When it comes to managing projects and meeting deadlines, a lot of professional services companies go about it in the wrong way. Employees are often expected to work longer hours to deliver more work. As a result, heavy workload becomes a given no one speaks about.
Not surprisingly at all, working more hours provides an illusion of getting ahead. It makes us feel in control of our workloads. However, staying up late at the office doesn't necessarily translate to increased productivity. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), long working hours are killing 745,000 people a year.
What if there is a better way to stay on track without compromising anyone's workload and schedule? In this article, we will discuss some easy-to-implement tips for effectively managing your workload and seeing your workday go by quickly.
Workloads are simply time that employees spend doing their jobs. The technique of distributing and managing work across your team is known as workload management. When done correctly, workload management improves team performance and reduces turmoil, leaving you and your team satisfied rather than overwhelmed at the end of each day.
Workload management is all about understanding your team members’ strengths and getting them to the point of delivering quality work. It's also about making sure each of your team members has work for which they are qualified and needed. This is the essence of how it increases employee engagement, intrinsic motivation, effort, enthusiasm and satisfaction.
Workload management allows you to more effectively allocate work among your team, reducing stress and preventing staff from becoming overloaded in the first place. Workload management tools give you real-time visibility into the tasks your team is working on, allowing you to properly manage your team's workload and avoid burnout.
Workload management is important because it helps you to better manage people. If you don’t plan human resources, your team will feel overworked and many good human factors will be affected. However, if you’re well-equipped to understand how your employees experience work when things are in their control, this will be much less of an issue. It also allows you to recognize when there are unbalanced workloads in your office.
Your ultimate goal should be to work smart and not hard: no one likes to do more work than necessary, but optimizing the workload you give your employees is crucial. It's also important that team members feel sufficiently challenged by their jobs - not having enough work is dissatisfying and underwhelming.
A person is overloaded when they're working at the limit of their ability. Some common signs that you might need a workload management plan include:
1) There aren't enough hours in the day to finish all the tasks when they're due. Working extra hours is the first sign that your workload has gone south and became unreasonable. At best, the reason might be that you are the sole specialist capable of doing your job – and there is simply too much work for just one of you. At worst, your company is simply encouraging a long hours culture. That means the entire team is at the same boat as you.
2) You make mistakes. The first sign of being overloaded is you start making mistakes. There is a point at which you can't do everything, and once you're past that point, there is no control over what will happen next.
3) Unhappy clients. It's easy to lose track of things when you have lots on your to-do list. Not getting client work through on time, or not completing it to the usual standard is typical of being overworked.
That being said, if you find yourself or your team unable to meet deadlines, staying late hours, and working on weekends, workload management may be something you want to look at and improve significantly. Nothing is more frustrating than having people overworking themselves just to get the job done, while at the same time being unable to recognize it.
For a project manager, it's vital to develop workload management skills. Read on for our tips to manage team workload effectively.
The first step to effective team workload management is assessing how much workload everyone has.
In project management, it's important to learn how to tell the difference between busy work and real work. It's easy to confuse them. Busy work takes up your time without giving you anything of value in return, but real work gives you something that's valuable.
Workload management is impossible without estimating how much time the project will take. Your team members should be involved in the estimation process as they have more knowledge as to how much time they might need to complete a certain package of work.
Unrealistic deadlines are the silent killer of your work and team culture. It's vital you make sure your deadlines are achievable so staff are motivated, but not bitter or resentful. This means taking into account the pace that different team members work at - again, it helps to involve staff in task estimation. If there is a high risk of delays, it may help to allow some extra time in your deadline.
When every task is an urgent task, teams can feel overwhelmed. From an individual team member's perspective, having an ordered task list gives them a starting point for their work. Once one task is finished, they know what to focus on next - this also reduces down-time in between different pieces of work.
If their to-do list isn't prioritized, they may spend unproductive time figuring out where to start, or what to do next once they've completed a task. Not only that, but a long list of tasks just feels overwhelming. Staff should always have as much context as possible with their work, including knowing which task is the highest priority.
