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remote

Diagnosing remote burnout with Toms Blodnieks

Luke Szyrmer July 30, 2022 1132


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Toms Blodnieks

About Toms Blodnieks

Toms Blodnieks is the COO & Head of Product and Business Development at DeskTime. During five years at DeskTime, he’s helped the company grow and expand. Toms’ interests include marketing, sales, customer experience, user experience, and SaaS products. He’s a time management expert and paranoid planner who likes to plan everything and every day – from small things to large projects. His current motto? Done is better than perfect.

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Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the managing remote teams podcast. Today. We are speaking with Tom’s blogs and Tom is the COO and head of product and business development at desk time. And during his time at desk time, he’s helped the company grow and expand. And he’s interested in marketing sales, CX, UX, and SAS products. And. I’d like to start actually with a question around your current motto done is better than perfect. What does that mean for.

Hi. Yeah. Thank you for having me on the podcast. Happy to talk about these topics. Don is better than perfect is because there are a lot of things that we want to do, how we want to build the software or webpage or whatever we do.

And we always want to do more and more. I’m getting perfect out there, The perfect just takes too much time. And it’s probably too late, so let’s get out the MVP. Let’s get done it so people can see, so we can get the first feedback, the first expressions and then we can do the next steps to get it perfect. So done is better than waiting for.

Okay. Great. Great. So one of the things that you and your team have done is a quite detailed report around around remote at the moment. Could you tell us a little bit about that project.

Yeah the project itself this is a time tracking tool.

We offer time management, time tracking, attendance tracking project, and cost tracking for businesses, for freelancers, for everyone who needs. So we have a lot of data. And so desk is in business for more than 10 years now. So almost more, actually more than half a million people.

Actually the end users have used desk time at this point. Time to time. Take these data out and make researches. And our content team likes to write about actually. What’s happening in the world and relevant data and the remote work or hybrid work and all the COVID data and how the like the breaks, the working habits have changed and stuff like that.

This is last few years, a huge topic that are marketing and content team is dealing with searching for data and checking out the countries, most productive countries. How. Everything is changing, but that specific research that probably you’re talking about, which was published in earlier this year on Forbes is just showing that Comparing previous years with remote time. We see that remote workers work more. And it’s it’s not 10% more. It’s even more like it’s at least one hour per day, more than regular office or hybrid worker. In weekly basis, it’s at least five, six hours more than regular worker per month. It’s even almost 30 hours more. It all goes to burnout and it all goes to unhealthy work style. So you don’t take proper breaks during your day, or you just work later in the evening. So you lose connection with family, with outside habits and stuff like that. That’s one of the topics that we talk about that’s one of the options or issues. Why desk time is useful or any other time tracking time management tool for businesses for freelancers why you need to look. At your timings, how you work. When you work, how much you work and how often do you take breaks? Do you like live healthy life and the life is not about work only.

So yeah, work is very important of course to earn money, to grow and learn and do business. But a lot of things to do outside the working hours. So we sleep eight hours, we work eight hours. And then rest of the 10 things that we need to do, we need to do in only the eight hours we have left in the day.

So how can we do that? So it’s very important to manage the time correctly.

How do you define good work life balance versus what you’re seeing now. Let’s start there before digging more into specifically burnout.

Yeah, from our findings and from our experience and interviews that we can tell that the work life balance in first case is that you have freedom somehow the flexibility to do things that you as a human need to do. And again, this is also one of the things that we do at desk time.

And we like that. We can take our two hours, half a day off if we need to go and do something with our kids, or we need to go to the doctor or we have some kind of family issues or something, and we can do that. And then the flexibility and the time tracking gives us option. Also for our managers or team members that everyone knows where we are, how much time we have worked, what how we done.

And that’s all there with data. Not only saying yes, I’m working. And I have done everything, but really there is evidence and data, that proof of work, which is very important. Because we all want to be honest for each other and then tool, like DeskTime gives that opportunity and that’s yeah, good work life balance starts with that.

How do you think about it as a, as a manager, in terms of the people that you work with? Do you have any kind of expectations or guidelines around when is too much? For example?

