The way we think about work is changing — again.
The tumultuous years that have followed the COVID pandemic led companies to rethink their use of office space, their remote work policies, their employee experience, and even their business goals.
Flexibility has become one of the most sought-after values in a company, and employees know they can find workplaces that help them meet their professional goals while improving their work-life balance. Why should an employee waste hours of their days, five days a week, commuting to an office that doesn’t offer a better environment than they have at home?
Why should hybrid workers spend an average of $19.11 more each day working onsite compared to working at home? Letting employees come in when they want to, whether it’s to connect with teammates, work on a major collaborative project, or even get some heads-down work done, is becoming a popular approach.
At the beginning of COVID, leadership teams felt nervous about whether or not employees would be able to be as effective and productive working from home. But over the course of the past 2+ years, we’ve now seen that employees are most productive when they’re given the autonomy to choose to work how they work best. In fact, 62% of employees report being more productive at home than in the office.
This has cemented hybrid and remote work as the way of the future. But can we go even further and experiment with an even more radical change to how we work?
This is where task-based work comes in. As opposed to time-based work, task-based work is a new concept companies all over the world are exploring to boost productivity, job satisfaction, and employee retention.
Task-based work involves structuring job expectations around specific tasks that need to get done and decoupling them from outdated expectations of working between 9am and 5pm in an office environment or working the traditional five-day work week.
It may seem like too big a change after nearly three years of constant changes, but if an employee can get all their tasks done between the hours of 10am and 3pm from their couch, why shouldn’t they? If employees can get all their required tasks, and even a few extra ones, done in four days instead of five, why shouldn’t they?
Thanks to the past few years of mostly hybrid and remote work, teams have built the skills and learned the tools needed to collaborate with teammates from LA to Australia, across many time zones, and in many locations. It might now be time to allow employees to put these skills to work when collaborating with teams who can work whenever they want to — no matter if they’re in the same city or across the world.
And task-based work goes hand in hand with experiments like the four-day work week. In the UK, 73 companies are in the process of participating in a six-month-long four-day work week trial, paying their employees their full salaries for four days of work instead of five. Of the companies who have responded to the three-month check-in survey, 86% plan to keep the policy in place after the trial ends, citing similar or even better levels of productivity and improved employee well-being.
This drastic change isn’t without its challenges, as it overhauls the vast majority of the social and cultural workplace expectations that have been cemented over the past nearly 100 years. But task-based work can lead to radical improvements in your employees’ work-life balance, the equity of your hiring and retention efforts, and the productivity and engagement of your workers.
As the world shifted under our feet over and over again in the past few years, both employees and executives alike have begun to seek out better work-life balance. Task-based work, which lets employees work how they want when they want, and where they want, creates an environment that lets a wider range of people thrive in the workplace.
With task-based work, working parents can do some work while their baby is sleeping, spend much of the day tending to their needs, and finish up after the baby is asleep for the night. People taking care of sick or elderly family members have the flexibility to accompany them to every doctor’s appointment. And people with chronic illness, disabilities, or sleep challenges can get their work done at the time of day that best suits them on any given day.
Innovative task-based work policies can help companies attract the best talent, regardless of the life circumstances that might make a formal, in-person 9-5 job untenable.
As mentioned above, the vast majority of companies experimenting with a task-based four-day work week saw that their productivity remained the same or even increased. It can seem counterintuitive on the surface that fewer hours of work can lead to more productivity, but the fact remains that deadlines — like end of day Thursday instead of end of day Friday — and increased work-life balance can help employees stay on task and do their best work.
Knowing exactly what needs to get done and by which day or time is really all that teams need to work asynchronously and harmoniously — more on that below.
It has become clear that employees will seek out employment arrangements that suit their new working styles. Two-thirds (66%) of workers say they would immediately start looking for a job that offered flexibility if their current job got rid of the ability to work from home. And 39% of workers would just quit.
