A lot of teams are being asked to do more with less, and while it’s great to imagine a world where teams are ultra-efficient and can always take on anything that’s thrown at them, there’s still a limit to how much can be done at once. This is called your team’s bandwidth. Understanding this early is key so you can build boundaries around your team’s workload to keep team members focused and motivated and ensure they maintain a healthy work-life balance.
What is team bandwidth?
Your team’s bandwidth is essentially how many projects you can take on at once, and it’s measured by the total amount of time everyone has on any given day or week. For example, if your team is made up of two full-time employees and one part-time employee, you might have around 100 working hours in a week across your full team. This means you can’t take on projects that exceed a total of 100 hours and still expect to get them done within a week. In later sections, we’ll cover some tips for deciding what to do when you’ve hit your bandwidth capacity.
Why is team bandwidth important?
Knowing your capacity limits for taking on new projects helps your team stay focused and engaged. If you’re taking on too many projects and trying to squish them all into your limited bandwidth, you’ll risk rushing through work and increasing the odds of mistakes. You’ll also run the risk of overworking your employees if they feel they need to work additional hours to get projects to the finish line, which negatively impacts work-life balance.
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Signs there’s an issue with bandwidth
Luckily, there are a lot of ways for managers to keep an eye on their team’s workload and take a proactive approach to staying within the team’s bandwidth limits. Some things to keep an eye on include:
- How many hours employees are working. If they’re regularly working overtime, this may be a result of having too many things to do at once.
- Employees’ reactions to new projects. Signs of exasperation, anxiety, and even anger can all indicate that employees aren’t excited to do more work—possibly because they already have enough going on as it is.
- The quality of work produced. If work is consistently less than expected from all of your team members, it might be because they’re rushing through each task.
- Pushback with other teams. For employees that work collaboratively with other teams, you might find them pushing back on new requests more frequently or asking to prioritize existing work first.
How to successfully manage team bandwidth
1Determine your team’s workload
When looking at how much bandwidth your team has in the upcoming weeks, you’ll want to consider factors such as the skills the team has and the speed at which different members of the team can work. Team members who are onboarding might have less bandwidth as they’re slower to get projects done, but seasoned employees can usually take on more in less time. Employees with specialized skills can also work within their niche especially fast compared to those who are just learning that specific skill. Bandwidth also varies as your team changes size, or if team members take vacation and sick leave.
2Prioritize work based on urgency
Not every project that’s handed to your team needs to be dealt with right away. Actually, taking time to prioritize and recognize projects that aren’t urgent is one of the best ways to make efficient use of your time! If you’re working with another team, ask them for context around why the project request is being made and an ideal deadline for completion. This will help you with measuring the priority level.
If you’re using a project management tool to track incoming projects, try marking each item with the priority level. This will communicate urgency to other members of the team and can help them manage their workloads as well.
Because team members have different experiences and skill sets, some people will be better equipped to take on specific projects than others. For example, a senior developer with a lot of coding experience would make a good fit for a complex project that has a lot of customer interaction. Conversely, a junior developer might make a better fit for writing new features.
When allocating resources effectively, you’ll also want to consider if multiple team members need to work on a project together. In some cases, you might also just need a senior member to review and oversee a junior’s work. So even though the senior is not conducting the task, some of their bandwidth is still being used for supervision.
4Schedule regular check-ins
As a manager, it can be easy to lose sight of how much work your employees have taken on. Scheduling recurring one-on-one meetings is a great way to see how your team members are feeling, set goals, and help them re-prioritize tasks if needed. To make the most out of your meeting, you can leverage a meeting management tool like Fellow for both you and your direct report to build a meeting agenda, document meeting notes, and determine action items for after the call. Fellow also offers 500+ free meeting agenda templates, including 1:1 check-in templates!
Keeping up to date with project progress is a great way to see if employees have balanced workloads. If employees are frequently missing goals, it might be because they have unclear expectations, there’s a blocker for the project, or there’s not enough time. And it’s tricky to mentally keep tabs on how projects are changing or progressing in the long term, so instead of manually or mentally tracking this, use something like Fellow to track objectives and key results (OKRs). You’ll be able to go back to previous meetings and see the agenda, notes, and action items, as well as any documentation like status reports that were uploaded at the time.
6Ask for feedback
There may be some really clear reasons your team is struggling with their projects, and these issues can be hard to see from a manager’s perspective. Try making it a habit to frequently collect feedback from your team members, since have the best insights into how manageable the workload is or where bandwidth issues are occurring. With Fellow, your team can share real-time feedback on meetings, projects, and performance. As a bonus, you can even collect feedback anonymously after each meeting if that helps encourage your direct reports to submit their insights!
7Leverage work management tools
There are a ton of great task management tools out there, like Fellow, that can provide data on employee performance and workloads. Better yet, you can also use them to make more efficient use of the bandwidth you already have available. For example, you can automate administrative meeting tasks such as setting up calendar invites, or you can measure how much time it takes you to complete a task so you have an accurate benchmark when budgeting time in the future.
8Encourage work-life balance
A high degree of work-life balance is proven to be tied to an employee’s success. While remote working has made the work-life balance better in some cases—as employees no longer need to commute, for instance—having work devices around the house can also make your team members feel like they have less balance, too. Here are a few things managers can do to support work-life balance for their team:
- Set clearly defined working hours and try only to conduct work during these hours.
- Avoid sending communications to personal emails and devices.
- Allow parents to attend their children’s appointments and school events.
- Allow employees to take their lunches and breaks during the day.
- Encourage employees to put work devices away from plain sight after hours, if possible.
9Establish clear communication channels
You may not be aware of overextended employees if they don’t have a good way to get in contact with you. Clear communication channels should be always available for employees to ask any questions or concerns, and these channels should also be easy to access. For example, a lot of companies rely on email and Slack channels, which work great for employees that are online for most of the day. If your employees aren’t online, consider something like phone or radio systems to communicate. Whichever channel you choose, make sure that all of your team members and peers are aware of this channel so they can use it as needed.
Effectively managing team bandwidth is important to make sure your team understands what to work on and how to manage competing priorities, and ensures that they have well-balanced lives. Mitigating stress in the workplace and getting in some time for relaxation after work will help your team feel in control, confident, and proud of their work, too. In turn, you’ll retain your employees for a long time!