Business productivity is the efficiency at which business tasks can be completed during a certain period of time. Numerous factors can positively or negatively affect the rate of business productivity, and a company must fully understand these factors to optimize its operations.
When evaluating the factors that affect business productivity, consider how they intersect with other workplace aspects. A business needs to balance staff morale, profits and goals to achieve optimal efficiency. A high productivity rate is only as good as how long it can be maintained. Keep reading for ways to improve business productivity in the workplace – and what to avoid.
How to increase business productivity
Here are some specific strategies and valuable tools you can employ to increase productivity at your business.
1. Automation software
Countless hours are wasted each year documenting and recording information with paper forms. Workflow automation software can help businesses save thousands of hours (translation: dollars) that would otherwise be wasted on form-filling. Further, by transitioning to digital from manual systems, recordkeeping becomes automatic as well, which will save additional time in the future.
Another benefit of automation is that it allows employees to focus on tasks with less interruption. Studies like this one featured on ScienceDirect show that task-switching negatively impacts productivity; the employee view on task-switching is generally negative too. But automated email responses, data extraction, social media management systems and scheduling tools allow employees to focus on their strengths and not tedious to-dos, which ultimately leads to not just more productivity but increased morale. [Check out our recommendations for the best social media management tools in our social media marketing guide.]
Did you know? According to McKinsey, about 66% of companies report experiencing increased quality control, customer satisfaction and employee experience after implementing automation programs.
2. Employee flexibility
A happy employee is a productive employee, and one of the most important predictors of employee satisfaction is work flexibility. People like having choices and freedom, so provide it in the form of flextime, telecommuting options or simply more vacation time. This gives team members the freedom to choose how to be the most effective in their role while increasing employee morale. Even encouraging and providing time for self-care can improve workplace productivity.
The myth that employees can’t be productive while working at home was effectively shattered with the COVID-19 pandemic. As many employees were forced out of the office, countless companies maintained or even increased productivity. Research from Gartner shows how even cutting out an office commute can boost productivity, so it’s worth considering that kind of flexibility for your team. But if you’re still concerned that home-based workers won’t make enough effort, there is plenty of software that helps you track remote staffers’ productivity.
FYI: A survey from Skynova found that almost 50% of respondents consider a flexible schedule more important than their salary.
3. Workflow organization
Implementing an organizational system for tracking employee responsibilities and workloads can streamline operations and make them more efficient. Such systems can help teams communicate regularly and effectively about long-term projects or goals. Scrum, for example, has teams meet daily to discuss their workloads from the previous day, the workloads for the coming day, and any impediments they face. These discussion points allow the team to sync on responsibilities and collectively find ways to overcome roadblocks.
By having your teams internally aligned and operating consistently, especially when part of your workforce is remote, you’ll save time and resources that can now be spent on building healthy client relationships and completing projects. Workflow organization also decreases overlapping responsibilities and reduces duplicated work. Companies can even automate workflow organization to lessen the effort required for time-consuming tasks. An automated workflow allows employees to focus on strategic tasks requiring high-level thought instead.
4. Employee development
Employees, as previously discussed, are most productive when satisfied and engaged. Staffers who fall into a monotonous routine will find themselves discontented, so it’s crucial to engage with them and make the days feel less repetitious. No one wants to be just a cog in a machine, so encourage active learning and the development of personal and professional skills. Provide opportunities for employees to develop personal hobbies or to take on new professional duties.
Back up support words with meaningful action. Offer to let a team member try a new responsibility for a trial period to see if they like it or give them time off to attend a work-related conference. Let them feel confident you’re invested in their personal and professional development. These incentives can keep workers committed to your company and their responsibilities. Gallup data indicates employee engagement in the U.S. is in a slump, but reversing that can be a boon to your business’s productivity.
