The art of crafting dynamic workplace structures for maximum productivity

By increasing temporal predictability and segmenting tasks, employees are more productive and find projects more enjoyable.
By: | June 23, 2023

In today’s fast-paced work environment, we have all had those days at work when time passes by in a blink, and days when the hours seem to drag on. While this contrasting difference in how employees experience the speed at which time passes can be considered ‘normal’, it can also affect their job performance. As the old saying goes, time flies when you are having fun. The way work is designed can play a significant role in determining if employees are motivated and performing well.

According to the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, the vast majority of business leaders (87%) believe that developing the right workplace model is important to very important to their organisation’s success. This makes it imperative for employers to take a deeper look at work design.

Work design factors that affect employee productivity and performance

In most research, work design is considered to be a set of job characteristics or features that affect how people feel about their jobs. Some characteristics that can influence employee motivation and stress include:

  • Job autonomy: Having the ability to make choices and decisions about one’s job
  • Task variety: When one is assigned a range of different tasks to do
  • Skill utilisation: Being able to use one’s skills to do the jobs and tasks assigned
  • Task significance: Feeling that the job one is doing is important
  • Task identity: Degree to which one is allowed to perform a whole piece of work
  • Job feedback: Receiving regular feedback on the work being done

“When employees feel that time is passing quickly, they consider themselves to be more productive and perceive the project to be more pleasant as well.” – Dr Rocky Peng Chen, Associate Professor, HKBU School of Business.

Furthering this, a recent study conducted by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) School of Business researchers has found that when employees feel that time is passing quickly, they consider themselves to be more productive and perceive the project to be more pleasant as well. Two factors that the study found to affect this perception of time were—the uncertainty of unplanned time preceding a project, also known as increased temporal predictability; and task segmentation, which means dividing large chunks of time into smaller intervals.

Increased temporal predictability and task segmentation can:

  • Positively affect the experienced passage of time, as employees perceive time as passing significantly faster.
  • Result in improved employee job performance and accuracy by keeping them focused on tasks.

What can managers do to improve employee performance?

  1. Reduce uncertainty between the start and end of tasks by keeping employees informed

Because temporal predictability can be flexibly designed, they offer strong action implications for managers. Specifically, managers can eliminate unnecessary wait times or at least reduce the uncertainty of wait times between tasks and events. As an example, employees can be given other “tasks” to complete while waiting, to increase temporal predictability.

  1. Employees’ workday should be segmented—managers should encourage short breaks between tasks to ensure the team remains focused

Dividing a large chunk of work time into several smaller blocks for task segmentation purposes and taking micro-breaks to focus on activities that are not work-related, can help employees prevent mental fatigue and improve focus and attention levels. A study at North Carolina State University found that taking micro-breaks can benefits tired employees and allow them to bounce back from their work-related weariness and re-engage with their work better over the course of the day.

However, employers need to be careful when designing task segmentation and must customise it for different jobs and people. This is because too much segmentation, especially when employees are performing complex tasks that require deep focus, might be detrimental to their job performance.

READ MORE: Redesigning work and the workplace to elevate the human experience 

By creating a dynamic workplace structure that takes into consideration these factors, organisations can enhance employee performance and ultimately achieve their business goals. More than customers and stakeholders, employees are the most important stakeholders in an organisation.

About the author: Dr Rocky Peng Chen is Associate Professor, HKBU School of Business.