It’s the million-dollar question for business operators: how can you be sure that you are getting the most out of your people?
Thank goodness the old philosophy of treating employees like numbers is gone. We now have a much more fine-tuned understanding of how to boost productivity.
But what does this understanding consist of? What ideas can businesses put into practice to ensure that their operations are firing on all cylinders?
In this article, we tackle those questions directly.
It goes without saying that there is no single method to maximise productivity in business. We have to approach the issue on a number of fronts, working on separate initiatives that each contribute to a larger goal.
Here are some practical steps to take towards productivity growth.
It’s something of a hackneyed idea now that a business's most important assets are its people. In fact, 68% of HR managers recognise that employee well-being and mental health is their number one priority. But casting eyes around the modern commercial landscape, the practical solution is harder to find than the positive intention.
Through rigorous research, it’s now clear as day that businesses that focus on employee wellbeing are far more likely to be hitting their productivity targets. Well-being arises from a number of different dimensions, including employee physical health, work-related stress, and the general culture of a workplace.
It’s been estimated that poor workplace well-being costs the US economy $200 billion in healthcare costs. But this figure doesn’t even cover the money lost through productivity slumps arising from workers taking sick days or performing lower quality work because of physical and mental unwellness — not to mention the effect that poor employee well-being has on turnover rates.
Using a multi-pronged approach to employee well-being is best. Here are some concrete initiatives to focus on.
The Covid pandemic has cast a light on the importance of flexible work arrangements for workplace productivity. As workers switched to working from home in droves, it became very apparent that a good chunk of them found the flexibility of designing their own work arrangements to be beneficial.
This was for a variety of reasons: the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends, the ability to save time and money on the commute, optimising their productive hours, more flexibility to focus on exercise and other wellbeing activities during the workday, etc.
The verdict is in, offering flexible working arrangements equals greater well-being.
A business can’t make people healthier. To a large extent, employees need to use their own initiative to focus on their well-being. But employers can do a lot to encourage employees to focus on their health.
For example, employers can factor in exercise breaks into the workday or support initiatives for workplace yoga and meditation. Likewise, employers can choose to use ergonomic furniture designed to mitigate the health negatives of prolonged periods of sedentariness.
Another critical initiative for boosting workplace well-being is ensuring that employees are experiencing a sense of social fulfilment at work. This means encouraging employees to forge stronger interpersonal relationships with each other and with the business itself.
In practice, this looks like hosting regular social events (even a quick Monday team coffee catch-up can have a big impact) and putting inclusive policies in place. In a more general sense, workplace leaders should be actively fostering a positive work environment in day-to-day communications — the monthly Friday lunch doesn’t count for much if it’s in stark contrast to the kind of communication that happens on all the other days of the month.
If you’re a manager thinking about how to boost productivity, you also need to recognise that how you interact with employees on a day-to-day basis can have a huge impact on the quality and quantity of the work that they are producing.
A big part of it is the well-being we’ve already covered. Poor leadership styles are often the direct cause of employee anxiety.
But on the flip side, managers are also responsible for providing the structure of expectations, goals, and motivation that keep the productivity cogs well oiled.
Another notable efficiency breakdown for businesses is time wasted on redundant communication. In particular, the culture around meetings has grown out of control in recent decades, which is ironic because meetings are often called for the purpose of improving collaboration and related efficiency.
Research suggests that executives spend on average 23 hours per week in meetings, which is a huge jump from the ten-hour average of the 1960s.
To combat this, businesses can institute strict meeting policies such as maximum meeting lengths and maximum presentation times. Also, general expectations around cutting out the needless conversation before, during and after, meetings should be brought in.
But poor productivity also results from a heap of redundant written communication, such as overworked Slack channels and needlessly long email threads.
Once again, workplace policy can help here. It can be useful to limit communication channel usage, for example by setting expectations around using Slack forums or other workplace social media.
Another area where businesses often fall behind in the productivity stakes is inefficiency in team workflow. This means that the work that individual team members are doing is not properly coordinated and integrated with that of their colleagues.
Much of this comes down to poor communication, which can lead to employees not having clear ideas of what their tasks are. This can in turn lead to time wasted on unessential work or even wastage arising from employees doubling up on tasks.
A good way to get around this is to streamline team tasks using customised workflow software. By centralising communication around task allocation, employees not only have a clearer understanding of who is doing what, but they also benefit from having more concrete expectations and goals that they must work towards.
The other side of the coin of setting clearer expectations is that employers should be recognising when expectations are being met — and rewarding employees for it. On the one hand, rewarding good work reinforces expectations themselves, making employees more confident that what they are doing is right.
On the other hand, this also rewards contributions to a more positive work culture where everyone feels accepted and valued, and in which they really feel positively motivated to keep pushing themselves.
In summation, boosting productivity is all about taking a holistic approach to improve workplace culture, from Monday morning banter to hyper-efficient brainstorming and finding the healthy middle-ground of a productive and supportive environment.