of your company's motives. You can assign those tasks to employees with the appropriate skill sets and experience so they understand how they add value to your business and contribute to its overall mission.

This issue also translates to the problem of superfluous activities (for example, emails and meetings from other teams). If you and your team can work out its core priorities and expectations then they will be able to more efficiently discern which practices are necessary and which aren’t. One member got the most positive reaction of the morning when he explained to the room that he had told his team, “it’s okay to say ‘no’ to other teams sometimes”. If another team is requesting that yours adds to its workload without obvious benefit to you, then rejecting that request shouldn’t be off the table.

Another suggestion was creating a culture of fewer meetings. Two solutions were posited in relation to this reduction: firstly, work out what meetings are necessary and secondly, implement a soft policy of “no-meeting Wednesdays”. The first solution allows you to set a standard for whether a meeting should go ahead and who should be present. The second encourages your team to have one day a week where you can focus on their own projects and its “softness” means that emergencies can be addressed.

Stakeholders can often want updates on project progression and the meetings which are set up to relay the information can take up valuable time. Members suggested managing expectations from the start of the project. This was met with a few nods but the idea that really caused a stir was implementing a dashboard to provide updates to anyone from outside your team (including stakeholders) with the necessary information. This could even function as a real-time system if urgency was a requirement. 

New technology can also boost productivity in other ways. A problem that many organisations face today is “toggle fatigue”: frustration at the number of apps being used business-wide. Implementing a tool that centralises information improves accessibility and helps move away from outdated methods such as spreadsheets. It is important to note, however, that the technology has to be used effectively and not just become another app for workers to become frustrated with.

Ultimately, there are methods to improve the productivity of your workforce. It mostly comes down to reduction; specifically, reduction in needless acts. Internal messaging systems can replace internal emails, unnecessary meetings can be decreased by setting standards within your team and managing stakeholders expectations. Data can be centralised. If your most important asset is your staff then it’s worth implementing solutions that make their lives easier. This, in turn, can prove most beneficial to your organisation. 


This event was held in partnership with Asana, a web and mobile application designed to help teams organise, track, and manage their work.

Topics: Event reports

Written by Shammah Banerjee

Shammah is the Senior Editor at Nimbus Ninety. She tracks down the most exciting stories in business and tech, produces the content and gets to chat with the biggest innovators of the moment at Chief Disruptor LIVE.

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