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How to improve productivity at work in 2020 (and some tools to help)

Well, here we are, 2020 is upon us. No, I’m not sure how that happened either, it feels like just yesterday that we were sat worried about Y2K and all of a sudden, it’s 20% of a century later. It’s a new year and one of our many resolutions is to be producing more of our ‘interesting’, ‘witty’ and downright ‘joy to read’ blogs. So, to get us started, our Head of People Science thought he’d do some research and see exactly how to improve productivity in the workplace and take a look at some tools that can help.

Employee productivity is the measurable output of employees in any given organisation. This measurement can be very quantitatively captured, through recording time and costs to stack up against results, or a business can approach it in a more general, quantifiable way.

Productivity is, unsurprisingly, often see as something of a ‘holy grail’ with all businesses wanting more of it, but many failing. Often we pay little attention to it when things are going well, but during more difficult times, it is usually priority number one for most companies. All f a sudden the question of ‘how to improve productivity’ jumps under the spotlight.

So, whether it’s currently the main focus for your business or something that will be in 2020; how do you make your employees more productive?

Here are our top tips on how to improve and increase employee productivity at work, and a look at some of our favourite tools to boost productivity.

Productivity is a key metric of any successful business. Learn how to boost yours with our top ten tips.
Make productivity a key focus of your business in the good times as well as the challenging.

1 – Track time spent on tasks and implement changes where required

Did you know that research has shown that only 17 percent are able to accurately estimate the passing of time? Yet 72% of people believe it is a skill they possess. So though you may feel like you’re pretty good at determining how much time you’re spending work tasks, the likelihood is you won’t be. The same is more than probably true for most of the people working in your business.

A tool like Toggl can be a huge help in accurately tracking the time your people are spending on what tasks. With an accurate measure in hand, you can pinpoint improvements, track progress and work out improved ways of working to make every team member as productive as possible.

2 – Take breaks, frequently!

This may well sound counterproductive at first glance, but research has shown that those employees who take regular breaks during long tasks benefit not only from improved speed but also better on-task concentration.

Conversely, employees who break infrequently display a steady decline in performance over the life of a task, culminating in reduced productivity and quality.

When it comes to how to improve productivity in your business, this is a real win-win solution, as it’s cost-free and quick to implement as well as one staff will really appreciate.

3 – Encourage and aid collaboration across your whole business

With the ever-changing 21st-century landscape of ‘what work looks like’, it’s often a sad truth that business teams find themselves working in silos with collaboration taking a back seat.

Yet we know from numerous studies that workplace collaboration is a fantastic mechanism for not only innovation at work but also productivity, with one study finding that cross-team collaboration on projects can improve productivity by as much as 40%. It seems the flow of ideas, as well as the mix in skills and experiences offered up by a larger cohort of workers, allows new ways of working to be found.

Apps such as Basecamp, Jira or Trello are a simple step to take to encourage collaboration within a business, allowing different staff, teams or departments to take on key tasks within larger connected projects.

Tracking time and performance on key tasks can provide valuable insight into where and how productivity at your company can be improved.
Track time and performance across key tasks, and follow the productivity trends in your business to get a clear understanding of how you’re performing.

4 – Communicate more, wherever you are

Whether your employees are working in a traditional office or remotely, whether they are 9-5’ers or 5-9’ers, whether you have 10 or 10,000, communication is essential in any successful business.

Without effective, two-way communication businesses fail eventually. Team leaders and business owners who effectively communicate clear expectations, reasons, plans and responsibilities to their employees will be rewarded with an engaged, productive workforce.

Studies have shown that clear communication can remove the doubt from employees minds when carrying out a workplace task, making them more efficient and ultimately, productive. Focus in on making sure your teams know not only what they are needed to action, but why you are asking it of them.

Instant messaging apps, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams (both of which integrate fully with Weekly10), do an excellent job of keeping conversations organised and messages easy to keep track of.

5 – Meet less (only when there’s really a reason/benefit).

According to Atlassian, the average office worker spends over 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings. They are a huge time-drain.

And yet, we have all sat in many, many meetings with the same thought of “why are we even having a meeting about this”. Meetings are our first port of call whenever we feel we have something to say, and we unquestionably continue to book them, attend them, and then moan about them.