Yeah, of course. Each company is different. So in our case in our team in our company, we have agreed on several terms that for example how many hours we actually need to work.

Like this is also one of the, part of the work life balance in our team, we. Expect to work 35 hours a week. So we don’t ask for 40 hours. We don’t ask to be at work like eight and a half or nine hours. We just want that there is clear working hours, seven hours a day, 35 hours a week. The flexibility, the work life balance also gives you option to work less some days and then work more in some other days.

But. That’s too much would be if you work like only two days 17 hours a day. You have, in two days you have worked like those 35 hours and then the rest of the week you take off, this would be too much. Yeah. But in a normal basis we work like average seven hours a day. Then you can be flexible.

You can come at work later, like until 11, for example, In the morning and then you can work later in the evening and take the midday off and stuff like that. So you can manage your time yourself, but if you will be needed during the daytime from 10 to four, for example we will schedule a meeting like in, in a, in advance, of course if you have a calendar open and there is really no strict busy time.

So such options we have agreed how we work and give a lot of flexibility and freedom for employees. So they can really have good work life balance in their lives and be happy at work. They can, they’re more effective than working during the working hours. They’re more happier.

And yeah and families are happy.

And it works. Yeah. Do you have any internal guidelines or agreements in terms of meetings? Like meetings versus other types of work? Cause I think that especially initially was a difficult point for people new to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic.

Yeah. Yeah. We have talked about that. We have teams and each team lead our manager of the team. We have biweekly meetings with those with our, so with our CEO and we talk over all the uh, Logistical things that we need. And that includes also how many meetings we have.

Every week we have all hands meeting with all our staff and we publicly show the data of desk time. What time has taken for which project client thing, and one of the projects we call it is meetings. And we always see how much time we take in the meetings. And then there are like expectations and that’s.

Managers. Yes, they would, they will have more meetings than like regular teammate. And but also we see that meetings don’t take more than 30% of the weekly time. So this is for manager, it’s a good result. And yeah that’s what we. Doing so trying not to have too much meetings, but also if we need a meeting, then we do that.

If it’s really, but we try to follow the, that we have agenda for the meeting and we try to do as short as possible, as precise as possible. And then we write notes in the end of the meeting to understand what we have gained from this meeting and what are action steps. So in this case when we think like that about the meetings it’s quite okay.

And the timing seems to be okay as well. That 30% of the time in meetings comparing what I have read and see in in similar or other companies that. 70%, 60%, even 90% for some weeks in the meetings. I think it’s crazy. There’s no option. You can manage those meetings and not even any other work outside the meetings.

yeah, exactly. Do in your. Tool or in your company, do you have a way of tracking or do you track something like like energy levels of people who are involved and how that maps to, to the time being used out of curiosity.

Yeah, the energy level is nice approach. We haven’t done that.

We are thinking about how to really get some AI into our system because now it’s more based on real actual work by the. Mouse keyboard like video calls, audio calls typing writing and an office workers more So we don’t have any like energy levels that we could, somehow that people could rate how they feel or stuff like that.

And then we have some kind of report showing that after six hours people rate they’re like feeling already worked out yeah that’s something we are thinking in the future about to adding and. Getting more data from like humans. But yeah, at the moment we are like comparing the time, actually work.

Then we have like automatic timers that are tracking how we work automatically. Then there is a manual timer we can turn on when we need like to do some kind of brainstorming more and then irregular work. And then of course, if we have any meetings, then we have integrations with calendars.

So they get the information from calendar to desk time. And then we see that all the overview in reports how many calendar meetings we have been, how long how many brainstormings and how many automated time tracking and stuff like that. So everything is then all together in one system, getting all the data together.

From your point of view, as a executive or say from, for, or from a point of view of a senior manager, do you then see aggregated data and you’re able to see trends within the company or are your clients able to see that, that level of data.

Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure that’s something that we are always like listening to our clients customers how they’re using the data, what what they like and what they want to see more or detailed or what’s too much. And what’s easy to understand. There are some things that really been used and are very popular to, for example, divide programs, webpage applications, everything that we do in productive, unproductive, and neutral statuses.

