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Strategies for Building Employees’ Productivity

Employee productivity, while being the key factor that influences work results and company’s success, is quite hard to identify and manage. In a knowledge economy, it just doesn’t work to measure it in a traditional way, by output. However, this doesn’t mean it cannot be managed and improved.

It’s important for a manager to be focused and energized throughout the workday. Another essential task, and even more challenging one, is keeping the employees’ productivity levels up. Here’s some advice on how to influence the productivity level on the team.

What is employee productivity?

The classic productivity formula is output divided by input. Easy to measure, easy to manage – isn’t it? But, the problem of the knowledge economy is, this formula doesn’t provide insights into how the resulting figure can be managed.

Another problem is there’s no formula that would work for any business in any industry.

Running numbers and building charts with various indexes is just not enough without realizing what lies behind the figures. To understand the output, define what’s the expected goal of the team’s activity: the number of new customers acquired, or number of tasks accomplished, etc.

As for input, it may seem more straightforward: the general practice is calculating the number of hours (man-hours) spent on accomplishing a task.

However, tasks vary, and time spent on them varies too. That’s where estimation technique helps: analyzing time planned on the basis of previous results and actually spent helps understand the dynamics of individual and team’s productivity – and manage it.

What encourages employees to be more productive?

Now that you’ve defined what is behind the figures and what you’d like to achieve, the approach to improving productivity indexes is more clear. Here’s a list of workplace conditions and benefits that influence productivity levels within a team and individual team members’ performance.

Meaningful work

The truth is, there are people who don’t mind doing robotic work and not being involved in wider processes. However, for the majority, knowing why their work is important and seeing what is their part in the process is essential for getting work done. Realizing the meaning of work increases engagement, which directly influences productivity levels.

Efficiency

Watching work time slip away is definitely not motivating. Useless meetings, chats, and other office distractions sometimes take up a significant part of the workday. Things are not getting done on time – this alone is frustrating enough, and the impossibility to get rid of such distractions as department-wide meetings adds to the demotivation.

Opportunities to learn and acquire new skills

Talented employees and high-performers, even in higher positions, tend to not want to rest on their laurels, so they appreciate learning opportunities and the ability to obtain and use new skills. Such incentives as training allowance or access to books and educational resources are appreciated by employees, especially in IT and other industries where technology rapidly emerges and surpasses skills.

Recognition and appreciation

Seeing that your effort is noticed and recognized encourages people to invest more effort in work activities. Fair work distribution matters here too: in teams with different productivity levels, those who get work done faster often just receive more work assignments, and slackers stay with their usual, lower workloads. This makes high-performers feel not appreciated and leads to demotivation and burnout.

Healthy work environment

Healthy atmosphere at work has a positive effect on productivity levels, as it allows each team member to focus on their work assignments instead of dealing with things not related to work. No one likes gossip, lack of trust, and micromanagement, right? While eliminating this from the daily routine can be challenging sometimes, the result is improved employees’ morale and increased concentration on work tasks.

Flexibility

Not only those who have young children, deal with elder care, or are accomplishing their studies appreciate work schedule flexibility. Of course, there are industries where flexible hours just don’t work: think education, health care, or manufacturing. But making employees not engaged in customer service or shift work comply with strictly defined schedules not only seems absurd today – it also undermines morale and motivation.

Offering flexible hours, instead, fosters employees’ autonomy, makes them spend their work time more mindfully, and positively influences productivity levels on the team. Another flexibility option is the opportunity to work remotely, which tends to reduce the amount of unplanned absences and related delivery delays.

How to make your team more productive?

How to develop a team management approach that would keep productivity at high levels? Here’s some advice based on the factors that increase productivity. Some tips are pretty straightforward, and others are not so obvious – try using them and see what works best for your team.

Provide a big picture

The importance of communication on the team is hard to overestimate – both between peers and between team leader and regular employees. This is particularly true for communicating goals and vision: this is what adds meaning to everyday routine work.

For employees, knowing long-term goals and seeing the company’s vision means understanding the usefulness of their part of work. Providing the big picture also means keeping employees informed on the expected results of the project the team is working on. This helps team members understand the importance of their own roles in the entire process.

It’s crucial to communicate both company’s goals and individual responsibilities of each team member. This way, a high level of visibility and transparency is achieved, which is critical for meaningful and productive work.

Address performance issues individually

Performance issues appear – and they need to be handled wisely. It’s not uncommon that slackers get away with the small amounts of work they manage to accomplish, and high-performers get overloaded with additional work. The result is, the most productive team members overwork, suffer from burnout, and feel treated unfairly.

