Take Your Pick: Task Or Time?

Stop counting IT work hours and start counting tasks
Stop counting IT work hours and start counting tasks

As we reach the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the IT workplace is once again starting to change. For at least the next few years we’re going to be seeing three distinct generations working together side-by-side: boomers (born before 1965), Gen-X’ers (1965-1979), and Gen-Y’ers (1980-1999). This arrangement causes conflicts and friction in all parts of a company; however, the IT department feels it the most because of the rapid changes that have happened in IT.

In order to keep an entire IT department staffed and motivated (and avoid having unhappy IT workers), things are going to have to change. One key change is going to be how we all think about IT jobs. In the immediate past, IT jobs were simply 40-hour-a-week commitments that pretty much started and ended at the same time each day. We might work different shifts; however, the company was fairly insistent that we show up and put our time in. All sorts of tools were created around this structure: time clocks, time sheets, overtime, comp-time, etc. Things are changing now and it’s because Gen-Y has arrived in the work place.

The Gen-Y crowd clearly prefer jobs that are defined by their task, not the amount of time that they take. This of course means that they want to be compensated for what they produce. In a way this is sort of a step backwards. Back when everyone worked on a farm or in the early days of factories, people were paid based on their personal output. This had its pluses and minuses and after the Great Depression when manufacturing got more complicated and unions arrived, the shift to paying by the hour started.

Younger workers are used to working in an asynchronous fashion — something that older workers may do also, but they hid it better. Getting into the office by 8am or staying at the office until 5pm makes little or no sense to younger workers if they have completed their work.

You can call task based work whatever you choose (“virtual work” seems to be winning), but by necessarily text=”Virtual Work” it is catching on. At IBM, 40% of their employees have no official offices. So what does all of this change mean for those who are in charge of making sure that a multi-generational IT department produces results? Here are the three key skills that will need to be mastered:

  1. Clearly articulate the results that you expect — leave no room for misunderstanding. Then follow up by tying accountability to getting the job done.
  2. Make physical attendance at the office / meetings optional. Note that everyone still needs to show up for meetings and communicate with team members.
  3. Gage worker performance on the quality of the work performed.

What can you expect to gain from making these changes? Best Buy has implemented many of them and they claim to have seen a 35% increase in productivity and voluntary turnover drop by 320 basis points. What’s even more remarkable is that when asked, employees were unsure if they were now working more or fewer hours — they had simply stopped keeping track.