Workplace productivity is vital to your business. Improving it can grow your business and increase its profitability.
When we talk about workplace productivity we’re really talking about employee productivity. Your employees are your company’s backbone and therefore it’s your staff that your business’s success depends on.
So how do you help your employees become more productive?
1. Consider cultural fit when hiring
Your company’s culture can include its values, ethics, expectations and goals. All these attributes come together to define the work environment in which your employees work.
Most organisations with a clear company culture will consider the “cultural fit” to be important when hiring new staff. Hiring for cultural fit – and also thinking about how your new employees will shape your company culture in the future – can bring many benefits that will increase productivity.
Research has shown that staff who are in tune with how your organisation operates will be able to hit the ground running, will be more engaged, will communicate more effectively with team members and will stick around longer. This in turn leads to increased performance and productivity.
Jouko van Aggelen, Managing Consultant at Cubiks says:
Culture-driven organisations have proven to be highly successful; employees feel connected, unwanted turnover decreases and productivity increases. Organisations with a strong culture are often agile and innovative, and benefit from having employees who actively embrace the values and goals of the organisation.
2. Communicate clearly
Communication is essential in improving productivity and encouraging the development of strong working relationships.
Good communication mitigates conflict, increases employee engagement and allows you to build better relationships with external stakeholders.
Encouraging positive, open communication at every level of the business will significantly improve the effectiveness of your organisation as a whole.
Some ways you can begin to improve communication in your business include:
- encouraging employees to ask questions and share opinions to increase engagement;
- practising positive reinforcement by telling people what they’re doing right;
- offering comprehensive, constructive feedback that can be acted on to make improvements;
- using software that will improve communication and collaboration, such as Google Hangouts Chat, Slack, Zoho Cliq and Flock; and
- organising team building activities to increase engagement and build positive working relationships.
Poor communication can lead to confusion, a lack of purpose and an absence of accountability. All of these problems result in mistakes being made and goals not being achieved.
A business that communicates well is one that can perform well.
3. Practice positive reinforcement
It shouldn’t be too difficult to find something nice to say.
By focusing less on what people are getting wrong and more on what they’re doing right, you can increase workforce morale and foster a more positive working environment.
Happier employees are engaged employees. They’re keen to come to work, are motivated to succeed and are confident that they’ll be able to achieve their personal goals.
With motivation and confidence comes improved productivity, increasing the likelihood that your organisation’s goals will be accomplished.
While of course there are times that mistakes will have to be addressed and undesirable behaviours eliminated, it’s important that your staff aren’t fearful. Fear robs people of their potential, stops them from developing and likely results in them compounding their mistakes.
A negative working environment will impact the physical and psychological health of your staff, will increase staff turnover and will ultimately cost you time and money.
4. Empower your workforce
Many business leaders and managers are challenged by the idea that managing less will lead to better results, but the science supports this assertion.
Empowerment isn’t just about delegating tasks, it’s about delegating responsibility and ensuring that your staff feel that they’re contributing fundamentally to the success of your organisation.
To achieve this you should listen to your team members, discover their qualities and get to understand their potential. Support them as they build partnerships with their co-workers and then trust that these collaborations will deliver results.
Trust is key to the empowerment of a workforce and works both ways: while your staff trust you to make business decisions that will positively impact them, if you value their judgement they’ll gain confidence and perform better. By stepping back you’re showing your employees that you have faith in their ability to drive your company forward.
To empower your employees is to give them the opportunity to grow and thrive under your leadership.
5. Develop your staff
Staff development is key to attracting new staff, retaining existing staff, improving employee wellbeing and increasing the operational effectiveness of your workforce.
If you’re able to put in place a development programme that matches your employees’ ambitions, they’ll feel valued, will have greater job satisfaction and are likely to stay with your organisation longer. They’ll also learn new skills and acquire new knowledge that they can use to help you grow your company.
A concern many business leaders have is that they’ll end up paying to develop someone who then goes on to leave the business. And that may happen, but this cost is offset by the value of many more employees becoming increasingly engaged, ready to step into senior roles while encouraging the development of those who follow them.
As advocates for the company and for your leadership, the contribution of these highly engaged employees to the culture of your company will be invaluable.
6. Prioritise employee wellbeing
We wrote in a recent blog post that a total of 15.4 million working days have been lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety (2017/18 Labour Force Survey).
