Are you having a difficult time delegating work to your team? You’re not alone. As a leader, you have the huge responsibility of keeping your team members focused, productive, and on track. You also have to make sure that your team’s workload is divided fairly. Organizing and productivity expert, Julie Morgenstern, put it best: “If you overwork your high performers, you will lose them because they start to resent the fact that they’re doing more.” Balancing your team’s workload is no easy task and we’re here to help you effectively manage it.
Workload management is the process of efficiently distributing and managing work across your team. When successfully done, workload management maximizes employee performance and helps melt away chaos, leaving you and your team feeling satisfied at the end of each day rather than overwhelmed. Team members will feel confident about their work volume and deliver higher quality work at a faster pace.
Recent research shows that 80% of global knowledge workers report feeling overworked and close to burnout. Further, four out of five (82%) of employees say they feel less engaged at work when they’re stressed. Workload management enables you to distribute work across your team more effectively, to not only reduce burnout for stressed employees, but prevent them from feeling overworked in the first place. Workload management tools provide real-time insight into the tasks your team has on their plate, so you can manage your team workload effectively and promote balance, not burnout.
If you haven’t given much thought to workload management, you’re not alone; the International Institute of Directors and Managers reports that few people are actually trained in this much-needed skill.
The good news is there are tools that can help you keep everyone and everything moving forward simultaneously (see item five below). But in order for a tool to really help you manage your team members’ workloads, you’ll need to make sure some other skills are in prime shape. Put these five steps into action so you can successfully manage your team’s workload.
With your team’s work scattered among multiple different project briefs, plans, and tools, it’s hard to understand just how much total work you all need to tackle. Having that knowledge is key to figuring out how much each team member is doing or what they can take on. You can get past that and figure out what your team’s workload actually is by getting your plans in order:
Knowing how much work you need to tackle is only one half of the equation, though. You’ll also have to know how much bandwidth your team and each individual has. Once you’ve taken into account meetings, vacations, and recurring responsibilities, how much does each team member have left to devote to these projects? Assess each team member’s workload, or ask them to do so for you, to get a sense of what else they can take on.
Your analytics team has to produce nine different reports in Q2. It’s a mix of net new reports, that will take longer to build, and repeatable ones they already have systems set up for. Before you start assigning them out to individual team members, get an understanding of timing (when does each have to be delivered by), importance (what work is this blocking?), and the amount of time you expect it to take to create each.
Based on this research, you now know how much additional work your analytics team is responsible for. You may have even discovered that it’s too much for your small team’s bandwidth, but knowing that some of the reports are low-priority, can smartly defer less important requests in favor of more impactful ones.
The best way to manage team workload is to get started with a work management tool. Tracking down all of the work your team is doing and how much capacity they have is hard enough—but you also need a way to store, access, and regularly update this information so you can manage your team’s workload moving forward. Look for a tool that serves as a central source of truth not only for work management but also workload management—that way you can track your team’s work, and their workload, in the same place. At Asana, we (naturally) think Asana is a pretty great way to get started with workload management.
Now that you have an overview of everything your team needs to do, you can now figure out who will be working on what and when. And while assigning out the individual pieces of work may sound straightforward, as the sage folks at the Harvard Business Review report have pointed out, it can actually be quite complicated.
Here are five things you, as the team’s leader, can do to keep everyone’s workloads balanced and manageable:
You need two people to work on ad designs for an upcoming campaign, and have five people on your team. You could assign the work randomly, but you’ll get better results if you look at team members backgrounds’ (e.g., have they worked on previous campaigns before?), check for any team members who may already be overloaded, then ask your top picks if they feel they have the capacity to take on this new project.
Workload planning isn’t always as smooth as we’d like it to be. Sometimes the team members who are best suited for a project are already busy with another, equally high-priority initiative. Sometimes, your entire team is in crunch mode, and it’s hard to imagine adding more work to their plates. While there may not always be a perfect answer, knowing your team’s workload in advance can help you anticipate these resourcing problems and address them before they hit.
For example, if you know there’s an upcoming, high-priority deliverable with a short turnaround time, can you shift lower priority work earlier or later in the month? When you have a window into your team’s bandwidth, you’re better equipped to help them manage their workload—both in the near- and long-term.
Even the best-laid plans and project timelines hit roadblocks, and you’ll need to be prepared to make adjustments in real time before deadlines are missed.
To track how each team member is managing their current workloads, be proactive by setting a regular 1-1 check-in with your team members for updates. If those check-ins reveal that a team member feels overloaded with responsibilities, check to see who might be able to take on something else.
When you reassign tasks or projects, be sure to communicate with your team about the changes so they understand why they’re now being pulled in a different direction. Consider coaching opportunities to help them become more efficient and organized and always recognize your team members’ hard work.
You’ve noticed that two of your account managers are staying late night after night, and another one is emailing you in the wee hours of the morning. This could be a sign they’re overloaded. Schedule check-ins with each person on your team to see where they stand with their work; offer to shift or defer responsibilities if needed, and provide coaching to anyone who reveals a need. If you don’t already, schedule a regular check-ins for each team member going forward to avoid similar problems cropping up in the future.
In addition to 1-1 check-ins, make sure to save time for team-wide moments of connection and celebration. Whether your team is in the office, distributed, or remote, it’s important to have face time and connect. Depending on the size of your team, consider planning a weekly stand up meeting, a biweekly happy hour, or a larger monthly gathering.
While you’re mainly focused on the big picture, encourage your team to develop their own system to manage their workload. When there’s a lot to do, it’s important that they’re doing the right things, efficiently.
One of your direct reports always turns in their work early, and through conversations you learn that they have been using some new strategies to work more efficiently. Encourage that person to share their experience with the team, and consider creating a shared space where team members can post time-saving tips as they come across them.
If you don’t already, make sure everyone on your team is using the same work management tool so they have clarity on who’s doing what by when. Your work management tool should also easily integrate with your favorite business tools, so your team spends less time switching between apps and digging through spreadsheets, and more time on their high-impact work. And of course, look for a work management tool that has a built-in workload management component, so you can track team workload right where work happens.
Imagine being able to see everything that’s going on with every project and every team member in one single location. Talk about saving time. Using a work or project management tool does just that.
When you adopt a work management tool, every team member is able to see how their work feeds into larger team and company initiatives. Communication happens within tasks, so finding the information you need takes five seconds instead of five minutes. Timelines keep everyone on track because projects can be viewed individually or together.
You’ve loaded all the tasks and steps of your production schedule into a workload management tool, and work is moving smoothly. Because all team members have a view of the status and where they fit in the process, you’re able to avoid conflicts and save time.
The best work management tool is one your entire team is using. But it’s important to set team conventions and best practices for using your tool. Not only will that make it easier for your team to adopt your new tool, but it’ll also reduce the barrier to entry, because your team won’t have to worry that they’re using the tool “incorrectly.” Your work management tool should have a how-to guide and videos to help you get started—set some time aside to go through those with your team and establish shared conventions.
Are you feeling empowered to improve your time and workload management skills? Remember, workload management is all about efficiently assigning work, managing those tasks, and updating stakeholders on your projects. The tips we’ve outlined above, combined with a work management tool like Asana, can help you sort through conflicting deadlines and priorities to manage your team’s heavy workload.
An introduction to work management
See how a work management tool helps teams easily connect and collaborate, enabling everyone to achieve more, together—even in an increasingly distributed world.