To avoid that, prefer handling productivity issues individually with each low-performer over applying team-wide measures to get work done. Most likely, each one of them has specific reasons why they cannot accomplish their tasks sooner: distracting environment, lack of motivation, work-unrelated issues etc.

Also, approach high performance individually. Instead of “punishing” productive employees with even more work, find a way to show appreciation of their achievements. Sometimes, a simple verbal recognition would work, and sometimes bonuses are the best way to show recognition. For some employees, offering more challenging tasks might be an appropriate demonstration of appreciation and trust.

Know where work time goes

Measure how work time is spent, analyze the data, and proceed accordingly. Use a time-tracking tool to keep record of where the time goes, and regularly review the collected data. It helps detect unproductive activities, see individual productivity data, and identify where’s room for improvement.

Eliminating time wasters and reorganizing workflow to avoid bottlenecks helps improve team’s results. If your time-tracking tool allows to set up deadlines and estimates and compare them to the actual results, it also allows to improve estimation technique, allocate resources better, and avoid unexpected deadline pressure.

Be mindful about how you’re spending your employees’ time. Remember of the useless meetings everyone seems to blame today! If you think everything people say about how time-wasting team meetings are is an exaggeration, you can use your time-track data to figure out if that’s the case for your team. Sometimes, such routine procedures are worth revising and optimizing.

Also, notice how your employees spend their hours when at work, talk to each one and ask them about their energy levels during the day, use an employee tracking tool to see whether they aren’t multitasking and thus feeling drained in the afternoon.

Improve employees’ skills

For most people, doing the same job for years is boring and demotivating. That’s why many appreciate training opportunities, access to books, and participation in conferences and workshops. This is a win-win approach: the company has better specialists, and the employees receive additional motivation and career opportunities.

Some companies pay for training and learning, and some just organize an office library (both hard copies and electronic books work!) to provide access to knowledge. Offering time-off for participation in professional events is also worth considering, as well as finding ways to improve internal training processes.

Avoid micromanagement

Micromanagement is not just waste of a manager’s time. It’s also a disaster for work environment, productivity, and trust on the team. Besides slowing down literally every step of the work process, lack of autonomy also makes people feel underappreciated and not really trusted. Which, in turn, is detrimental for morale and motivation.

Increase team members’ autonomy and show trust. Being autonomous, individuals take ownership over what they do and how they use their time – and this improves work results and increases mindfulness of time and effort distribution.

Offer perks

According to a Glassdoor research, 4 in 5 employees prefer perks over pay raises. The most important and desired ones are, predictably, health care insurance, increased amount of paid time-off, paid sick days, and performance bonuses. Among other perks, employee development and tuition programs, office perks such as free lunch, gym membership compensation, child care assistance, and diversity programs are popular and appreciated.

Also, if your team includes remote employees, it’s worth considering offering them some perks too: this helps people who are working remotely feel connected and involved. Such perks as co-working membership, training allowance, or inviting remote workers to team retreats and other company- or team-wide events to meet face to face help engage remote employees and improve team culture.

Don’t block out social media

Social media is known to be one of the worst enemies of productivity, so blocking it out on company level sometimes is seen as a great solution for increasing employees’ focus and concentration on work-related tasks. However, on practice, this turns out to be yet another thing that undermines motivation and productivity.

We’ve already mentioned how bad lack of trust is for team’s morale – and blocking out social media is exactly what shows lack of trust. Instead of it, foster employees’ autonomy and provide them with information on how their work time is spent. You can address social media overuse issues individually when reviewing team members’ performance: this works better than locking them down company-wide.

Focus on cultural fit when recruiting

It’s not uncommon thing when a great professional can’t work in a team because of cultural misfit. Until recently, the hiring process hasn’t been focused on cultural fit, and this sometimes resulted in significant productivity losses.

Of course, not every bad hire is a horror story, but sometimes they can cost a fortune – and what’s particularly bad about this, these costs often remain unseen for managers. The famous Zappos approach – offering $3,000 for leaving the company after the training period – is based on the known negative effects of cultural misfit. So it’s worth taking this factor into account when building up the hiring process.

Summary

The best thing about following the strategies above to manage productivity is the accumulating effect: when a team member boosts their individual productivity, it fuels everyone’s motivation to do that too. Eventually, team members come up with improved techniques and new ways to get more done, and share their methods with each other. This way, projects are completed on time, and you have a fresh and hard-working team at your service.

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