It’s this fact that few want to admit that led Elon Musk to develop his three-rule strategy to meetings. Those three rules are:

  • No large meetings (Tesla meets are limited to six staff max)
  • If nothing is happening or you aren’t adding anything, get up and leave
  • No frequent meetings

Considering the success of businesses such as Tesla and Automattic (where all staff work remotely, and only meet up a few times a year), we think a reduction of the time spent in meeting rooms, is probably a winner when it comes to improving productivity.

One key way to improve productivity in the workplace is to cut down on meetings.
Keep meetings for when you really have something to discuss. Keep them short and keep them on point.

6 – Skill-up your staff with training opportunities

Once any staffer is on the job, training is a crucial part of ensuring their productivity.

Research such as this 2013 study in the International Journal of Science and Research has found that training greatly benefits both employers and employees. Proper training leads to greater efficiency, quality and productivity.

By focussing on training, you can not only help your staff learn new skills, but also develop existing skills, become more confident and allow them to find fresh approaches and tools to help them become productivity superstars.

And it needn’t cost the earth. Website such as Udemy offer up thousands of technical and theoretical courses with many costing barely the price of lunch.

7 – Focus on wellbeing to fight stress and absenteeism

Between 1996 and 2000, the number of employees needing time off work due to stress-related illness tripled. Between 2000 and 2010, it increased 400%. This is a huge increase meaning a very substantial hit to how productive businesses can be.

The number one cause of stress according to research? Our workplace and related factors.

When your team is stressed, everybody loses.

So protecting your staff from the causes of workplace stress needs to be very high up that list of priorities when looking at not only how to be a great employer, but also improving productivity.

Ensure staff have access to mental health services when needed. Focus on communicating frequently so your teams have chance to air any issues or ask for help. Offer up flexible working patterns to help your people out when life and work are gelling together in an ideal way.

For some more top tips on wellbeing, check out this recent blog post.

8 – Trial remote working

Some people love it, some aren’t convinced, but whatever your thoughts on remote working are right now, research shows it can have extraordinary benefits to organisations, both in terms of employee engagement and happiness and productivity.

Offering your people, the opportunity to work in a way that better fits with their life, means they are less susceptible to occupational stress, are likely to have more long-term commitment to your business and while working, will put in that little bit more discretionary effort.

In 2019 we wrote a whole series of articles about the remote work revolution and one of the key shout-outs from these was the great impact remote working can have on productivity, boosting profits for may real-world business by considerable amounts.

Remote working an offer up a host of benefits for both employees and employers.

9 – Stop the multitasking

Many people tend to believe that the ability to multitask is a highly useful skill for increasing how productive we are. Yet, the opposite is almost certainly true in most cases. Psychologists across the globe have found attempting to carry out multiple tasks at once can result in lost time and productivity.

Work by Harvard Business School in 2017 showed that the tendency for many employers to push multiple tasks out to staff at once, with no clear guidance on how to tackle them leads to staff trying to focus on multiple things at once.

Instead, you and your people should aim to make a habit of committing to a single task before moving on to your next project.

10 – Focus on employee engagement

It’s probably no surprise to see us bring up employee engagement’s role in improving staff productivity. But with the wealth of research out there from the likes of Gallup that shows the huge potential boost to productivity offered by strong employee engagement, it would be remiss of us not to mention it here!

In the end, it all comes down to this: happy, engaged employees work harder, smarter, and better.

If you need to know what exactly we mean by employee engagement, then check out this recent article.

For those already clear on what engagement is but wanting to know how to improve it at your organisation, why not book a free Weekly10 demo.

Tools for boosting productivity in the workplace

For those just skimming the above article, keen to know what tools exist to help answer the ‘how to improve productivity in my business’ question, then here are our favourites that we at Weekly10 use:

  • Toggl – great for tracking time spent on tasks and projects
  • Jira – superb for our developers to collaborate on projects quickly
  • Basecamp – fantastic for less technical cross-team collaboration
  • Trello – simple and efficient for inter-team collaboration
  • Slack – replace all those meetings with quick chats and file sharing
  • Microsoft Teams – as per Slack but with video conferencing thrown in too
  • Udemy – unlock thousands of training opportunities for next to no cost
  • Weekly10 – we don’t just sell it, we use it. Great for employee engagement and performance management.

Head of People Science