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Context Matters When It Comes to Workforce Data


A person working at their desk with data around them
Image: Leonid -
Towards the end of each week, I receive a MyAnalytics report from Microsoft that highlights how much time I spent collaborating with others and how much free time or “available to focus” time I have in a week. Each time I see the report, I roll my eyes at the breakdowns, typically 67% available to focus and 33% of my time collaborating with others. Better yet, another MyAnalytics report will show me how many days are “quiet days” — a laughable concept in 2020.
Can Data Just Leave Me Alone
It didn’t take me long to find out how exactly Microsoft calculated each of these percentages; collaboration is the amount of time I spent in Teams meetings, calls, chats, and email, and available to focus is everything else. I understand the math, but I take issue with its simplicity.
First, many tasks fall outside of Microsoft’s collaboration purview — like when I collaborate with team members via our social media tool. More irritating is the percentage that tells me how “available” I am with no consideration of the activities that happen outside these silos. I spend most of my days in Microsoft Word, which I don’t necessarily associate with a sense of focus, as I’m usually frantically typing or reading. So, I wonder whether this information really provides an accurate depiction of my day-to-day activities, and more importantly, whether having access to this data helps me be a more productive worker.
Certainly, knowing the exact time spent in meetings can help lead to a rethink about strategy. However, does simply knowing what remains or how many days are quiet help improve productivity? I’d argue it doesn’t. What would really be helpful is knowing periods of peak activities and times of slower productivity — then maybe I can plan for both accordingly. Maybe, while we’re at it, it’d be nice to throw in some quick tips for better utilizing my collaboration time.
Making the Data Connect
My point isn’t to bemoan Microsoft but rather to highlight data for data’s sake won’t solve workplace productivity issues: Data needs context. These reports are just supposed to be a brief look back at the week. But if that’s all they are — and they aren’t leading to even the smallest workplace changes or part of a bigger workforce strategy — do we really need them at all?
Of course, other tools out there do provide deeper productivity and workforce metrics. In fact, Microsoft last week released its Productivity Score tool, which allows IT admins and team leaders to gain insight into their workforces. The dashboard displays metrics on communication, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility. Each is clickable for drilling down for more detail. For instance, when you click on the meeting metrics, you not only see the number of meetings, but you get insight into whether the meeting was scheduled or ad hoc and best practices to improve video engagements, as shown in a YouTube demonstration.
Another tool that caught my eye is Calendar, which provides meetings and calendar analytics. The meeting dashboard provides similar data to what’s found in Microsoft’s Productivity Score (number of meetings, amount attended, etc.), but it also offers a breakdown by meeting type (lunch, weekly stand-up, etc.). Calendar also offers a feature that will recommend meeting participants when scheduling based on previous interactions and likelihood — something that would have come in handy a week ago when I forgot to invite the principal participant in a planning meeting.
These are just a couple of the many tools enabling more actionable, meaningful insight through productivity tools. Just be careful of the flip side to all this analytics: data fatigue. Or in my case, data apathy.
In either case, it’s vital to make sure productivity metrics are meaningful for the organization. Bringing HR and IT together to talk about technology and the data that is needed goes a long toward provision of meaningful metrics. Each department would have clear ideas of what technology would be best suited and how the data might be helpful. And might I also suggest bringing an employee or two into the conversation so they can share their perspective. Maybe, they too will scoff at the idea of quiet days.