5 Busted Myths About Workplace Effectiveness

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Search for “open offices” on Google and prepare to be bewildered:

  • “4 Reasons Why Open Concept Floor Plans Are Awesome”
  • It’s Official: Open Plan Offices Are Now the Dumbest Management Fad…”
  • “A Defense of Open Office Plans…”
  • “The Open Office Plan Is a Disaster”

Do you see a pattern?

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For every article you see supporting open office layouts, you can find one (or ten) bemoaning them.

As a small business leader and project manager, you need reliable information on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to workplace effectiveness—not conflicting tips and questionable “hacks.”

Are open offices good for productivity, or will they drive your employees crazy? Is it OK to let your employees work remotely, or will they get nothing done without direct supervision?

You have plenty at stake here.

A 2017 Capterra survey found that growth is the primary goal among SMBs for the next two years. However, we’ve estimated that 40% of those SMBs won’t meet their growth goals unless they make significant improvements to employee effectiveness.

With those stakes in mind, let’s look at some common workplace effectiveness myths and why they’re busted. We’ll also talk about the best approach for cutting through the nonsense and building an effective workplace.

Myth #1: Open offices are more effective offices

 THE MYTH:  If you set up a bunch of laptops on long tables, you’ll save money on office space and your employees will be buzzing about like worker bees, collaborating on the next billion-dollar unicorn.

 THE REALITY:  The most productive workplaces balance open areas for collaboration work with private spaces for concentration work.

According to the 2016 Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index, 56% of North American office workers say that loud coworkers distract them from doing their best work. That’s more than meetings (34%) and website browsing (21%) combined. And the second most common distraction reported—people coming to talk (47%)—is also open-office related.

Open offices have also been shown to make employees sick more often.

Our recommended approach: There’s a happy middle ground between a Silicon Valley utopia of tech wizards writing code while swinging in communal hammocks and legions of worker drones joylessly toiling in Dilbert-esque cubicles.

People like having private space when they’re doing work that requires focus and concentration, and people like open meeting space when they’re doing work that requires collaboration.

You need both.

Tables and rows of desks are fine, as long as you also have quiet spaces for employees to go when they need to do head-down work. If your office space is too small to allow for sufficient, dedicated quiet rooms, a good workaround is to allow for remote work. Which leads to our next myth.

Myth #2: Remote workers are less engaged

 THE MYTH:  Your remote workers are sitting at home all day in their bathrobes, watching reruns of “Home Improvement” instead of getting their work done.

 THE REALITY:  A 2016 workplace study by Dell and Intel found that: “Half of global employees currently work remotely at least a few times a week, and value the ability to balance productivity and quality of life concerns in a remote environment.”

Workers also report that remote work allows them to concentrate better, achieve a healthier work-life balance, and spend more time with their families.

Our recommended approach: The most important thing to remember when it comes to remote work is that it doesn’t matter what your employees are doing with their time when they’re working remotely—it’s whether or not they’re getting their work done.

Your employees can goof off at home or in the office, and no amount of monitoring can completely control that.

Set goals for all of your employees, whether they work remotely or not, and track their progress. The standards should be the same for employees that work remotely all the time and none of the time.

It also helps to set up a solid remote work policy ahead of time, outlining important considerations such as which positions are eligible to work remotely, when remote employees need to be on call, and which meetings they are required to attend in person.

Myth #3: The more work employees have, the more effective they can be

 THE MYTH:  If an employee is able to finish their work by 3 p.m. one afternoon, or has a slow Friday, you need to pile on more work so they always have something to do.

 THE REALITY:  The counterintuitive truth, according to Capterra’s senior project management analyst Eileen O’Loughlin, is that, “The most immediate and cost-effective way to increase productivity is sometimes the hardest for business leaders to understand: Give employees less to do. Leave ‘slack’ in the system.”

According to Gartner analyst Robert Handler, the “sweet spot” for the most effective employees is actually between 70 to 80%. Try to squeeze anything more than that out of your employees—like an engine choked with too much fuel—and you’ll actually make them less effective and cost your organization more money.

Our recommended approach: As O’Loughlin suggests, planning at 80% and managing at 80% will get you 100% of the planned work done. Build slack into the system during the planning stage, and you’ll get everything done and on a more predictable schedule.

