Since the worldwide shift to remote ways of working, the concept of visibility has become increasingly important. Work visibility is essential for many things: it allows employees to feel recognized for their work, informs planning and scheduling, drives efficiency and profitability, and is vital in the fight against burnout.
Yet new research has discovered that most managers are not only out of the loop with what their teams are working on, but have no idea about much of the work they actually do. A recent study of four Fortune 500 companies found that when managers were asked about the work their team does, on average they didn’t know (or couldn’t remember) 60% of it. One manager was only aware of 4% of their team’s work.
These figures are concerning, to say the least. As a manager, knowing what your team is working on is one of the most elementary requirements of your role. It has a knock-on effect on operations, finances and culture, and when you’re working remotely it becomes even more critical—not only to the overall success of the organization, but to the fundamental wellbeing and happiness of each employee.
In operational terms, not knowing what your team is working on weakens your ability to allocate resources where needed. If you don’t know who’s got capacity, who’s overstretched, and who’s responsible for certain tasks and projects, you can’t possibly coordinate schedules intelligently, assign work to the right person, or manage priorities. It also makes it far more challenging to meet deadlines, plan effectively, drive process efficiency, and manage over-collaboration.
From a financial perspective, if you don’t know what your team or contractors are working on, let alone how long certain tasks take, you can’t create accurate estimates. Not only will this have a significant impact on billing, but if you’re unable to compare estimates against actuals and see how long employees are spending on different tasks and projects, you’ll have no grasp of client profitability or team utilization.
The cultural implications of poor team work visibility are also all-encompassing. Understanding what people are doing is essential if you want to help your team maintain healthy work/life boundaries. During a time when burnout is more prevalent than ever, it’s vital to know whether your team is overstretched, and whether workloads are realistic and reasonable. Legally, you also need to be able to accurately monitor employee hours and overtime—something you can’t do if you have no idea what people are working on.
In terms of employee experience, knowing that your work is visible to management is key to feeling appreciated. If a manager has no idea what an employee is working on, they’ll also have no idea about the value that employee is adding to the company. They won’t be able to see when people need a new challenge, whether they have enough variety in their work to keep them stimulated, or recognize when someone is ready to take on a leadership role. Performance reviews become extremely creative, subjective exercises.
Clearly, knowing what your team is working on is absolutely imperative. So, how do you go about improving work visibility—particularly if your people are fully or partly remote?
The first step is the big one—introducing a system to map everyone’s workload. Using task boards like Asana, Trello, Monday or Basecamp ensures there’s a single, transparent source for tracking work, seeing who’s working on what, and visualizing how much progress has been made in real-time. Plus, ensuring communication happens in this async format makes it easy for employees to ask questions and stay updated without being repeatedly pulled into replying to emails and instant messages.
Time tracking may have once been viewed as a fiddly and frustrating process, but using an automatic time tracker is now the easiest and most efficient way of capturing all work. You can instantly see who’s working on what, how long people have spent on certain tasks, and keep an eye on overtime, capacity and workloads—all of which means you can take proactive steps to protect the wellbeing of your team.
A myriad of additional tasks exist around work which aren’t always represented in estimates and P&L reports. These effectively boil down to the non-billable tasks, workspace admin, and internal coordination that occur on a daily basis. Email, Slack, project management, task management, file organization, tool notifications all count. Tracking these gives you a richer picture of your team’s experience. It’s particularly useful for highlighting inefficiencies, communication drains, and low-value “shallow” tasks ripe for automation.
Effective communication lies at the heart of team visibility, and it’s important to understand that some things might slip through the net, or not be voiced. Hold short check-ins during projects so you can get qualitative feedback, and once a project has wrapped ask for retrospective feedback. This helps you explore the peculiarities and nuances of different pieces of work, learn where people struggle with set-backs, and understand the reasons behind any delays or issues with processes. When you have this type of visibility, you gain a much deeper understanding not only of what your team is actually working on, but how their work impacts other people and the company as a whole.
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