7 Practical Ways to Boost Workplace Productivity

/ real-life wins / 13 min read
Rob Press

Your business is busy. Always. No number of time management apps or automations or YouTube gurus promising to "Increase Productivity by One Million Percent!" are going to magically make your work disappear.

So the question becomes, how do you make it as easy on yourself and your employees as possible, while maintaining or increasing your output? How do you cut out all that unimportant busywork to focus on the goals that actually matter?

The answer is by increasing productivity. This doesn't mean doing more things. Real workplace productivity is about working smarter rather than working "harder", and empowering your employees to do valuable work in their own unique way.

By doing this you'll promote a happier, healthier workplace culture. In return you'll be rewarded with a range of benefits—from increased employee retention to faster growth. In this guide we'll take a look at how you can get started.

What Is Workplace Productivity?

Workplace productivity is the ability of your employees to efficiently complete tasks and goals for your business. Whether it's filing paperwork, making sales or clearing email inboxes, to put it simply, workplace productivity is about getting stuff done in an efficient manner.

Contrary to what you might think, workplace productivity isn't about compressing as many tasks as possible in a single day. That's a shortcut to burnout. It's about hitting goals and getting the right things done on time.

Workplace productivity signifies how much work is done (output) in a specified unit of time (input). When we talk about ways to increase productivity, what we're really saying is ways to have a higher output, while requiring similar—or less—input.

How Is Workplace Productivity Measured?

Before trying to increase the productivity of your employees you have to measure their current productivity metrics. This gives you a baseline to compare against, so you can track improvements.

But how do you do this? Hack your employees' computers and see how much time they spend buying useless stuff on Amazon? Send them twenty Slack messages a day asking what they're up to? Stalk their progress in Google Docs?

Well, no. None of the above, unless you want to alienate your workforce and have a negative impact on their productivity. There's an equation you can use to measure productivity statistics:

Formula for calculating workplace productivity

The output here is typically representative of products, services or sales made in a certain period and the input units can be hours of work that went into it. While the genesis might be with manufacturing and labour-type jobs, this can be adjusted to work for any business.

For example, let's say you run a large ecommerce store and the employees in your factory manufactured $20,000 worth of products in 100 work hours. Using the above formula, the work productivity of the company would be $200/hour.

If you need to see productivity numbers per employee, divide this by the number of employees you have. If ten employees work on the project, the average productivity per employee is $20/hour.

💡 Tip: This is the traditional way of measuring workplace productivity. Today, with new technology, there are lots of time trackers and productivity tools to help measure and optimise your processes. Think about what makes the most sense for your business.

Why Is Workplace Productivity Important?

A productive workplace isn't a vanity metric. It sets up your business for success and increases the probability that you'll meet—and exceed—your business goals. It helps you nurture your employees, shape a great workplace culture and ensure the success of your business.

Creating a productive workplace carries enormous significance for your company and your employees. It helps:

  • Save time and money. By completing tasks more efficiently you'll cut down on expenses and free up time for more important tasks. As the old saying goes, "time is money". You can encourage employees to use tools like Zapier to automate any mundane processes, simplify workflows and get more done (while saving cash).
  • Increase profits. We covered that productivity means accomplishing your goals and tasks. A side effect of this is that your business will be in better shape. With a productive workforce kicking all your goals, you'll not only be profitable, you'll be in a position to scale and grow your company fast.
  • Boost employee morale and retention. Productivity is a shortcut to boosted morale. People like contributing to meaningful projects and achieving goals. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that nine out of ten people are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work. By encouraging productive work, employees will want to stick around for the long haul.
  • Improve employee wellbeing. Struggling through inefficient processes leads to burnout, and this has a negative impact on your business as a whole. 67% of workers in the US said they believe burnout had gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, with companies likely seeing the effects of this long into the future. Prioritising the mental health of your workforce will have instant benefits across your whole company.

The above is just scratching the surface of the benefits productivity will have across any company. The truth is, workplace productivity is the key to any organisation's success, whether you're running your own online bakery or a digital magazine.

What Makes Employees Unproductive?

So what's contributing to your team's lack of productivity? What's killing their drive and ultimately causing your employees—and your company—to be inefficient? There are a few main culprits:

What makes workers unproductive graphic

Inefficient processes

Inefficient workflows are a significant productivity killer. Obviously, workflows aren't set up to be inefficient. They're usually caused by unclear assignments and goals, lack of deadlines and accountability, insufficient training and onboarding, or  uncertainty around hierarchy (e.g. who is in charge).

