A guide to maximizing productivity in the workplace

Modern employee productivity is measured by impact, not hours.

By the team at SlackMarch 22nd, 2024

With the rise of hybrid and remote work, business leaders are trading in tired corporate habits for newer, smarter practices. They’re cutting out commutes, casting wider recruiting nets, relaxing rigid work schedules and supporting location independence.

In the age of digital headquarters and distributed workforces, leaders are redefining the modern corporate workplace—including employee productivity metrics.

Amid a volatile tech industry and an uncertain economy, 71% of business leaders feel immense pressure from management to make their teams more productive, according to Slack’s 2023 State of Work report. At the same time, companies seem stuck in outdated approaches to employee productivity, while overlooking productivity-boosting tools and tech.

Let’s rethink work productivity for today’s corporate world.

Reframing employee productivity

What if leaders left behind the old bodies-in-seats mentality and started measuring productivity based on substance and efficiency?

When asked how they wanted to be evaluated for productivity, the largest share of desk workers (27%) said KPIs and goals should be the most important metrics. But only 19% of executives agreed, with the largest share (also 27%) preferring to measure employee productivity based on visible activity.

These figures highlight a disconnect between business leaders and desk workers. While employees want to prioritize quality over quantity, executives put more stock in the work they can see.

Understanding and avoiding burnout

When it comes to employee productivity, long hours can have a negative return on investment. 

Slack’s winter 2023 Workforce Index found that the average desk worker reports around four hours of effective focus time per day. Even so, 2 in 5 desk workers say they regularly work after hours because they have too many competing priorities and not enough time in the day to juggle them. These workers report:

  • 20% lower productivity
  • 2.1x worse work-related stress
  • 1.7x lower satisfaction
  • 2x worse burnout

On the other hand, healthy work boundaries make desk workers more productive. For example, those who take regular breaks report:

  • 13% higher productivity
  • 43% better stress management ability
  • 43% higher overall satisfaction

To achieve sustainable productivity and well-being, employees need flexibility and strong work-life-balance practices.

How productivity tools can improve office culture

With the rise of artificial intelligence, we have automation tools at our disposal that can drive productivity while also minimizing busywork, supporting a positive company culture and reducing employee burnout. But most teams aren’t using these tools effectively.

In our 2023 State of Work report, less than half of employees surveyed said their teams use automation to improve their work processes. And recent research by Slack’s Workforce Lab found that desk workers spend 41% of their time on tasks that are “low value, repetitive or lack meaningful contribution to their core job functions.” That’s some serious untapped potential.

Among workers who do use AI to make their processes faster and easier, here’s what we found:

  • Highly productive employees are 242% more likely to be using AI than their less productive peers
  • Automation tools save workers an average of 3.6 hours per week
  • Of employees who use automations, 62% get more done in less time and with fewer resources
  • Around 80% of workers who use AI say the technology is improving their productivity

By leveraging AI tools to automate mundane tasks, business leaders can boost employees’ productivity and engagement without compromising their work-life balance.

Monitoring productivity among remote and hybrid employees

Though remote-friendly work has quickly become normal, it’s still the new frontier in many ways. Business leaders are still exploring methods of remote collaboration, team-building among distributed employees, and maintaining employee engagement and productivity in the digital workspace.

So how do you measure and track employee productivity when everyone’s working from different locations and time zones? Let’s dive in.

Challenges of productivity tracking in remote workplaces

Executives tend to measure productivity based on employees’ visible actions, according to our recent Workforce Index. But it’s tough to get visibility into a desk worker’s actions when their desk is in their home office.

Research by Microsoft reports that among business leaders, 85% say the shift to hybrid work has made it difficult to feel confident in their employees’ productivity. And managers in hybrid workplaces are more likely than their in-person counterparts to have trouble trusting that their employees are performing their best.

To keep closer tabs on employees, around 60% of large companies use monitoring software to track workers’ activity, according to research by Gartner. Employee monitoring technologies collect data on workers’ online activities, including how much time they spend on various tasks, with the aim of maintaining or improving productivity.

But “productivity” is subjective, and you generally don’t need monitoring software to determine whether an employee is hitting their KPIs and meeting their goals—which is how desk workers prefer to measure productivity.

