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What speed means for a business in the 21st Century

10 January 2019

In today’s workplace, managers strive to inspire employees to work smarter, not harder. Our fast-paced, digital-focused world means that the speed of work is more important than ever, so it can be easy to get overwhelmed by priorities and caught up in processes designed to force better efficiency. In practice, smarter work is less about processes and more about effective management.

A part of this is allowing and nurturing autonomy in the workspace. Informed by the knowledge of their team and the tools available to them, management should encourage organic individual thought. Operating in large teams has always presented a challenge to workflow and the speed at which tasks are completed. Workplaces should have the best of both worlds; prioritise the independence of their staff, while simultaneously staying connected as a team through their shared values and goals.

Working smaller, thinking bigger

In recent years, studies into the disruption of workplace productivity have been conducted in an effort to find possible solutions to the problem of speed of work in businesses. Harvard Business School Professor, J. Richard Hackman, found that the larger the project teams, the slower the progress was. This is accredited to a perceived loss of responsibility as the project gets spread thinner amongst more team members.

The result of this is a group of people who rely too heavily on each other and not on their own skills. In actuality, employees included in the project may be perfectly suited and have many strengths they can use to contribute.

For project managers, this means curating smaller, specialised groups to complete tasks. They should work to motivate staff to work independently amongst their peers while valuing their contribution as an essential part of the assignment. Timing is everything in 21st Century workplaces, so limiting how many people it takes to screw in the light bulb (so to speak) is incredibly beneficial to this.

Tracking time equals further accountability

importance of time scheduling Another tool often used in 21st Century workplaces is time tracking software – and it’s been in use as far back as 2004. Unlike timesheets, this particular software can identify how much time is spent on particular clients or projects.

For employers, this removes the need to be constantly hovering over teams, making sure they are staying on task throughout the workday. Tracking time also keeps employees accountable while giving them an idea of how long they are spending working (or not).

For businesses in the 21st Century, this dynamic tool has been a game changer for employers.

Measuring time spent on a project better informs the business on how to bill clients and control estimated timelines on deliverables. In a competitive environment, companies that work to tight deadlines while maintaining the quality of work will continually be valued over companies that can’t achieve this.

Now, with more options than ever for implementing time tracking capabilities, project managers can choose the program that suits their needs best. Popular plug-ins like Harvest and Zoho break down time data, effectively displaying where time is spent in relation to tasks and employees.

More autonomy equals personal productivity

Employees who are guided with a light touch by management are noted to be happier in their workplace. This is attributed to the freedom they feel in expressing themselves through their work, and the level of responsibility they can take on. Because there is no obligation to run every decision past another person, confidence in their own abilities gets stronger. Therefore, employees can feel increasingly passionate about what they are achieving in their daily role.

Cutting away the middle layer from corporate decisions also decreases the amount of time spent trying to problem solve in a way that benefits all staff – not just clients. In conjunction with team sizes, having smaller groups who work autonomously together allows individuals to make decisions based on their insight rather than strict company policies.

Allowing individuals to make important decisions of their own volition cuts down on time, meaning workforces would be able to get more done in a shorter time period. Not only is efficiency attractive to clients it’s also a healthy way for businesses to operate, giving business owners or upper management more room to spend time on things they’re passionate about.

Implementing the "two pizza rule"

Just as autonomy and time tracking allows for greater productivity and speed of work, so does removing the need for unnecessary meetings and tasks. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, faithfully believes in the two pizza rule. While it sounds strange, it’s surprisingly straightforward.

Bezos’ theory is that when organising a meeting, you shouldn’t invite more people than could be fed by two pizzas.

While he doesn’t give an exact number, double digits group sizes should be avoided. The logic is multi-faceted in that it limits the number of opinions in the room and saves people's time by not forcing mandatory attendance.

Bezos also recommends ascertaining whether a meeting should happen at all. If what needs to be discussed can be written in an email, then scheduling in a meeting shouldn’t always be the first route considered. Efficient, modern businesses value saving time without compromising quality. They also place importance on how staff-hours are distributed across the company. In the name of efficiency, this further allows employees to give their focus completely to what they believe is essential to their success.

Whatever you're doing, make it impactful

Former Managing Director of Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, Stephen Scheeler, recently spoke about how having speed in the workplace is a learned skill. At Facebook, it was all about thinking about speed as a way to best utilise time.


Scheeler says the key to success is how you focus on where you can make the most impact.

“At Facebook, we gave people autonomy to make their personal decisions about how they spend their time. For example, no meeting at Facebook is mandatory - even my meetings with my direct reports, they did not have to come to my meetings.

“If I get invited to Mark’s [Zuckerberg] meeting, I do not have to go to his meeting. I have the right to say, no, I have something more impactful that I think I should do with my time.”

Offering employees the ability to stand alone in their decision-making is a key characteristic of businesses and organisations that optimise time efficiency. If managed well, teams can be successful in any task they take on, as individuals or together. Efficient management leaders value their team members’ individual contributions and support them through the challenges faced in their work without micro-managing.

Studying an MBA can be a great first step towards understanding how to manage a team’s cost and speed effectively in the fast-paced 21st Century. Find out more about studying an MBA with SCU Online.