Most small businesses can’t afford to throw money at productivity problems. Besides, this doesn’t actually work. The best way to improve productivity is to develop and implement small, consistent improvements which make your employees and processes more efficient.
Improved productivity almost always results in increased profits for a business, especially if you don’t have to spend much to achieve it. It also improves morale and wellbeing amongst your workforce. If your employees feel empowered to be productive without being overworked, they will feel positive about their jobs and experience less stress. This is how you attract and retain great talent.
Workplace productivity is affected by a variety of factors. If your business is just starting to focus on productivity, you might want to start with the following strategies.
1. Reduce distractions
Many employers say that remote working, especially in the wake of an enormously stressful event like COVID-19, could result in a net loss in productivity. However, working in an office also comes with its own set of distractions. A typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes and takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus following an interruption.
Smartphones and social media are two of the biggest distractions. The average American looks at their phone more than 50 times a day. All of these interruptions, and the recovery periods needed to regain focus, add up to an enormous amount of wasted time. Consider requiring phones to be switched to silent or “do not disturb” mode during the workday, or asking employees to use them only for short periods.
Background noise is also hugely distracting. This is one reason why open plan offices contribute to reduced productivity. In addition, if you have people in customer-facing roles, they will have a hard time communicating with their customers in a noisy environment. Relocate your employees to a quieter area, require them to use earphones instead of phone speakers, or ask that off-topic chat be kept to a minimum outside of the break-room.
2. Equip your employees with the tools they need
You may have hired the best people around, but they won’t be able to do their jobs well if they don’t have the resources they need. There is nothing more frustrating than struggling to do your job on equipment which is outdated, under-powered, or just not up to the task.
This is particularly important when it comes to IT equipment. Substandard tech can mean hours of productive work lost to malfunctioning computers, lost files, and slow systems.
To enable your employees to do their jobs well, give them the best equipment you can afford. You’ll recover the larger initial investment in the form of higher productivity and quicker completion of deliverables.
3. Make improvements to your office
Issues with workplace conditions contribute to lowered productivity. A leaky ceiling, for example, is more than just an eyesore. It’s also a source of noise which, if left unfixed, can result in injuries.
Temperature is also important. Your employees should not be left shivering in the winter or sweating in the summer.
If your office is next to a busy street, consider installing sound-absorbing materials. This will help keep the noise at a manageable level and reduce noise-related distractions.
Adding office wall murals can also boost productivity. A chalkboard or whiteboard wall gives your employees a space for writing their thoughts, while an inspiring mantra will remind them why their work matters.
An unsafe or uncomfortable working environment could cost your organization thousands of dollars in workplace injury claims and lost productivity. It also exhibits a lack of concern for employee wellbeing, which reduces morale.
4. Reduce the need to send emails
Everyone hates sending an email and then having to follow up with the recipient to ask if they’ve received the message. Chasing up an email on the phone, by sending another email, through an instant messaging platform eats up valuable time. Using a tool made for email tracking that can automatically send reminder emails, is a big time saver.
If you want to reduce your organization’s dependence on emails, try switching to collaboration tools such as Google Suite, Office 365, or Slack. These don’t just make transferring files faster; they also let multiple people work on documents simultaneously, reducing back-and-forth and ending up with different versions of the same file.
5. Set realistic, achievable goals
Many managers struggle to monitor how their employees are performing. Part of this problem is not knowing how to set appropriate goals.
Adopting a framework such as SMART (which states that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive) or OKR (Objectives and Key Results) will help you and your employees agree on a common goal. This helps with productivity and accountability as everyone is aware of their goals.
Using the OKR framework is as simple as gathering your team in front of a whiteboard to share concise goals. Objectives should be short, memorable, and inspiring. Key results are specific and generally quantifiable, such as “reduce customer returns to just 5%” or “increase referral rate to 15%”.
Both objectives and key results tell you what you and your team want to achieve, not how you will achieve them. They give you something to aim for, and a framework around which to develop your policies.
6. Don’t hesitate to delegate
If you’re used to doing a task, delegating it might seem counter-intuitive. Surely it would be quicker to just do it yourself rather than teach someone else how? However, delegation serves two key purposes:
- It lessens your workload in the long term. If you’re always trying to multitask, it might be because you’re doing tasks that another person could do just as well. Delegating these will free you up to do the more important things more effectively.
- It improves employee morale. Trust is one of the most important currencies you can use in the workplace. Delegating tasks to another employee, especially one of your direct reports, is a sign that you trust them enough to do the job well. This makes people feel good and makes them want to do a great job!
The sooner you start delegating, the sooner you can see your organization’s productivity levels rise. Delegating is also a way to identify potential leaders within your team. If your delegation experiment doesn’t work at first, try offering further training or assigning tasks to someone else until you find the right person for the job.
7. Instill a culture of efficiency
Take a long, hard look at the way your business is operating. Never be afraid of the possibility that you might have to change the way you and your team work.
First, identify the activities that take the longest. Break these down into smaller pieces to see what’s slowing them down. Next, work with your employees to brainstorm other ways of doing things, such as removing unnecessary steps that don’t add any value.
This is also a good time to ask staff members to come up with lists of priorities. Most likely, there will be employees who will claim that all of their projects are urgent. There are three possibilities for this:
- The current method of assigning tasks is not working.
- Your team and/or clients need to recalibrate what constitutes “urgent”.
- Your team might be compensating for flaws elsewhere in the organization.
Asking each of your team members to list their tasks and deadlines will ensure that priority jobs are done first and finished on time. In the meantime, while your team takes care of the tasks assigned to them, you can work with clients and other stakeholders to deal with the other issues listed above, if necessary.
Boosting your productivity is an ongoing process
Focusing on productivity should not stop when you have met your short-term goals. You must commit to continuously improving your processes and learning new skills if you want your business to stay ahead of the curve.
While many organizations implement productivity improvement measures from the top-down, involving employees in every phase of these initiatives is a better approach. This way they are more invested, can raise any concerns and will be better able to identify what is working – and what isn’t.
Improving workplace productivity also doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient! It takes time for a culture of continuous improvement to catch on. But once everyone has embraced this attitude, you’ll be seeing productivity levels rise consistently, and stay high.