In the dynamic world of project management, teams are the engine of productivity. But too often, their energy and expertise are drained by Gray Work - a series of menial tasks and inefficient processes that block the path to meaningful work. In fact, our internal research shows that nearly 60% of respondents spend less than 20 hours per week on meaningful work that drives results for key projects.
Whether they’re hunting down fragmented information from different sources, juggling clunky and disconnected tools, or being trapped in an administrative maze, this Gray Work can easily overshadow the truly meaningful elements of your team’s roles.
Meaningful work is not a utopian ideal. It's the foundation of engaged, motivated teams and an incentive for superior performance that drives change. It instills a sense of fulfillment and connection, making work more than just a boring routine. But while it’s not impossible, paving the way to meaningful work requires significant changes down to the most foundational levels of your organization so it can handle the dynamic work that is critical to success.
Meaningful work in complex projects
At a high-level, meaningful work is tied to using each individual’s and each department’s particular specialties and expertise to successfully complete projects – which for the larger organization means they’ll deliver it on time and on budget, so it benefits everyone.
In the context of complex, large-scale projects across industries like construction, education, and real estate, meaningful work can look like:
Working with teachers, parents, students, and administrators to understand needs in order to develop and implement a new curriculum at a district level;
Conducting comprehensive market research to ensure a real estate project meets the needs and desires of the target demographic;
Implementing adequate communication strategies between teams, stakeholders, subcontractors, and suppliers to ensure all parties of a real-estate project are on the same page.
4 Strategies to help leaders prioritize meaningful work
The molds under which many orgaizations still operate are effectively hindering leaders’ ability to put meaningful work front and center of large-scale projects. But the pursuit of meaning is possible through change in processes, tools, and culture.
1. Automate manual administrative tasks
How teams distribute their time doesn’t just influence how productive they are; it also impacts the nature of their work. If the bulk of their workday is spent on mundane, non-revenue generating tasks, there’s little time (and energy) left to dedicate to the tasks that actually drive meaning.
And yet, this seems to be the norm. According to our internal research, half of the industry leaders surveyed report spending at least 10 hours per week on administrative tasks like data entry, which provide little to no direct value to their roles, the organization, or its stakeholders. These tasks are often repetitive and don’t provide opportunities for the creative or strategic thinking that define meaningful work to take center stage. As a consequence, employees are left feeling disconnected from their roles, underutilized, and disengaged.
If you want to reorient your team towards more meaningful work, automation needs a seat at the table. Automation liberates teams from the time-consuming, non-value-add duties that detract from their core responsibilities, and frees them up to focus on the work that aligns with their skills and contributes to the overarching business goals.
With tedious tasks automated, your team can devote their time and talent to solving complex problems, coming up with strategic initiatives, and pursuing innovative ideas – in short, the kind of work that brings personal satisfaction, offers a more fulfilling work experience, and pushes the organization forward.
2. Centralize data, processes and workflows
Information overload encumbers lives and workplaces. Data is everywhere, and there’s so much of it that teams often struggle to find it, especially when they need it the most. But the ability to do just that – access the right data at the right time – is essential to make informed decisions and implement strategic action.
Too often, data, processes, and workflows are sprawled across multiple disconnected platforms, creating a complex labyrinth that team members must navigate to find the information they need. Our research reveals more than half (53.38%) of respondents report spending over 10 hours per week chasing information from different people and systems.
This chaotic approach to information management is what we call gray work. And gray work not only wastes precious time but also fractures your team's focus, moving attention away from meaningful work instead of toward it. Centralizing data, processes, and workflows is thus a powerful solution to this challenge, with compelling implications for the promotion of meaningful work.
By keeping all necessary data in a unified, easy-to-access platform, your team significantly reduces the time spent hunting down information. The streamlined access to data promotes quicker, more informed decision-making, reducing project cycle time and freeing team members to engage more deeply and wholly in their work.
Centralization also adds a layer of consistency and transparency to processes and workflows. When everyone works from the same source, teams collaborate better. Tasks are completed correctly and on time, and everyone has a clear understanding of their individual roles within the larger project context. This, in turn, infuses work with a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
3. Tap into the full potential of a tech-savvy workforce
IT departments are no longer the gatekeepers of technological proficiency. Today’s workforce is tech-savvy, and many of the newcomers waltzing into their first jobs grew up surrounded and unfazed by the technology that their predecessors found challenging.
Despite this, many organizations still insist on keeping technology initiatives confined to their IT teams, shunning the broader potential of their workforce. This both restricts the flow and speed of innovation and misses out on opportunities for creative contributions that imbue meaning into the overall team’s work and enriches their roles. It also puts the burden entirely on one department, keeping them from contributing to other impactful projects.
To tap into your workforce’s full potential, you must break away from a siloed approach and instead encourage every individual to partake in the development of tech solutions by:
Involving everyone from the start so they can identify problems and think about potential solutions together, whether it’s through brainstorming sessions, workshops, or dedicated sessions built into their workdays;
Promoting and encouraging collaboration so everyone feels empowered to voice their opinion and effectively contribute to developing solutions;
Celebrating contributions to reinforce the value of everyone’s involvement and make them feel like their input holds meaning.
4. Foster connections
It’s important for project leaders to both remember and remind their teams that the lifeblood of any project isn't in the tasks performed but in the people performing them. Meaningful work thrives on human connections, on the realization that your work impacts others, and in the relationships that bring a sense of purpose to your professional life.
A McKinsey article discussing meaningful work brings this exact concept forward. The authors write how “providing opportunities for your team members to connect with others, be it customers, other teams, members of the community, or each other, is key to creating touchpoints for meaningful experiences.”
These opportunities can take many forms – they can be tools that encourage internal collaboration, mentoring programs, or initiatives that allow team members to be in contact with clients and other external stakeholders.
When team members see their work as a vehicle for creating value for others, it gains more significance. Knowing that their efforts contribute to a broader goal, benefit a customer, or support a teammate breathes purpose into their tasks. Plus, fostering connections promotes a culture of collaboration that encourages knowledge sharing, mutual support, and cross-functional collaboration – all crucial elements of large-scale project success.
Quickbase: The breakthrough platform that promotes meaningful work
Quickbase is committed to helping leaders of large-scale projects shift their team’s attention back to what matters, away from meaningless tasks toward meaningful work that enriches their lives and the lives of others.
In Paterson New Jersey, Quickbase is streamlining processes around helping fight the scourge of opioid addiction. Something many families across the region deal with every single day. Paterson developed a pilot project with Quickbase to handle the full process of prescribing Suboxone, a prescription medicine that treats opioid addiction. Paterson is using Quickbase to manage a network of call centers for telehealth, facilitating patient-provider interactions, managing insurance, and routing medicine to the right place. Instead of information bouncing between doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacies, these moving parts are all centralized and streamlined - saving valuable time for this vulnerable group. This work won Paterson won a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, recognized as a solution that could scale to solve the nationwide problem of opioid addiction.