It’s clear that a staff member off sick can’t be a productive one, but it’s also true that a stressed employee who manages to get to work will be significantly less productive than a happy employee.
As an employer it’s absolutely critical that you encourage your staff to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing. There are many ways you can do this but the most important is to raise awareness of mental health issues, perhaps by holding activities in the workplace. This will help destigmatise mental ill-health and encourage your staff to talk about issues they may be experiencing.
Staff members would also benefit from being able to set their own personal boundaries, as the feeling of being overburdened is considered the most significant driver of stress at work. Striking a balance between meeting both the demands of your business and the capabilities of your staff can go a long way to protecting the mental wellbeing of your employees.
Of course wellbeing covers more than just mental health, with poor physical health also contributing to a lack of productivity in the workplace. While not all health conditions can be improved, a work environment where support is available to those who are physically unwell is more welcoming, and your workforce in general is likely to be more productive where that support is in place.
Measures that could improve workers’ physical health include the provision of free fruit, cycle to work schemes and encouraging staff to have standing meetings or take regular screen breaks, as being chair-bound for several hours can take its toll on our bodies.
7. Be flexible
People now demand flexibility in their working hours and business leaders are beginning to recognise these changes as an opportunity to increase productivity.
For example, many employees may feel they work more effectively at certain times of the day. So depending on the restrictions of their role, would it be such a bad idea to have them work when they’re at their most productive?
Other employees will have daily schedules so busy that committing to a 9-5 feels like a near impossible task.
We’ve already spoken about employee wellbeing, and a member of staff arriving at work stressed having rushed from the school run probably isn’t going to be capable of delivering their best work. Are the demands of your business such that your employee’s taxing home life can’t be accommodated?
It may be a good idea to offer your staff the opportunity to set boundaries: guidelines, rules or limits that will help you understand what you can and can’t expect of them.
If an employee tells you categorically that they can’t work in the evenings, to then compel them to do so would undoubtedly impact their wellbeing and their level of engagement at work. An employee forced to work unsociable hours may keep turning in – but their performance will likely suffer to such an extent that it makes no sense to adopt this approach.
One of the biggest changes to the office landscape is remote working. Remote workers take less sick leave, work longer hours, waste less time commuting and are more engaged overall. Well that’s according to Gallup – and it must be true because more organisations are doing it and seeing corresponding increases in productivity.
Offering flexibility to your staff is to also offer them your trust, and a staff member who feels trusted is one who feels empowered.
8. Set realistic goals
We’ve heard how the most significant cause of workplace stress is high workloads and unrealistic deadlines, but the answer is simple.
Set goals that are achievable.
There’s no quicker way to disengage with your employees than to keep telling them they didn’t do enough.
By all means set ambitious targets and have your staff strive for continual improvement, but it’s remarkable how many business leaders still believe setting unattainable goals will get results.
In fact, setting unattainable goals leads to workforce despondency, poor employee wellbeing, high staff turnover and ultimately, poor performance.
9. Improve workplace conditions
If employee engagement is key, it’s important you do what you can to ensure your staff feel looked after in their work environment.
This can be a difficult area as there can be significant cost implications if your building isn’t up to scratch, but things can be improved even on limited budgets.
Aspects of the work environment your staff probably worry about include:
- natural light;
- temperature and humidity;
- workstation ergonomics; and
- common areas and facilities.
Adding windows to a building isn’t usually an option but the quality of artificial light can vary. If yours is no good you should prioritise its replacement.
Temperature in the workplace is a real minefield but 22°C (71.6°F) and 40-60% humidity should ensure your workforce is comfortable.
Poor quality seating is something frequently complained about in the workplace – and with good reason, as office workers can spend in excess of seven hours sat in their chair each day. Trial new chairs before committing to fitting out the whole office.
As an employer you must protect your staff from the health risks of using display screen equipment. Carrying out display screen risk assessments is a requirement under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations.
Are common areas and facilities well-equipped and clean? There’s nothing like neglected communal areas and toilets to suggest that an employer is failing to prioritise employee wellbeing.
10. Provide quiet spaces
Open-plan offices are intended to increase collaboration, encourage the development of positive relationships between team members and lessen the chance of disconnect between workers and their managers. That all sounds great in theory, but open-plan can kill productivity.
