Remote Work Productivity

How Task Overlap Wastes Productivity, and How One Simple List Can Stop It

“Everyone does a little bit of everything here.” It’s a common saying in startups, and some small businesses. Harmless, right?

No. If you have remote workers, you need to stamp that practice out.

It will hurt your company’s productivity and cost you valuable time. I’ll elucidate how in this post.

Productivity Drain Warning: Task Overlap

Let’s illustrate an example here. We have a business where everyone works remotely. One worker, Bob, can do a certain task. I’ll use “populating SEO metadata on webpages” in this case.

SEO population is not Bob’s primary job. But he can do it. Now, another worker, Sarah, does SEO population as part of her regular weekly tasks.

However, not everyone in the company knows this.

Jeff, Sarah’s manager, does know about Sarah’s SEO population duty. Bob does not. Bob’s manager Anna doesn’t either.

Problem: Anna receives a task request for SEO population. Her mind, of course, goes to Bob. She asks Bob to do it.

Because Bob doesn’t know Sarah can populate SEO (and regularly does), he goes ahead & does it. It takes him 15 minutes because he’s not accustomed to doing it regularly. Two days later, Sarah does her regular SEO population for all clients. It only takes her 5 minutes per task. Along the way, she sees that one population was already done. Curious, she takes 3 minutes and finds out Bob did it.

Bob has wasted his effort and 15 minutes of time. Sarah has wasted 3. This is what I mean by Task Overlap.

Frustrated Remote Worker

I wasted HOW long doing that??

Be Specific on Who Does What, to Avoid Task Overlap

If people do many things/skills, and are not expressly aware of everyone else’s duties, then they can overlap with others. Causing wasted productivity each time. Only a little time, as we saw above. But that can add up fast.

Imagine if you could get 1 extra hour of productivity, per person, per month. That’s a big chunk of useful time.

Regular thorough communication can help avoid Task Overlap to a large degree. But it’s not as effective as specifying everyone’s duties.

How to ID Remote Workers’ Specialties

Here’s a way to solve the Task Overlap issue. You only need a little time, documentation, and a shared workspace (e.g. a wiki, Asana, etc.).

  1. Survey every remote worker. Ask them to list their specialties and their regular duties.
  2. Document all of these in 1 big list. Separate by type and person. I’ve worked up an example in the below image:

    Remote Work Duties & Specialties List

    Duties and Specialties for Bob & Sarah. At-a-glance Task Overlap prevention.

  3. Publish the list somewhere ALL workers, remote or otherwise, have access to.
  4. Require all workers to view & bookmark the list.
    • Everyone can refer to this whenever they receive a new task.
  5. Update the list quarterly. You can just re-run the previous process to check in with everyone.
  6. When you do update the list, send an email reminder around so everyone knows to check it again.

Let’s go back to our earlier example. Anna receives a request for SEO metadata population. She checks the list. Sees that Bob has SEO population listed as a Specialty‚Ķbut Sarah has SEO Population under Duties.

Anna forwards the request to Jeff, who adds it to Sarah’s regular weekly task list. Time? Maybe 3 minutes. Productive time wasted? Zero.

Clarity on Who Does What Saves Time AND Productivity

Don’t get me wrong…it’s good to have multi-skilled people on your team! Especially in a remote work environment. That way another person can step in to help if someone’s out sick, or on vacation.

You just don’t want to mis-target their efforts, over and over.

In a Remote Work environment, people sometimes feel they’re the “only one who can do this.” One simple list can explain otherwise, AND let them focus on what they do best.

Does your company document people’s duties/specialties?