Productivity gauges how well you’re taking advantage of your resources to produce marketable outcomes. It’s a measure of how efficiently companies make use of their assets, including people. Increasing productivity can be a game changer.
Usually an underutilized growth strategy, productivity is essential for organizations to stay competitive and profitable, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, according to a Pew Research study, exacerbated poverty and stalled global middle-class growth. It also brought widespread economic disruption, as many businesses closed and unemployment surged to Great Depression levels, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Productivity improvement strategies you can implement today
If there’s anything history has taught us again and again, it’s that we’re a resilient bunch. Technically, the U.S. has survived 13 recessions since the Great Depression. One day, our current economic challenges will be a thing of the past.
Successful businesses and teams have to adapt to maximize workplace productivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, increases in labor productivity have led to economic growth in the U.S. Since 1947, U.S. businesses have produced “nine times more goods and services” despite a relatively small increase in the number of hours worked. In other words, by increasing productivity, companies have been able to deliver more with the same level of effort.
Many factors can affect productivity, including processes, goals, work environment and employees’ physical and mental health. But using specific techniques and strategies to improve productivity can reap more benefits in the long run.
Set clear expectations
Simplicity breeds clarity. Clarity breeds mastery and confidence. Well-defined expectations eliminate confusion. But keep in mind, it all hinges on the quality of your communications.
To encourage productivity across an organization regardless of where people work, set explicit expectations right out of the gate. Communicate what’s expected of employees in terms of:
- Work output: What deliverables should their job produce? How much, and by when?
- Work processes: What methods, tools and means should they use to deliver what’s expected?
- Work hours: What time should they report for work, and how long should they be at work?
- Communication frequency: How often should they be checking in with colleagues or supervisors?
- Communication methods: How will team meetings be conducted? Should they use Slack or another collaboration tool for updates, questions or concerns?
Keep employees engaged
Employee engagement numbers tell a sobering story. According to research by Gallup, only 35% of U.S. employees and 15% of employees worldwide can be considered engaged. Fortunately, there’s a way to influence how the story ends for your company. Gallup also found that the manager alone “accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement.” This means leaders have a profound effect on employees’ engagement levels and their productivity scores.
To improve employee engagement:
- Encourage teamwork and create a culture of collaboration
- Support employees’ career and personal goals
- Inspire creativity and innovation by allowing flexibility in how work is done
- Provide the tools employees need to excel at their jobs
- Ask team members for advice or feedback
- Organize team-building activities
- Encourage feedback and make the workplace feedback-safe
- Celebrate your employees, not just their achievements
Conduct ongoing training and reviews
The global workplace training industry is worth billions of dollars. Market and consumer data portal Statista found that from 2008 to 2019, workplace training spending per employee around the world increased by 20%. In 2019 learning and development (L&D) costs per employee averaged $1,308. That’s because training, workshops, certifications, refreshers and other exercises can bring out the best in your staff, which is critical to achieving overall company goals and growth.
Given the rising cost of L&D, it’s vital that your investments aren’t going down the drain. According to Harvard Business Review, “Not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing and content of the training is flawed.” People are learning the wrong things for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. So it’s no surprise they quickly forget what they’re learning.
To counter that, author Steve Glaveski, CEO of business consultancy Collective Campus, suggests that companies adopt the “lean learning methodology”:
- Apply the 80/20 principle. For example, when learning a new language, concentrate on the words and phrases that show up 80% of the time.
- Apply learning to real-world scenarios. If you’re conducting a workshop on sustainability, ask participants to link concepts to actual, specific situations. Or invite guest speakers with relevant experience.
- Embed ready-made guides into live applications that employees can access on demand.
- Personalize content, provide ongoing support, encourage peer learning and make micro-courses available.
Recognize employee contribution
One no-fail strategy for keeping employees happy (which reinforces productivity) is to acknowledge good performance. The “2021 Global Culture Report” by O.C. Tanner, a software and services company specializing in employee experiences, found that companies embedding recognition in the workplace culture are:
- Four times more likely to highly engage their employees
- Two times more likely to increase revenue year over year
- 73% less likely to have employee layoffs over the past year
- 44% less likely to have burned-out employees
Although pay raises and other perks usually stir excitement, recognition doesn’t always have to be about money. Try these appreciation and reward ideas for both in-office and remote employees:
- Learning opportunities
- Company swag
- Timely gifts (e.g., safety kits with sanitizers, masks, etc.)
- Movie gift cards
- Kudos at the beginning of meetings
- Peer recognition (e.g., recognition boards, video clips from colleagues, etc.)
- Rewards points or certificates that can be exchanged for parking spaces, vacation days and one-on-one chats with leaders
Implement the right tools and technology
Employees should have access to the right tools and equipment to deliver excellent work. But standards have to be in place to make sure the tools are used as intended, especially when dealing with customer, employee and other sensitive data.
Use these tech tools to maximize productivity where you need it most:
- Communication and collaboration: With Slack channels, your project communications, including things like status updates and work files, are in one central location. You can create as many channels as you need, and search past messages and other content on demand. For video conferences and remote meetings, tools like Skype and GoToMeeting can help your teams stay connected. You can even integrate them with Slack, so you can launch or join a meeting directly from Slack.
- Project management: If you need robust project management features like resource management, dependencies and milestones, consider Wrike, Asana and Smartsheet. They can help you manage staff schedules and workloads, create Gantt charts to keep your projects on track and much more.
- Help desk and ticket management: For streamlining customer support workflows, Zendesk, Freshdesk and Jira Service Management tools help teams track and resolve issues efficiently.
- Accounting: Accounting software automates multiple essential tasks, including expense and income tracking, invoice generation, reports creation, sending payment reminders and inventory management. QuickBooks Online, Sage 50cloud and Wave are just a few of the many popular small business accounting tools.
- Password management: Platforms such as LastPass and 1Password keep employee passwords safe. You only have to remember one password for multiple accounts.
Security: To safeguard your organization from data breaches and malicious viruses, spyware and adware, check out protection software like McAfee, Norton and Kaspersky.
- Payment systems: If you’re selling online, customers expect a checkout process that’s fast, convenient and safe. PayPal, Amazon Pay and Apple Pay are just some of the online payment options that many businesses and customers trust.
Make productivity improvement a priority
Productivity is not something you can drastically improve overnight. But the good news is that even small changes can make a significant impact. By implementing the right productivity tools and strategies, you can keep employee engagement levels up, maximize training and development, and keep everyone on the same page.
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