We’ve all sat a couple desks away from the incessant talker, the phone shouter or the colleague who eats fish pie at their desk. Nobody could argue that working in close proximity to this sort of distraction is good for productivity.
Fortunately it’s not necessary to completely reconfigure your office to deal with this problem.
Offering quiet spaces to your staff allows them the opportunity to get away from distractions and focus on the task at hand. These spaces could be existing meeting or common rooms, or if you’re really struggling for space you could even let your staff leave the building to find a spot where they can get stuck into their work without frequent interruptions. The din of a cafe may actually be better for a workers’ concentration than the interactions that take place in the office environment, and interruptions are much less likely.
If none of the above is possible then relaxing your policy on headphones can be a reasonable compromise, as noise cancelling headphones may aid concentration and discourage interruptions.
11. Give your staff the tools they need
It’s clear that your employees’ skills are key to their contribution to your business’s success, but to use those skills effectively you need to provide them with the right tools.
This doesn’t just apply to software but also to any equipment your workforce uses daily, from computer hardware through to machinery used in an engineering context, for example. But we’ll address the office environment specifically as this is one area where software can contribute to huge productivity gains.
The adoption of cloud computing productivity tools such as G Suite would allow you to conduct almost all aspects of communication and project management using a single platform.
BaseCamp, Trello and ToDoist are other examples that organisation’s have been able to use to manage complex projects across several teams.
Paper-based processes can be a huge time sink and for every process there will probably be software or even an automated solution that could free up resources. The management of HSE processes, for example, can be streamlined through the use of software designed specifically for this purpose.
It’s important to remember that technology isn’t a panacea for all productivity ills. Applications should be considered carefully as it’s not uncommon for companies to misjudge costs and overlook key functionality. But when implemented effectively, software has the power to help transform your business’s productivity.
12. Have less meetings
Meetings can bring productivity to a halt so it’s perhaps surprising that organisations have so many.
A 2018 survey of 2000 employees in the UK, Germany and France found that the average staff member spends 187 hours – the equivalent of 23 days – in meetings. 56% of those meetings were considered unproductive by attendees and 66% of employees admitted they made excuses not to attend meetings.
Managers often feel compelled to invite all and sundry to meetings to ensure their staff feel engaged, but in fact 59% of staff feel less engaged due to the number of meetings they’re forced to attend.
It may be worth risking someone feeling left out to increase engagement with the half dozen people sat in a conference room feeling anxious about the work the meeting is keeping them from.
There are a number of pretty straightforward solutions to this problem and as the meeting convener it’s your responsibility to implement them:
- Can you accomplish the same by email, phone or via a web-based meeting?
- Will all the attendees be asked to contribute and if not, are you sure they need to hear what’s said?
- If it’s a scheduled meeting are you sure enough has changed since the last meeting to make it worthwhile?
- Is this another meeting for meeting’s sake?
Standing meetings may be the way to go as people feel a sense of urgency to conclude them quickly – who wants to be stood around for two hours? There’s also the health benefits of getting people out of their chairs, albeit it’s important to be sensitive where team members have physical disabilities that could exclude them from such meetings.
13. Measure productivity
If you’re reading this it’s probably because you think your business could be more productive.
But how much more productive?
How productive is your organisation right now?
When looking to improve productivity, it’s important to begin measuring it.
Time tracking apps can be used to effectively assign tasks, record activity and measure workplace efficiency.
While they allow you to squeeze more out of each work day, the insight they provide means you don’t have to squeeze individual staff members, ensuring their wellbeing and continued engagement.
That said, employees don’t always respond well to the introduction of time management software. They can see it as invasive and where someone doesn’t want to be micromanaged by people, they may be no more welcoming to micromanagement by software. Fortunately many of the applications available provide different levels of oversight, allowing you to customise the solution to suit your workforce.
Once implemented, attitudes are likely to change as people recognise the software helps them focus on what they want to achieve.
Get started to see your business’s productivity soar
It won’t cost the earth or cause too much upheaval to begin implementing some of the methods above right away.
The important thing is to understand the relationship between business productivity and a happy, motivated workforce.
Get proactive about engagement.
Begin to foster good feeling in the workplace.
Build trust between colleagues at all levels and watch powerful collaborations develop.
Your employees will thank you for it and your organisation will soon see the benefits of that appreciation.