So they like to see that how much actually time we spend productively, for example they follow what’s been doing and updating the statuses. What’s productive. What’s not for team. And I know that companies are using also that they. To get gain the productive time, for example.

So they set less hours per day, but as a productive time like we are, we ourselves, we have just seven hours working. That’s our like KPI for a day or 35 hours a week. Other ones like to look at the effectiveness percentage. So effectiveness percentage again. Indicates how much productive time versus working hours have been done.

So you can set different working hours per each, for each day and then the effectiveness percentage shows you the, how much you have done from that. And then our recommended effectiveness percentage is 80, 85%, which is very good then. And then yeah, that’s some so different metrics that Users are using

In terms of speaking of effectiveness, in terms of comparing how people spend their time relative to say a high level outcome or a goal is there ways of tracking that or is that just on a, let’s say a project let’s say or something like that, that you track within desk time?

How does that. Yeah, you it’s it’s again, it’s there is a possibility to follow details if you want, and if you need those details for, I don’t know, client billing or something, and yeah, there is a project task client based options that you can track. And also you can see an overview of that time and then you can see details what have been done if I’m working with client a, so what I have done for that and then I can give specifics.

Just jumping back a little bit to a comparison you made at the top of the conversation. Other than the increased volume of time people are spending in front of a computer working. Are there any other interesting data points that you’ve noticed in terms of comparisons of how people were working before march, 2020? And let’s say, now?

Yeah there’s really a huge blog in our website where I don’t know, like three, four, or even more blogs per week writing about different articles and data is one of the top articles that we are analyzing. So it’s maybe, I don’t know, at the moment, all of the.

Key metrics and the analysis, but some of some points that following, yes, this is the remote work how it’s been changed and the other one, which is well recognized and very interesting statistics is about breaks . And if we see that The previous study, which was like much earlier than the COVID hit, but it was made five years ago.

About people, the most productive people, how they work at that time, it was that people like to work 52 minutes, like average at the computer and then taking 17 minutes break by average. So that was one pattern we saw from those who have the most productive hours percentage effectiveness. The average data was and now when we after the first wave of the COVID, when there was a complete lockdown and really most of the people worked remotely we see totally like different data. Working hours from 52 minutes have grown to hundred and 12 minutes, which is almost two times more.

So they, they didn’t step away from the computer for twice as much time. But what’s the worst thing is that the break from 17 minutes have raised only to 26 minutes. So they have worked almost two times more at the computer, but the break wasn’t two times more. That’s compares a relate to, to the remote work that everyone just works more.

And then takes less breaks shorter breaks. And which is not healthy. We have made videos with like sport doctors that really talks about how often do you need to take, break what you need to do at the break?

And no one of them says that it’s healthy to work almost two hours nonstop and with such short break. The data are out there. , each of the customers can see the data for their specific teams or the whole organization and take actions and really react. So someone is like, Keeping eye on how much hours nonstop or in general working someone is taking action on how much time is spent on meetings.

With this 112 minutes Still roughly the same level of let’s say effectiveness where it’s productive work or is it all kinds of things has the overall effectiveness gone down at that time?

Yeah. I think I don’t have the data at the, in front of me at the moment, but yeah, that’s a very interesting question that if they’re like being productive because one, one other what I remember now, if you ask this is about overtime about overtime. It’s interesting seeing that for each teammate mostly there is some kind of hour.

You need to work per day. So an overtime is what you work more than those hours per day. And what is interesting the study and the data shows that if you work over time, and then more overtime, you go that less productive, less effective. You are you start Like changing the applications.

You don’t use the productive applications anymore. You take more breaks then. And then the time in overtime is really not structured and not productive, not effective, not the overtime is like the, I think the article was the overtime is killing or something about like that. So yeah, that’s something as well.

We try to educate our users. Short overtime is okay. Occasionally very is okay. But constant overtime is not it’s bad for business. Bad for humans.