💡 Tip: Onboarding is an often over-looked part of building a productive workforce. You should use the employee onboarding process as a time to learn about employees—from how they like to work to the tools they use to get the job done. It's also a chance to set the groundwork for your company expectations.

Context Switching

Slack messages. Twitter notifications. Emails. Your Instagram feed. A message from your partner. The roughly thirty tabs you have open at any time. During work hours we're constantly dividing our attention between an array of apps, screens, pages and tasks.

There's a term for this: context switching. And guess what? Our brain doesn't like it. These mini interruptions have a hugely damaging effect on our attention—and thus, our productivity. Checking your email might only take five minutes, but it has long ranging impacts on allowing you to focus on the task at hand.

“The more time in email and face-to-face interaction, and the more total screen switches, the less productive people feel at the day’s end.” From a study by Microsoft.

As an employer it's up to you to encourage employees to block out time for tasks. It's also important to build a culture that doesn't expect employees to be always "on" and contactable, while also encouraging people to get away from their desks to refresh.

Poor work-life balance

A good work-life balance leaves employees with a life beyond work. They have time to spend with their family, engage with their hobbies, and do things away from thoughts of work and their career.

72% of people consider work-life balance when applying for a job quoteSource: Statista

Employees need a healthy work-life balance to function properly. Sure, some people thrive on a fast-paced workplace that expects them working 18 hour days, but that's a recipe for disaster. No matter what business you run, you need to keep in mind that employees don't live to work; they work to live.

Promote clear boundaries around the workday. Don't expect employees to always be in contact, or up at midnight working on reports. This is a shortcut to unhappy and unmotivated employees that are overworked, stressed out and a bad day away from looking for a new job.

Lack of tools and technology

In a time where every remote workplace relies on their technology, productivity is often hampered by not having the proper tools in place. Whether it's an outdated system or a Zapier workflow that makes things more complicated, when not set up correctly, tech can be a major roadblock.

This is particularly true when it comes to remote collaboration. Despite the many tools at our disposal, one of the biggest complaints among remote workers is how difficult collaboration and communication is online.

Whether it's something as simple as Google Docs or a job satisfaction form, using  tech to support your workplace is the fastest way to make your team more efficient.

How to Build a More Productive Workplace

By this point you might be feeling like there's some changes you could make to your workplace. But where do you start?

Offer job flexibility

In the 2021 Gartner Digital Worker Experience Survey, workers cited two central reasons for increased productivity: flexible work hours and less (or no) time spent commuting. Time, efficiency and flexibility were consistently mentioned as the key ways to increase productivity by respondents.

Hybrid work models are beneficial for your company's output and the happiness of your employees. Depending on the nature of your work and the industry you operate in, there are a few different models you can offer, from fully remote work to flexible hours and start times.

💡 Tip: Tradionally, business owners have been wary of remote employees. They often believe there's no way to control their workload, meaning they'll work less. This isn't the case. Often, freed from distractions and given more autonomy, productivity increases among remote workers.

Avoid micromanaging employees

Try not to be one of those bosses. You know, the type that needs to control even the most minor and routine daily tasks. While it's undoubtedly important to stay abreast of what's going on at your company, you need to trust your employees to fulfil their role without constantly looking over their shoulder.

Micromanaging isn't the best way to maintain standards. On the contrary, it causes a decrease in workplace productivity and employee retention. Trying to micromanage your employees will leave them feeling alienated, overworked and stressed out.

A more effective way to get better results is by appointing projects managers or team leaders to be accountable and responsible for the success of the team. The same goes for daily projects and tasks, no matter how small.

Delegating responsibility and ownership of projects within your business will boost morale and make employees feel like they're contributing to its success. It makes for a more agile, sustainable workplace and a culture that emphasises the responsibility of each individual for their work.

💡 Tip: Want to be hands-on and keep your finger on the pulse of your employees? Don't loom over their every action. A better way to show you care is by scheduling regular feedback or evaluation sessions.

Take advantage of tools and automation

Regardless of your industry, today, tons of tools and software solutions are designed to increase productivity and replace routine and repetitive tasks. Whether you're a cafe owner or an online entrepreneur, there is plenty affordable technology that you can harness for the betterment of your business.

For example, let's say you're managing a restaurant. Employee scheduling mistakes are a common hazard, but with specialised shift scheduling software  you can create accurate schedules to manage workers in a fraction of the time it would take you to do manually.

Popular remote work tools

With business process automation tools the opportunities are endless. From email marketing to employee onboarding and everything in-between, these tools exist to simplify work processes, helping you achieve more while doing less.