Team members are among a workplace's most valuable resources. In order to get the best from them, it pays to be deliberate about how you plan to utilize them. This means ensuring a workload that keeps each team member fully utilized without feeling overworked.
A resource management strategy gives you visibility over individuals' bandwidth, understanding how much work they have on and creating a plan for their upcoming work that is challenging but achievable.
Resource management is firstly about understanding the supply of resources you have - in this case, the number of team members on staff and the reasonable amount of work hours they have to give to projects. Once you know that, you can allocate resources to tasks based on work priorities, ensuring resources are looked after so that they remain productive without being overwhelmed.
A resource calendar gives you a bird's eye view of your whole team's capacity across a set time period. It gives you the advantage of knowing what is assigned to different employees, so that you can take that into account when allocating new pieces of work.
Resource calendars are particularly helpful in project planning. It helps you to see granular information about individual team members' availability, including their upcoming vacation time, public holidays, and start/end dates for different projects and milestones. This knowledge helps to inform your workload planning by ensuring you're allocating an appropriate workload to each team member.
A resource calendar also helps to see all of the tasks a team member is working on. It can even break this information down to specific time periods so that team leaders understand what someone is doing at a particular time of day, or when they're next available for extra work. Not only does this prevent overload, but it helps with resource allocation so that the entire team is productive as much as possible.
Your calendar becomes the overarching source of truth for resource management. The result is a central document that is accessible and visible across business departments. This helps to ensure remote teams and staff at different locations have the same intelligent workload management, reducing silos and encouraging transparency among all team members.
Intelligent workload management is about assigning tasks equally and evenly. It's always best to aim for an equal workload for everyone, but this equality is hard to achieve without visibility.
For example, if you have a specialist staff member working on a long term project within their speciality, and you have another project that requires their skill set, it can be easy to allocate that piece of work to them out of habit. However, a project manager may not realize that another newly hired team member is also capable of performing that task, and has more availability.
Rather than sticking to old habits and assigning tasks based on what you've always done, it's best to check the pool of available staff members and allocate tasks according to who has the most capacity. This prevents some staff being overwhelmed while others are under-utilized.
Multi-tasking may seem efficient, but no one can do two jobs at once efficiently. In actuality, someone who is working on multiple tasks at one time is likely to be much less productive than if they were focusing all of their energy into just one thing.
Multi-tasking also contributes to an overwhelming feeling, such as where staff feel they can't stop for lunch because too many people are relying on them to get things done. Limiting multi-tasking can also be done fairly easily by prioritizing effectively.
Team workload management requires constant awareness, which can be easier said than done. Tasks may take longer than estimated, or they may be delayed. Even with good planning in advance, there are plenty of other reasons why team capacity may change.
It's important to check in with your team's workload as tasks progress, and make adjustments where necessary. If a team member has time-dependent tasks, a delay can create an overwhelming workload when that delay is overcome. However, if you track that person's real-time capacity, you may be able to re-prioritize another task that gives them more availability later on.
Tracking is much easier with a visible, central resource calendar that is updated in real time.
Workforce planning is another key task in workload management. By understanding the future of your organization, you can see the likely demand for skills and plan to hire or structure the business accordingly. This is primarily the role of HR managers.
There are many reasons why there may be a change in demand for a skill set at a later date:
All of these factors feed into the ideal workforce for a particular organization. Being able to recognize that in advance enables organizations to adapt quicker, cheaper and more effectively. You may be able to train junior staff, plan for a likely retirement or reach out to the labor market to plan for the future. Planning for your future workforce prevents putting pressure on staff in an in-demand business area.
Proper workload management should include conversations about how to balance work and life. This is one of the most effective ways of preventing team members from getting to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
You can encourage staff to take regular holidays, work flexibly where they can, or leave work at a reasonable hour each day. All of these things help staff to refill their cup and decompress from the challenges of their job, which helps individuals to be at their best at work. It's also significant in preventing breakdowns and work-related anxiety, which can result in staff taking time off work or even resigning.