Yeah, definitely. Send me a link. I’ll happy to include it in the show notes. Just so people wanna check it out.

Yeah. Sure.

Thank you.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper specifically into burnout. What would you, in, in the data, how would you be seeing it or defining it? Of let’s say individuals when they’re at a point where it does look like they’re burned out, literally?

There are some things that as I, I like to say that desktop time data is.

Like the part of the statistics or data that helps you talk to people and only desk time data is not like fully relevant to analyze and make decisions only based on data . So we need take other things combined with desk time data. And one of those is like for at least.

Last few years everyone is talking about managers about teams that you have to have a one on one meeting with your manager. So this is the time when you. Talk a little bit more, not only work related things, but also as a people, as a human as a as how you feel, how you do, and then you definitely see the differences.

If there is any, if there are any changes, time to time, and then you can. Get the desktop data and analyze. Did he work more, did he like work less? Did he had less or more productive or effectiveness or something and you see those changes of habits or something and That’s how you can manage the, and see also the burnout

clearly of desk time data. Of course, it’s not possible to see the burnout without any AI or as you mentioned marks of energy or something because people are different. And I like to work a lot as well. Of course. It’s not good. I know, but and my family sometimes are not happy, but. At least, I feel that I’m not burning out, but just, I like to work more.

So there are people who can work more and they easily 10, 11, 12 hours per day, and that’s fine. And they recharge during the weekend, for example and there are people that the seven hours are limit and they, if they work more than seven hours per day, that’s there, like in few months there will be in chair with the psychologist or something. So we need to take this HR aspect as well and not only the data driven the data is something that shows and helps, but you need to have this human approach as well. To understand.

Yeah, of course. The data’s only part of the picture and if anything, only with diagnosis.

So basically what you’re saying is that if there’s changes over time, that are concerning, that would be how you’d figure it out from what you see there.

Yeah. That’s one of the options, for example. Okay.

Yeah. I’m asking partially both from a, how do you look at a person, but also if you can see whether it spreads to teams cuz A an old episode of of this podcast actually talked with a guy named Jules Turner, where he was saying that quite often, if there is burnout it’s not just the one person it’s often somewhat systemic, at least at the team level, if not even further, potentially. Would you be able to see a whole team kind of drifting in a bad direction? Or is that not something that you would expect to see in in, in data that you’re collecting?

No, definitely. I think it’s possible to see actually we have a personal experience with that in our team as well.

We were so focused and wanted to finish one of the features we related earlier this year. So we saw an increase of hours working. We saw an increase of meetings and and then talking to those people, it was clearly understandable that they are in stress that they want to finish as well.

They feel that management is asking and wanting to finish in time and That’s clearly saw was possible to see from data. The 10 times are changing the different times and also talking to those people, seeing them in the office. Getting feedback it approved, this is not going too good.

It’s yeah. So yeah, definitely. It’s possible and it was team wise. Yeah, definitely. So it was a team wise not tell me the one person.

For managers in this kind of a situation, what’s worked for you, what kind of I guess advice would you give in terms of in terms of what to do in this kind of a situation?

No. Like the situation how to resolve that it’s quite easy. I think most important and is to see that something is going bad. Something is going wrong in in, in, in good timing. Because if you see that only in six months or once a year, when you do annual some kind of screening review.

Yeah. Or reviews or something it’s too late, but with help of data of time tracking and then everything we saw that. Like first month was okay. We saw that indication then the second month was that we see, it’s never, it’s not stopping that we need to talk over. So we did that in less than 60 days and not waiting for 360 days.

I think that’s the most important part, but how to deal with that then? Yeah. You need to take the what’s the situation. In our case, it was a development project. And the development team was that what was involved, how we just went through the deadlines, went through the expectations and everything and, or we do the MVP, what we need to do.

Changes on that, or we extend the deadlines or we change the scope in some other way. So there are different options and then need to look at specific case. But the most important when you see the problem to act right right away, basically when you diagnose it interest.

Interesting.

Interesting. So out of curiosity, when you have like entire companies using desk time is who’s typically the person that, that that kind of makes it happen within a client company?