In a more specific sense, you should consider adopting productivity tools to manage tasks and projects within your team. The days of Post-It notes around the office are gone—tools like Asana, Trello, Notion and Todoist, among hundreds of others, are specifically designed to enable your team to stay on task.

Improve communication methods and channels

As we touched on earlier, poor communication is the main culprit of an unproductive workforce. Effective communication is critical for every company, particularly those with a remote workforce without the benefit of face-to-face interactions.

How to make sure your team is on the same page? The seven Cs of effective communication offer a good guide. Strive to keep internal and external comms correct, clear, concise, complete, concrete, coherent and courteous.

With instant messaging it can be easy to fire off a quick message without thinking about whether you're being clear. No one likes messaging back and forth to clarify minute details, so ask yourself these questions when communicating online:

  • Was my request/question easy to understand?
  • Did I provide enough context?
  • Was the tone of my message appropriate?
  • Did I give the recipient all the tools and resources necessary?
  • Did the message convey a sense of urgency?

When it comes to communication methods, encourage two-way communication and promote active listening. Focus on building open lines of communication between your team, whether they're an intern or a high-level manager. You should have these processes in place and be setting up expectations during the onboarding process.

💡 Tip: Clarity also extends to the tools and processes around communication. It's not enough to just "say" something. Have it in writing for employees to refer to. What do you use for video conferences and instant messaging? What internal channels do you use? Build a wiki that acts as a one-stop shop for these kind of questions.

Consider incentives for better employee engagement

Look for ways to motivate and reward your employees when the opportunity arises. It doesn't have to be a pay rise or promotion (although they're both perfectly acceptable incentives). It can be something as simple as a free coffee, or a shoutout for high-performing team members at the next team meeting.

  • Office perks
  • Free lunch for the team
  • Paid experiences (e.g. wine tasting, sporting event, spa day)
  • Learning and personal development opportunities

Here's where it helps to know your employees. Feel free to offer any incentive that you think will boost morale and motivate your team. As a leader, oftentimes it's the appreciation that counts, with whatever the reward is taking a backseat to showing you care.

A prerequisite for incentive is goal-setting. You need to set clear short and long-term goals at both an individual and company wide level. Then you can reward employees when they achieve—or hopefully exceed—those expectations.

Keep in mind that no amount of free lunches or massages can make up for a negative workplace. Ensure you've nailed the essentials and your employees feel valued before offering these kind of rewards. Otherwise it feels tacked on and insincere.

Remove distractions around the workplace

Whether working from home or in an office, there are thousands of tiny distractions that interrupt work. Social media; construction work; those cookies on the kitchen bench calling your name. Do what you can to help employees stay on task.

  • Set up "deep work" time where the team stays off Slack/email
  • Encourage employees to take regular five minute breaks
  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones for all employees
  • Schedule meetings only when they have a clear goal

And remember, whether you're a small business owner, a startup founder, or any other business leader, the buck stops with you. You, and your management team, set the tone for the way team members will work. Make sure that expectations are clear about how you expect them to behave.

Cut down on meetings

No one likes meetings. Of course they have value, but most of the time they're poorly executed and superfluous, hindering employee productivity rather than improving it. This is an idea echoed by Elon Musk in 2018 email he sent to to all Tesla employees.

"Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time," Musk wrote. "Get [rid] of all meetings unless you're certain they are providing value. Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter."

Musk also says you should walk out of a meeting as soon as you're done adding value, which we definitely can't recommend most people do. Still, he makes a good point. If you aren't careful, meetings can give the illusion of being productive when really just subtracting from your team's overall productivity.

Ask yourself whether a meeting could instead be covered in an email. If the answer is no, ensure that each meeting has an agenda. This way you can send out any resources or documents ahead of time so employees can prepare.

Over To You

As the leader of a company you need to be an example to follow. All the productivity hacks in the world won't help if you're turning up late, spend less time working than you do on Twitter, and don't contribute to meetings. A productive workspace starts with you.

There's no denying the damage low productivity has on a business. The good news is that with a little bit of teamwork, it can be relatively simple to turn an unproductive team into a productivity powerhouse. You'll find that the rewards are worth the investment of time and effort.

By following the tips outlined in this post you'll be on the path to greater productivity, and more importantly, a happier company culture. So what are you waiting for? Close this page, put your phone away and get to work.

About the author
Rob Press
Rob is a content marketing manager at Deputy, a robust scheduling software that can be used to manage your workforce in a wide variety of different industries.

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