On the other hand, if you take the approach of planning at 120% so that you have “extra cloth” to work with, you’ll not only never get to that 100 to 120% work, or the 80 to 100% work, but all the extra time and energy spent on planning will also cost your team an additional chunk of work.

Furthermore, rather than the satisfaction of meeting your goals, you and your team will feel like you’ve failed for falling so short.

Myth #4: The employees who arrive first and leave last are the most effective

 THE MYTH:  Your most effective employees, and those who should be considered future managers, are those who arrive before the sun comes up and turn the lights off when they leave the office 12 hours later.

 THE REALITY:  “First in, last out” is a noble motto for the U.S. Army Pathfinders and maybe NFL coaches, but it’s a wildly inappropriate standard to set for your employees.

If you’re trying to grow your small business, there will undoubtedly be some early mornings and late nights, but they should be few and far between and they should never be forced or even encouraged.

According to the Staples Business Advantage survey, 40% of North American workers feel burned out at work, with the biggest reasons for that burnout being workload (67%) and time pressures (55%). What’s worse, almost half of those burned-out employees (47%) say it’s motivating them to look for a new job.

Our recommended approach: See Myth #3, and plan/manage at 80% to get 100% of the planned work done and increase morale.

As a manager, you should talk to any of your employees who are working excessive hours and find ways to reduce their workload. Keep in mind that some employees may see the office as a sanctuary, or work odd hours to accommodate a carpool, for example, but that’s a different situation from feeling like they have to be there to keep up.

Other ways you can help minimize burnout due to overwork:

  • Make the office as pleasant as possible, with lots of natural light and plants.
  • Keep an open dialogue with your employees so that they can voice concerns.
  • Encourage and allow remote work (once guidelines have been set).
  • Offer an employee wellness program.
  • Make sure that your team is equipped with the right tools and technology so they don’t have to work excessively to make up for an insufficient infrastructure.

Myth #5: Frequent breaks are counterproductive to effectiveness

 THE MYTH:  The employees who are always going for coffee, or hanging out in the break room, or going for walks, or hitting the gym during lunch aren’t doing as much as the employee who sits down at their desk at 9 a.m. with a giant cup of coffee and doesn’t get up again until they leave at 5 p.m.

 THE REALITY:  Working without breaks isn’t efficient. According to Psychology Today, taking periodic breaks can:

  • Help you retain new information
  • Replenish your motivation
  • Improve your emotional and physical health
  • Help you think through decisions better
  • Increase your creativity and productivity

In other words—by taking regular, short breaks—the employees who seem to be away from their desks the most often are likely working much more effectively when they are at their desks than the employees who are in a semi-trance gazing into the abyss of their computer monitor for hours at a time.

The Staples Business Advantage survey numbers back this up as well: Nearly 80% of workers say that taking a break makes them feel more productive throughout the day.

Our recommended approach: Encourage your employees to take breaks by having a well-stocked break room, a ping-pong table or board games, and a wellness room for quiet reflection.

You can also start a daily walking club or a coffee club where employees are matched up randomly to get a cup of coffee or tea together.

It also helps to set some guidelines for how to strategically take breaks so that “frequent” breaks don’t become 45 minutes of breaks for every 15 minutes of work.

You can use the Pomodoro Technique:

A graphical representation of the Pomodoro Technique (Choose a task and work on it for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, repeat the work break cycle a total of 4 times, take a 15-30 minute break, repeat)

Basically, the Pomodoro Technique involves taking a five-minute break for every 25 minutes of work, with 15 to 30-minute breaks every couple hours.

What workplace myths do you want to see busted?

Do you frequently hear workplace myths that drive you crazy? Leave them in the comments and maybe we can bust them together.

To keep up on the latest information to help you bust myths and get the facts when it comes to project management, follow our project management blog. Here are a few recent articles on employee effectiveness:


Information on Capterra’s Top Technology Trends for SMBs Survey:

We conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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Andrew Conrad

Andrew is a content writer for Capterra, specializing in church management and project management software. When he’s not striving for the perfect balance of information and entertainment, Andrew enjoys the great outdoors and the wide world of sports. Follow him on Twitter @CapterraAC.

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