Common barriers to productivity for remote employees

Employees who say they are less productive now than before the pandemic report:

  • Too many unnecessary emails and meetings
  • Feeling unsupported by their managers
  • Feeling disconnected from their colleagues
  • Lacking access to effective technology and tools
  • Working in information silos
  • Switching between several disconnected apps at work

Strategies for overcoming productivity barriers in remote teams

Workers who report being more productive now than before the pandemic say they:

  • Have more flexibility in when and where they work
  • Have a say in which meetings they attend
  • Use automation to save time at work
  • Use tools that promote transparency and knowledge sharing
  • Use platforms that integrate their tech stacks to reduce context switching

Leaders can set a strong foundation for remote employee productivity by embracing these strategies:

  • Clarify employees’ work priorities
  • Establish a company culture that prioritizes the impact of people’s work over the number of hours spent at their desk
  • Support employees’ work-life boundaries by encouraging breaks and relieving pressure to work after hours
  • Collect employee feedback regularly
  • Leverage automation tools to make work processes easier and more efficient
  • Create a more flexible work environment that empowers employees

Donald Knight, the chief people officer at Greenhouse Software, agrees that companies should move away from measuring productivity by time spent in the office or in meetings. “Post-pandemic, companies are now measuring success through their overall organizational and employee health,” he says. “The key is developing leaders who embody a culture that exhibits flexibility and trust.”

Increasing employee productivity at work

Our 2023 State of Work report identified effective methods of boosting productivity with culture and employee wellness in mind:

  • Bring together your tools and people. Eliminate time wasted switching between applications with a robust communication platform that integrates with your company’s tech stack. Your company’s productivity platform should support automation and improve remote collaboration.
  • Eliminate performative work. Measure employee productivity based on the impact of their work, not the amount of time spent completing tasks or in meetings. Promote employee engagement by placing more importance on the most challenging and dynamic aspects of their jobs—not just the most visible or time-consuming.
  • Reduce time spent in meetings. Survey respondents say their companies could get rid of nearly 43% of their meetings with no real negative consequences. Hold fewer meetings, and make your meetings higher-quality. If a meeting is unnecessary or its agenda is empty, don’t be afraid to cancel it.
  • Lean into AI and automation. Take advantage of the tools you have at your fingertips to relieve your employees of their most repetitive tasks. Automating mundane workflows frees up employees to focus on more interesting and impactful responsibilities.

Integrate your productivity toolkit with Slack

If you’re a Slack user, you can integrate your company’s existing tech stack into Slack’s AI-powered platform. The Slack App Directory features more than 2,600 apps to minimize errors, distractions and context switching. Some of our most popular integrations include:

  • Asana allows you to create tasks and projects in Asana from conversations and ideas in Slack
  • Dropbox lets you share content from Dropbox directly in any Slack channel or direct message
  • Giphy features a large library of GIFs to send in Slack
  • Google Calendar delivers your daily schedule in Slack every morning and notifies you ahead of meetings
  • Google Drive enables you to create, access and share Drive files from within Slack
  • Microsoft tools allow you to integrate Outlook email, Outlook Calendar, OneDrive, SharePoint, Azure and Teams into Slack
  • Trello makes it easy to collaborate in Trello without leaving Slack
  • Workday empowers you to look up and share someone’s Workday details on Slack to streamline communication and decision-making processes

Edwina Munns, the head of internal communications at Canva, confirms that Slack has contributed to Canva’s growth by increasing employee productivity and supporting the company’s culture. “With Slack replacing email chains and lengthy calls with real-time feedback, we were able to build and test a bespoke internal communications resource in just four days,” she says.

The future of work productivity

As a business leader, you can boost productivity by cutting down on unnecessary meetings and performative email threads. By automating repetitive tasks, you can give your employees more freedom to focus on the parts of their jobs that they love. And by gathering your company’s most important tech tools in a collaborative platform like Slack, you can help streamline processes and make work simpler, more pleasant and more productive.


  1. Source: Based on an internal analysis during the pilot of Slack AI features (channel recaps, thread summaries, and AI search answers)

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