5. Natural light
Don’t think your office design matters? Think again. Providing access to natural light in the workplace can directly impact a person’s positivity, with doctors at UCLA reporting that natural light improves mood and increases happiness. As established, this increased positivity impacts productivity in the long term.
Access to natural lighting in the office is an area where many U.S. businesses can improve. Take advantage of natural light by setting up desks near windows and removing obstacles that block the flow of natural lighting throughout your building. You can also encourage employees to get out in the sunshine during breaks for a boost from Mother Nature.
Tip: Don’t have access to natural light sources in your office space? Consider using bulbs that output a warmer hue (yellows and oranges) as opposed to a cooler hue (blues and purples).
Productivity killers to avoid
Just as there are identifiable ways to increase productivity, there are some aspects of the work environment that can have the opposite effect.
1. Excessive meetings
Meetings that clearly define employee responsibilities while aligning project workflows are incredibly productive. Some businesses take it too far, however, such as when meetings are routinely scheduled back to back, daily and without consideration for which employees can attend and what else is going on. The more time an employee spends in meetings during the day, the less they are engaging with customers or completing necessary tasks.
Fortunately, there are some easy methods to decrease the amount of time your staff spends in meetings.
- Invite small groups: Consider which employees truly need to attend a particular meeting. For example, there’s no reason why your IT team needs to sit in on a sales meeting. And at that sales meeting, is everyone in the department an essential participant? If not, free those people up to work on other things.
- Consider emails: Some meetings can be replaced by a simple email. If the issue to be discussed can be resolved in less than 10 minutes, it can likely be handled through an email thread instead.
- Create meeting agendas: A structured, goal-oriented meeting will reduce meeting time, and having a specific agenda shared in advance allows attendees to prepare.
2. Social media distractions
We’re probably all guilty of spending at least a few minutes of the workday on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, or perhaps even TikTok. Frankly, social media is a gray area, since social platforms can be powerful business tools, but they’re also designed to steal your attention. Getting sucked in can be a huge time-waster.
Develop a company usage policy and clearly establish the difference between productive social media use and mindless social media browsing that’s unrelated to the business. The best employee monitoring software can even block employees from accessing certain sites during specific hours, though that won’t stop staffers from, say, using Snapchat on their personal devices. Educating a workforce on the disadvantages of social media usage may be enough to curb unwanted use in the workplace.
3. Noisy coworkers
Focus is vital to productivity, and a noisy work environment can break employee focus. Often, the noise factor is increased due to a chatty or noisy co-worker. Foot tapping, loud keyboards and office gossip are the primary culprits in colleague-related disturbances. Such noise can be stressful, and there are clear connections between stress and productivity.
To reduce the amount of office gossip interrupting the work environment, consider a designated break room or refreshment area. The goal is to push the chatter away from productive co-workers; you don’t want to eliminate workplace conversations altogether, as that will ultimately have a negative effect on the company culture. Meanwhile, to fix fidgety and loud equipment, consider installing noise-reducing decorations. Some rugs, houseplants and workspace dividers will absorb sound and also create a welcoming work environment. If all else fails, consider investing in noise-canceling headphones for your team. [Learn more about designing a workspace that improves productivity.]
4. Smartphone use
The average U.S. smartphone user spent an estimated 4 hours and 16 minutes a day on their device in 2020, according to findings from Insider Intelligence and eMarkerter. The odds some of that usage occurred while on the company clock? We’d venture fairly high, and in such instances, your employees aren’t focusing much on business matters.
The keys to reducing smartphone usage during the workday are awareness and prevention. Consider sharing smartphone usage statistics with your employees. Some individuals might be surprised by how much attention their smartphones demand. Additionally, and especially during meetings, consider asking employees to place smartphones on do-not-disturb mode to reduce distractions. At the same time, remember the importance of flexibility – there will be times a worker needs to use their phone for a legitimate purpose. That may cause a reduction in productivity, but they’ll appreciate having a boss who understands life just sometimes gets in the way.
Steve Wilson contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.