Your team might be working from home. Meeting the new needs of your suppliers and customers may have you altering your entire business process. The staff might be reduced and spread thin. But in times of change or stability, successful businesses remain successful because they maximize the efficiency of their workday. By trusting your talent and following these seven tips, you can ensure that employee productivity remains high under any circumstances.
How to maximize your small business's productivity
1. Take advantage of communication and collaboration tools.
Communication has never been so important. In times of reduced physical interaction and remote work, shooting emails back and forth is not enough. Teams must now coordinate across many different applications for even the easiest projects. Adding extra steps to a formerly simple process can threaten the efficiency of the most basic tasks and exponentially slow the entire operation.
The best way to manage a virtual team is by investing in new digital collaboration tools that now dominate the business landscape. These can facilitate instant and effective communication through intuitive visual displays, live updates and performance analytics that measure individual employees' productivity.
Software products such as Slack, Asana and Trello and cloud-based file-sharing services like Google Cloud and Microsoft OneDrive allow your company to streamline all communication through a central hub, easily transfer files and edit living documents in real time. All users can contribute, and many of these services indicate which changes were provided by each member of the team. These types of software boost transparency and help hold everyone accountable for their assigned duties.
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2. Accomplish realistic goals through accountability.
For businesses without a physical office, transparency is critical. Productivity is the measure of time well spent, and the presence of more available hours does not guarantee that those hours will be beneficial, or even used. The first step is to ensure employees are at least putting in the required work hours. Tools that track when your employees sign on for the day will alert you that they are present and putting in the required hours. Without the ability to manually track this data, you can install time-tracking applications, like TSheets, to manage this data for you.
Once you know employees are working the hours they are supposed to, help them make the most of their day. Giving employees clear daily goals or targets will improve morale and productivity, as people tend to work more efficiently when they're focused on a clear and predetermined objective with a clear deadline.
How do you set this goal? You break it down into digestible subgoals by working backward. Determine the outcome you expect from your employees by reverse-engineering the process so that you can provide a series of outcomes.
For example, imagine your goal is to ship 100 chairs by the end of the week. First, identify where in the production chain a chair needs to be on Friday morning in order to ship it that weekend. Repeat this process for your product each day of the week or, for longer-term goals, each week or month. This develops comprehensive guidelines with clear expectations for both yourself and your employees. This process can also help familiarize you with the grittier work of your staff and provide better insight into the monthly, weekly and daily targets for each position.
3. Create favorable working conditions.
Google and Facebook spend a lot to offer outstanding workspaces because the companies understand that happiness is critical to employee performance. That doesn't mean you need to install a fully staffed gym in your office. Little adjustments often have an outsize effect, and when testing one of those minor changes, researchers found that you can boost office productivity by just raising the temperature a few degrees.
Although workplace amenities like that premium heating system you purchased might currently lie out of reach if your employees are working remotely, consider virtual substitutes. Was your semimonthly office pizza party a big hit? Send your employees a small voucher to order lunch, and schedule a video call so you can all eat together one afternoon. A team that feels valued will have extra motivation to be productive and accomplish the goals in front of them.
4. Eliminate time-wasting activities.
If you want to increase output, you and your employees need to be focused. Every hour spent at your business needs to count, but even the most passionate and engaged workers will let their minds wander and spend an extra five minutes on social media.
To stay productive, minimize opportunities for unnecessary diversions. Delete distracting phone applications, or at least mute them during work hours. Turn off phone notifications, or better yet, turn off the phone and lock it away in your desk drawer.
Encourage your employees to keep a notebook where they can write down any distracting thoughts and let them go. This is a visualization exercise that helps remove distracting thoughts so you can concentrate on work.
Above all, reassure your employees that the minute they find themselves distracted, they shouldn't beat themselves up over it. Rather, they should gently guide their minds back to work.
5. Automate as many tasks as possible.
If you've been in business for a while, you know that there are lots of processes and activities that are still being done manually. Those are often small but essential tasks.
But what if those tasks could be automated so that you and your employees could devote more time to more-complex processes or tasks?
Assess the operations of your business, and invest in software that automates as many of those processes as possible so you can get the mundane work done efficiently and your employees can focus on other tasks. More of these solutions are available now than ever before because of the current demand for mobile infrastructure, and that means this is an excellent time to reassess which job functions can be eliminated so you can better allocate time to more pressing needs that require the critical thought of a human worker.
6. Create an efficient and organized workflow.
A long to-do list and urgent deadlines popping up among what is already an overabundance of messages and digital alerts can overwhelm you and your employees. Redefine your workflow to find a balance that provides a sense of priority and clarity among the bevy of notifications flashing across every screen.
Assess your daily task list, and rank each item according to its level of importance. Rearrange the list, and decide which projects can be delayed or paused. Then, help employees focus on what matters most. In a virtual workspace, every alert can seem urgent, so the occasional re-evaluation can save everyone time and energy.
7. Learn from your team.
Are you struggling to understand why certain tasks take so long? Have you been searching through every part of the process but just can't find a problem area that can be streamlined? One way to find solutions to these problems is to ask those who would know better than you: your employees.
Because your employees work through these processes every day, they are the ones who are familiar with the minutiae of every function. When investigating potential areas of improvement, frame the questions as genuine curiosity rather than accusations. For example, don't ask why something takes so much time; frame it as an offer to help improve the process.
If you worry that employees might be reluctant to answer with honest critiques of the company, offer an anonymous survey to ease their concerns. You can prepare different questions for each department and provide open-ended prompts. It might reveal issues you never imagined. This inside peek at your own business will also allow you to better gauge other factors, such as company culture, department efficiency and overall engagement.
Additional reporting by Jordan Beier.