New employees — apart from the first week or so when they are being on-boarded and getting to know the workplace, their colleagues and projects — are arguably at their most productive. They are keen to impress their boss, form positive relationships and build trust with their customers, clients and workmates.
Check on that same employee in another six months or so, and you may just find that their productivity has decreased significantly. If you ask more questions, you may find that your employee’s productivity has decreased due a number of factors, not just one. The culture of the workplace, leadership and communication style of their manager, pay and perks, relationships with colleagues, stress and other variables all play a part in the productivity of a workplace. If you want to increase your employee productivity — and keep your organisation humming along nicely — generally you have to look at the problem through a wider lens.
Poor performance, which costs workplaces around the globe billions of dollars, and subsequently increasing productivity in the workplace is often a long tail project. Interventions are needed that may not actually increase productivity overnight. Patience, monitoring — not micromanaging! — and reviewing your interventions are key to lifting flagging productivity levels.
1. The fish rots from the head
There is a line from the movie Remember the Titans that is all you need to know about the culture of your organisation: attitude reflects leadership. If the attitude of your staff sucks, and you have a poor performance problem across your enterprise, you may need to check the culture of your organisation — your leadership and leadership style may be to blame, not your employees. Managers who have leadership styles that are bullying, micromanaging, narcissistic or laissez faire will not be conducive to employment productivity. And if you employ psychopaths to lead your enterprise, you have no one to blame but yourself.
2. Recruit, onboard and engage.
Getting your organisational culture right is crucial to increased productivity in the workplace, but equally as important is recruiting the right person at the right time with the right skills for the right job. Having a robust recruitment process will minimise the risk of a poor hire, and making sure your onboarding is thorough will help that the person feel an affinity for the workplace and his or her role. Engagement with staff must continue throughout the life cycle of their employment via tangible and intangible benefits. And forget performance reviews — they are the most hated HR tool in the toolkit and actually decrease productivity.
3. The Intangibles
While a good salary and being paid on time is necessary for basic staff satisfaction, intangible benefits are the secret sauce for how to increase productivity in the workplace. Once someone earns $75,000 per annum, their happiness doesn’t increase much. Intangibles are powerful — they really should have their own Marvel comic — and they often don’t need to add a significant amount to your business bottom line. A monthly meeting where “Thank you” awards are given out, is one example of a powerful intangible. Sending staff to training so they can develop their skill — or buying a corporate subscription to an e-learning platform that everyone can use — are other intangibles. Assigning more challenging projects to increase experience, or offering acting up duties, is always appreciated — but make sure pay reflects difficulty. Ask your staff what intangibles would work for them — and implement what they suggest!
4. Account for autonomy
Productivity expertsall agree on one thing: that connected autonomy is the one of the most effective ways to increase productivity in your business. Staff who have control and have ownershipover their tasks and workload and flexibility around where they work and their work schedule are the happiest and most productive employees. Often managers worry that staff are slacking off or concerned about self-managed teams, but if visibility is needed over tasks for project reporting, use a time tracking tool like Traqq to help the workplace stay accountable, productive and on schedule.
5. Productivity Toolkit
If you do decide to go down the remote working path for your team in order to increase their productivity, tools and technology can help you and your team stay on task. Trello, Slack, Jira, Google Drive and Traqq — and even good, old-fashioned email — are tools that can assist productivity when your staff work from home, or remotely — even in different time zones. The only thing you have to do is ensure that the tool fits the toolbox, and the workplace situation. And productivity technology can be used in the workplace as well as well as outside. Just make sure you train everyone up on the technology or tools, and set expectations around use.
6. Poisonous presenteeism
Sometimes, enterprises have to admit they’ve made a poor hire. It happens, even with the most robust of recruitment processes. Presenteeism, where a staff member shows up to work and collects their salary and not much else, is a one of the worst things for morale in a workplace — even worse than absenteeism. Presenteeism creates a lot of resentment. How do you increase the productivity of employees who just phone it in? You might need to case manage them in conjunction with HR — they may have non-work related issues. But if they are a poor fit, you might have to lance the boil and bid them a staged adios.
7. Do your own thing
What do companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have in common? They set aside time each for staff to work on their own side projects. Not only does this approach encourage innovation and foster cross-team communications, it’s a highly motivating intangible. And you know your Corporate Social Responsibility program should incorporate volunteering — where your staff use work time to volunteer for a social enterprise or NGO. Not only does this help solve social problems and build capacity in the NGO, volunteering also produces oxytocin in the brains of your corporate volunteers — and oxytocin is the bonding and trust hormone.
8. What is measured is managed
Another hack for how to increase productivity in the workplace is to actually measure it. Get your staff to audit their time against outcomes and deliverables with a tool like Traqq — in a non-punitive way — to see where they can tweak their own productivity levels. Staff may be surprised to find that they might be at the desks at 8.30AM, but don’t actually start work until 9.15AM because they like to have a chat in the kitchen first. Or that they check emails 10 times per day, when they really only need to do it twice. Or that meetings take up a lot of time during the week, but don’t achieve anything productive. Your audit will give you and your team valuable data and insight into how to increase productivity in your workplace. Make sure you include yourself in the audit — model the behaviour you want to see.
9. Ask tough questions
Do you want to know how to increase the productivity with your employees? Simple. Just ask them. Except it’s not so simple, because you might not like the answers. And if you don’t like the answers, you won’t want to do anything to solve the problem. What if you found out that YOU — as a manager or a leader — were the main cause of low morale and productivity? Would you do anything about it? Changing yourself is one of the most difficult things to do — and it’s no wonder that 70% of change management projects fail. Changing yourself is difficult enough.
10. Communication is everything, but distracting
With so many channels for communication available, it’s tempting to think that communication is better in organisations. This isn’t true: communication is more fractured and fragmented now than ever. If you have a bazillion communication channels, tools and devices, your staff may spend more time communicating than actually doing. Check in regularly with your team to make sure that the channels are working as they should. If people are trying to solve problems on Slack and the conversation is going nowhere or getting heated, it’s time to go old school and hold a meeting — either face-to-face or virtual. Likewise, if you have a channel that no one like or uses — it might be time to ditch it.
Bottom line: With the workforce comprising highly skilled knowledge workers, and the numbers of remote or freelance staff and regular employees wanting to work from home increasing, it’s tempting to think that productivity will suffer. If you have a practical, empathetic approach to staff and workload management, and you use the available tools effectively there is no reason why employee productivity should be a challenge for your organisation. And if it is, you know exactly what you need to do.