Yeah that’s a good question. We just have renewed our personas, which is very, which are very important to understand who is your.

Client which, who is your buying person? And yeah, it’s still showing that we know our industries that mostly this can be used by it industries, different kind of companies in it, it sector marketing and advertising agencies are using a lot. And HR HR C. Who is that who initiates or buys is depending on the company size?

So if it’s a small company, then usually the whole company is using the tool for everyone to be equal. And that’s usually one of the top executives Who’s making that decision also testing together with the team and deciding. But if we are looking at the larger companies from hundred to thousand people companies, which are medium company, medium size big companies there are team leads who are looking for those.

So there is specifically maybe development team is the one who initiates that we would like, and we need the time management or project management or. Something then we are finding that and then offering, and then slowly upgrading to other teams in the company as well and growing like that. But so yeah the team leads and time to time, there are HR people which are like, I think yesterday or two days ago, I had the meeting with one company that their HR indicated that they would need to like time tracking something that because the executives didn’t know exactly what time, how much time and when their employees are working they’ve been, they’re giving a lot of flexibility to come less to their office and going home earlier and then working from home and, or.

To avoid the traffic and stuff like that. And then they said that, yeah, they just need the proof of work. That everything is fine, that everything is doing their project. And if they see that some kind of project is not going as smooth as it needed or was predicted, then they can take a look if the time spent on that project at all or something or less than planned or something. And those are the data that we can see with any like different kind of modern technologies. And I like the era we are living in that a lot of things can be done. And then with the help of technology, HR technologies, HR weeks tools for hiring that I appreciate the communication tools, the video calls, the webinar tools like great,

yeah. Yeah. And I’m curious how these implementations go from the point of view of the employees. What’s the typical way that it that it works when you do have a rollout and I guess at a team level or at a company level?

Yeah. Yeah, of course. That’s very important. That’s Depends if the executive or the team lead has talking with the team before decision of testing out tools.

And it’s very important to give the instructions to explain why we are doing that. What are the outcomes we are? We want to see and correctly implement with correct settings, because for, in our case we have a lot of features that like half of the teams are not using different details of how we spend our time and.

for them. It’s not needed. So for them, those who it’s not needed. So do the communication the right way that they understand that this will not U be used for us. This will be turned off and we will follow the projects the client time so we can bill correctly, or we can we can manage our proof of work or we can manage the clocking clock.

With a reason why it’s really needed and explaining that that, that is important. So we help as our side as well, of course, with with emails, with educational materials. But we can’t be next to that executive or team lead who decides to do that and put the words in, in their mouths.

Correct way. And explain, because this is yeah it’s like serious for it’s. Maybe it’s maybe easier for slack or any other tools that are clear that we are for communication. Although I know that’s Microsoft teams are used to also to see and follow the green light to your, that indicators.

Yeah. Your online or not. So that’s not the way it’s probably meant to use, but

slack has it too.

oh yeah, actually. Yeah. Yeah. And then, yeah. So for example, I have like different example of different company that is using a car GPS systems and they really are helping for people to automate their reports of fueling how much gas they use.

And and then kilometers miles they drive and stuff like that. They don’t need to write themselves anymore and then put their reports. Everything is. But of course it can be used as a car tracker as well, which is not good way to do that and which employees don’t like. So it’s very important to explain and educate how we will use and get the trust from employees, from the teams as well.

Of course.

Great. Thanks Tom. This has been a blast. Thank you for sharing all of your data and your insights and your wisdom with us.

And what’s the best place for people to, to visit, to find out more?

Definitely. If you are interested in data, was it best pen dot slash blog? That’s where we write and post our blogs. Of course we share everything and all the information and statistics in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn our CEO is actively active member of Forbes council.

So follow there as well, but all of the desk time. People, mostly I think are in LinkedIn and open to talk, open to connect. So me as well find me on LinkedIn and let’s get together. Let’s do some podcast webinars contents, data. Yeah. Happy to talk and then share.

Okay. Wonderful. Thanks Tom.

Great. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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