A person working on a laptop with a graph on it called 'productivity'

Continuous Improvement blog What does productivity mean to you?

What does productivity mean to you?

Strathclyde has recently launched an ‘Agile Working’ pilot as part of the University’s socially progressive agenda to attract and retain high quality staff through enhanced flexible working offerings. The pilot is taking place across three separate professional and administrative departments over a period of nine months.

The team leading the project understood the need to demonstrate the benefits of the agile working arrangements in order to effectively assess the success of the pilot. The team applied the Evidencing the Benefits of Change methodology to explore the benefits of the initiative up front, and gather the necessary baseline data prior to commencing the pilot.

The team identified a range of benefits that could help determine the pilot’s success. These include:

  1. Increased staff satisfaction – measured through a staff survey
  2. Increased stakeholder experience – measured through response times and number of complaints
  3. Improved retention of staff – measured through the number of staff at the start of the pilot, new members of staff during pilot, and staff who left during pilot period
  4. Increased staff capacity / availability – measured through numbers of staff available for work at office, home, other location, or on leave/absent
  5. Increased space efficiency – Using the data captured in point 4, measure the space allocated per staff member and the cost per m3
  6. Improved productivity – measured through…?

All of the staff understood the need to demonstrate the impact of the pilot, but how could they measure productivity?

What does productivity mean?

By definition it means:

“The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.”


The state or quality of being productive”[1]

A common measurement of productivity is the total income in proportion to staff costs. When we consider productivity in a higher education context, this calculation is not as simple, particularly when considering the productivity of an administrative team or department who have very little direct involvement with income-focused activities.

It became clear throughout the discussions with the staff involved that although the teams shared common goals of the department and University, they all undertook very different activities that are not joined up. There are no consistent processes that could be used to measure “output”. Many of the staff participating in the pilot are not customer facing, support the work of academic colleagues, and typically have a very reactive workload.

Following discussions, staff agreed to monitor and record a few types of individual work activity over a week. This resulted in many more types of activities measured, however the aim is that regardless of the activity, a % increase (hopefully not decrease!) in work activity can be determined. This was calculated using the total level of work outputs over a sample period prior to the pilot, and will be measured again towards the end of the pilot to understand if a difference has been made to ‘productivity’.

Some of the work activities measured include:

  • Time taken to write minutes
  • Time taken to respond to emails
  • Time taken to process applications
  • Time taken to conduct monthly assessment process
  • Emails received and response rate

In addition, a quantitative question was added to the staff survey to gather a baseline for how productive staff feel in their work, with the opportunity to provide qualitative text on their productivity.

Productivity is a word we tend to use frequently.  It's a part of the language of any workplace, but what do we really mean when we say “increased productivity”?

Have you successfully measured productivity? I would love to hear your experiences on how you have evidenced productivity that is not income-focused.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/productivity