In the shifting landscape that is the workplace, ‘non-productive time’ poses a challenge for many.
The term has been coined as such to highlight existing restrictions imposed upon employees in how to use their time at work. We must adapt and embrace a broader, more qualitative approach to work, emphasizing the value of seemingly non-productive output alongside productive ones.
We need to expand our methods of productivity measurement to include non-traditional activities and translate these into measurable results.
Recently, Gensler conducted workplace surveys that have provided valuable insights into the shifting work dynamics. Individuals are proactively investing in their professional growth, compensating for the lack of face-to-face input and support from superiors.
The offices of the future are set to prioritize collaboration, emphasizing social spaces, outdoor accessibility, and various amenities that promote employee interactions. These elements are intangible when it comes to measuring productivity.
The emphasis must lie not merely on increased learning or socializing demands, but rather on employees being purposeful in allocating time for personal development and social interactions. However, when employers prioritize every moment for productivity, these essential yet intangible needs can suffer, ultimately resulting in decreased measurable results.
Productivity vs non-productivity
McKinsey's 2023 report, ‘Rekindling US Productivity for a New Era’, offers a clear definition of productivity: “Productivity is the quantifiable measure of goods and services produced in relation to the labor, capital, and resources invested in their creation”.
It encompasses all measurable work directly linked to business outcomes, be it the precision of a delivery driver's timing or a CEO's proficiency in generating profits. However, often overlooked are the qualitative factors that contribute to well-being, social connections, culture, and emotional safety.
Productivity is no longer a simple on-off binary code. To adapt to our new reality, we must design workplaces that recognize productivity and non-productivity aspects, acknowledging the significance of a balanced approach.
Designing for non-productivity
The future workplace must transcend traditional designs like open-work plans, activity-based layouts, and productivity-focused tools. Instead, it should actively support non-productivity opportunities.
This evolution goes beyond mere entertainment gimmicks; it involves creating meaningful programs and spaces that foster growth and experiences among colleagues. A workspace that acknowledges the importance of non-productive elements is primed to become a true catalyst for success in the changing world of work.
Innovation and evolution
The creative process flourishes when given the freedom to explore without measurement constraints. While productivity may be the ultimate goal, the birth of fresh ideas occurs beyond the realm of measurement.
Designated spaces that encourage experimentation with unquantifiable outcomes - such as maker spaces and creative writing rooms - hold immense potential in nurturing innovation. By embracing non-productivity, we pave the way for groundbreaking ideas that push boundaries and drive progress.
Essential activities that contribute to our overall well-being - self-reflection, mental and physical health, and building resilience to tackle challenges - are often labeled as non-productive. Regrettably, under the weight of work demands, taking time for our well-being is relegated to after-hours pursuits.
Workplaces can integrate dedicated spaces like yoga rooms and parks, providing opportunities for individuals to find solace and rejuvenation throughout the workday. By redefining productivity to encompass well-being, we pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable approach to work.
Power of relationships
In pursuing personal growth, learning and fostering strong relationships with colleagues play a pivotal role. Through this enriching process, we gain fresh perspectives and cultivate innovative ways of thinking.
Equally significant is the network of supportive peers and advocates we build, offering constructive feedback and informal recognition that keep us engaged and connected.
Ultimately, the company culture will need to adapt to fully embrace all elements outside of quantifiable productivity and allow employees to feel safe in their non-productive nature. Only then will employees be able to experience the full alignment of a company's mission, vision, and purpose through spaces that allow them to contribute more fully and to be their whole selves.