Encourage managers to treat teams in such a way that doesn't overwhelm individuals. For example, if there is a challenging deadline on a piece of work that isn't vital, managers can take the pressure off their staff by relaxing the deadline a little rather than make people anxious and stressed by pushing for it to be done on time.
Speak about personal wins and reward staff for their good work. This helps to encourage a good workplace culture where team members feel valued and appreciated, which in turn incentivizes even more good work.
Repetitive tasks can become very boring, very quickly. There is a degree of administration in any workplace or position, but it's important to blend in admin work with other tasks for variety and productivity.
This may mean automating administrative tasks where possible, or scheduling this type of work in small, regular chunks so that staff don't have long periods doing types of work that are unfulfilling or not part of their core role.
From a staff perspective, admin work can often be unsatisfying as it's not their primary focus. The idea of having a lot of unrewarding admin work to do can contribute to feeling overwhelmed. However, there's also a very real sense of satisfaction in a workplace that makes admin easy - staff can sense a real win in not having to complete a large pile of paperwork, for example.
Reducing your administration is also a great way to save time and costs within the business. Administrative work generally has a low return, while real, core work represents more revenue for the business and is more impactful in general.
Measuring team utilization is perhaps one of the most insightful techniques in workload management. In one metric, team leaders can identify individuals that are under pressure for long time periods, as well as those that may feel idle because of their workload.
A team utilization report shows what percentage of your people's capacity is scheduled or being put to use. It's a highly visual tool that enables team or project managers to identify the demands being placed on each team member in real time.
It can help with resource allocation by ensuring individuals that already have a demanding workload aren't tasked with work that can be done by someone else that has greater capacity.
Team utilization also helps with planning. For example, if a staff member has two weeks of working at above 100 percent capacity coming up, you can plan for them to have time off to recover once they've finished. That can be taken into account in another project plan.
Utilization can also be broken down into billable and non-billable work, creating the opportunity for business efficiencies - as well as improving job satisfaction (see above re: reducing administrative tasks).
It's difficult to track everyone's workload when people are assigned to multiple projects at the same time. Workload management tools take all of the information from things such as staff calendars, resource allocation, project management tracking tools, staff utilization and workforce planning to create insightful reports about how your workforce is being managed.
Runn workload management software brings together a comprehensive range of metrics to make workload management visible in one place, for all staff.
Runn workload management software delivers all of these helpful insights in real time, allowing project managers and team leaders to make informed decisions with the most accurate information.
Effective workload management is all-important for better employee performance. Many enterprise organizations manage a bespoke arrangement of different support systems, which make it harder to get the information you need to make the best decisions.
For example, an enterprise may need to integrate custom applications in workflows, business process management, ticketing, emails and other web-based systems. This inevitably creates bottlenecks and difficulty sharing up to date information across relevant stakeholders, and higher costs across a range of individual software subscriptions.
Alternatively, doing all of these activities in manual excel spreadsheets means data dates quickly, which means decisions aren't based on the most current information. Not only that, but spreadsheets are error prone and it's hard to make sure stakeholders know which is the most up to date version of a particular report.
This typical enterprise approach to workload management leads to more problems than solutions. Siloed reporting and resource allocation doesn't deliver on business-wide priorities, and creates a lack of communication and transparency across different teams and departments.
From a workload management perspective, it creates more demand and stress on individuals, rather than task allocation that's strategically aligned with all other business considerations.
Runn workload management software creates one source of truth that can be relied upon by all. Reports are easily exported to CSV, shareable, and available across all business areas. This maximizes efficiency and transparency, and allows managers to deliver workload management best practices that create the best outcomes, both for the business and all individual employees.
Runn also delivers on the ultimate goal of workload management, allowing your workforce to be productive, motivated and fully utilized, while also delivering on business priorities.
Why would thousands of people have chosen to have one, two, and even more project management certifications? Learn in our recent article looking at the pros and cons of PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, and PRINCE2.