We also know that employees who are empowered with the flexibility to work from wherever they like are more likely to be engaged and happy in their jobs. That means lower turnover.
By taking this flexibility even further, we can only stand to reason that employees would continue to feel more trusted by their employers and more engaged in their work, as they’ll be doing their work in a way that fits into the rest of their life — not the other way around.
The first logical objection to taking a task-based work approach is about meetings. If everyone is working at different times of the day, how can they be expected to attend important meetings outside of their specific work hours? How can teammates lean on each other and support one another if everyone isn’t always online or in the office at the same time?
The answer: with a culture of open communication and crystal-clear expectations.
When starting to approach the shift towards task-based work, be transparent about what it means to your company.
Maybe your approach will be to let employees work where they want and when they want, but you create a daily meetings period from 10am to 2pm where all employees need to be ready to join meetings as needed.
Maybe you’ll teach employees to better gauge the urgency of their requests: does the matter at hand really need to be resolved in a meeting immediately? Or can it be resolved through an email, responded to within the next working day?
No matter how you choose to approach this shift, proactive scheduling and transparency will be the cornerstone of every successful week of work.
Task-based work requires more communication and more advanced planning than time-based work. It requires employees and employers alike to lean into the idea of asynchronous collaboration and put in the work of active communication to reap the rewards of greater work-life balance.
Asynchronous collaboration involves working collectively on a project while various teammates are working from different locations and at different times. It’s the polar opposite of having all teammates sitting in a room together and working on a project, but it can yield results that are just as good, if not better.
The key to successful asynchronous collaboration is organization, communication, and the right technology and platforms. All employees must be extremely clear on what’s expected from them, by what date and time, and they must be sufficiently accountable to get it all done.
Asynchronous collaboration necessitates excellent project management. Whether a team has a dedicated project manager or just a project management tool like Asana or Trello, teammates must all be kept in the loop about what needs to be done and by which deadline.
If every teammate submits their deliverables to the group in time, the project is able to proceed at the predetermined pace, even with employees working on different schedules.
Asynchronous collaboration doesn’t mean collaboration without meetings. It does mean being intentional about what meetings and check-ins are necessary and which aren’t, and it involves scheduling these meetings at a time when the majority of the group can make it.
And to ensure everyone, from office-based employees to remote employees across the world, can be seen, heard, and understood, it’s important for companies to invest in leveling up their videoconferencing technology. Since there will be fewer opportunities for spontaneous run-ins in the office, every hybrid meeting needs to be inclusive and seamless to encourage the best collaboration possible.
Platforms like Google Workspace, Canva, and Figma all allow users to work on the same file together and reflect changes and comments in real-time, no matter where they are in the world. By working primarily with these types of collaborative tools, teams can see what changed since they were last online, what needs to be done today, and how they can contribute their best ideas to the project.
Emma Brudner, head of HR at Process Unity, shared that one of the biggest areas of improvement that hybrid and remote-friendly companies can address today is to train managers to manage their teams remotely.
Managers working in a hybrid or remote environment, whether or not it’s also asynchronous, will need to use a different set of skills to ensure their teams are successful. There’s no walking by a desk and saying hello, and there’s no debriefing after a meeting while walking back to your seats. Proactive online check-ins, and short weekly meetings, can help bridge that gap, but the most important jobs as a manager are goal-setting and transparent expectations.
Ensuring that all managers have clear goals and expectations for each employee helps keep track of progress and ensure company-wide success, no matter if employees are working from the same room or across the world and at different times.
Three years ago, no one could have predicted how commonplace and widespread remote and hybrid work would become by 2022. It has changed the way people work forever and has encouraged employees to find the way that they can do their best work — and let them do it.
Task-based work may be the next trend to take off worldwide. If this new way of working has the potential to be great for employees and great for companies, why not give it a try?
To learn more about the current state of hybrid and remote work, read the Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2022 Report.