Mastering employee productivity means different things to different people. For some managers, it’s a matter of spending more hours working so you can see better results. For others, it’s a matter of spending work hours more efficiently so the company can be more profitable. For still others, it’s about finding balance, and minimizing wasted time.
However you choose to look at it, and whatever strategies you’ve tried so far, you know employee productivity matters. So for the purposes of this article, I’ve gathered 27 of the best tips and approaches I’ve found—in most cases backed with empirical evidence—to generally increase employee productivity in the workplace.
Productivity, as far as I’m concerned, refers to the amount of results-driven work a person can do within a given period of time on a sustainable basis—and as you’ll see, that “sustainable” component matters, because in some cases, doing less work can actually improve employee productivity.
Observational Changes to Increase Employee Productivity
Let’s start with the most important category of potential changes: observational changes. Why are these so important? Because they allow you to actively measure the productivity of your employees. Without an objective measurement, you won’t be able to tell how productive your employees truly are, and you won’t be able to tell whether your other strategies are actually making a difference.
Accordingly, these strategies need to be your first stop:
1. Put a monitoring system in place.
It’s a starting point to put an employee monitoring software tool in place for your employees. Ideally, you’ll be able to track things like how many hours your employees are working, how they’re spending those hours, which apps they’re using, and how they’re using them. If you have a project management system in place, you probably already have a good start; you’ll be able to track things like how many tasks your employees are closing, and how they’re working with their team members.
To take things to the next level, consider implementing a monitoring system for Gmail in the form of EmailAnalytics. EmailAnalytics lets you track things like how many emails your employees are sending, how many threads they’re a part of, and who their top senders and recipients are. It’s a perfect snapshot to illustrate what their workload is like, and how they’re spending their time on email.
2. Conduct regular employee reviews.
Though they’re starting to fall out of favor, performance reviews still have a place in your organization. These one-on-one sit-downs, if conducted at regular intervals (like once or twice a year), are perfect opportunities to discuss each employee’s performance, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, and setting goals they can use to improve their performance over the next interval.
Though you can still give feedback on a daily basis for individual tasks, it helps to have a periodic event on the calendar that allows you to evaluate your employees on a higher level. Plus, research shows that the majority of millennials (who now dominate the workforce) want to receive more feedback, but aren’t getting it.
3. Collect feedback.
Employee productivity isn’t just about giving feedback—it’s also about receiving it. Create an environment that makes employees feel comfortable sharing their insights about your work environment, whether it’s an assessment of the lighting and ambient noise in the room, or a suggestion on a new policy that could save time.
This openness will alert you to potential threats to morale, so you can resolve them before they become problematic. You’ll also likely uncover a host of new ideas for how to improve productivity in practical ways, such as by implementing a new company policy, recommending a new productivity analytics tool, or changing the procedures for how to complete projects.
Once you have these systems in place, you’ll have a baseline that you can use to compare to your efficiency levels after you start incorporating more productivity strategies.
Motivational Changes to Increase Employee Productivity
Next, we can start to address motivational changes. These strategies all work by making your employees more motivated to do productive work, through the use of extrinsic rewards or intrinsic improvements.
These are some of the best things you can do:
4. Offer monetary rewards.
Research shows, unsurprisingly, that there’s a positive correlation between monetary incentives and productivity while working; in other words, giving your employees raises, bonuses, and performance-based gifts will make them work more productively under your employ. Consider attaching a monetary prize to a specific objective you’re trying to complete, such as a $100 bonus for anyone who can resolve a bug in your software within the hour, or creating long-term rewards, like salary increases that correlate with experience.
If you’re a small business or if money’s tight, don’t worry—monetary incentives aren’t the only way to practically reward employees, and they aren’t even the most motivating. See our list of employee recognition ideas for alternatives to monetary rewards. Rewards are a viable option if you want to sweeten the pot, boost productivity, and boost morale at the same time.
5. Offer time-based rewards.
You can also offer time-based incentives and rewards in a similar fashion. Instead of giving someone a $100 bonus, you could let them leave early for a day. Instead of giving them a salary increase, you could give them an extra vacation day, or let them leave early occasionally.
This has two effects; first, it makes employees feel like they’ve been adequately rewarded for their hard work, and second, the extra time away from work will serve as a break or vacation, which can ultimately reduce stress, boost morale, and lead to higher productivity that way.
6. Use both team-based and individual goals.
Some managers like to use team goals to motivate employees, such as setting a cumulative sales target or striving to reduce customer churn to a lower percentage. This is advantageous because it fosters a team mentality and bonding between your employees; it also allows your employees’ strengths and weaknesses to complement one another.
Others prefer to use individual goals as motivation, creating unique goal plans tailored to individuals’ strengths, weaknesses, and needs. This is advantageous because it helps each individual improve, and gives you more flexibility with your team. So which one’s better? Instead of optimizing your strategy to focus on one set of goals, try using both; set team goals to inspire teamwork and bonding, and individual goals to help each member achieve their true potential.
7. Create and distribute a list of accomplishments.
At the end of the day, the week, or another interval of your choosing, consider distributing an email with a list of accomplishments by your team members. They can be big and important—like finishing a major client project—or small and easy to miss—like making a fresh pot of coffee. What’s important is that you publicly acknowledge people for the things they’ve done well; it makes your employees feel good, it inspires other people to be better, and it sets a standard for the type of behavior you’re looking for.
Even better, it’s 100 percent positive, so you don’t have to focus on weaknesses or criticisms to make an improvement. Just make sure those email threads never get out of hand.
Environmental Changes to Increase Employee Productivity
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that our environments play a huge role in how productive we are. Our location and sensory experiences affect us in some truly profound ways, so consider experimenting with these environmental changes in your workplace:
8. Let in more natural light.
Employees in offices with windows were exposed to 173 percent more white light than those in closed offices. Those employees got an average of 46 minutes of additional sleep every night, reported less stress, and were more productive overall. Exposure to natural light (or a natural light substitute) is also linked to a lower risk for anxiety and depression, which can make your employees even happier and more productive.
If your office doesn’t have windows already, and you don’t feel like doing a renovation or moving, you can use natural light simulating lamps to fill in the gaps here—or you can spend more time outside, such as by having morning meetings walking around the building.
9. Use different colors.
The majority of office environments in the United States are painted white, or beige, or a light gray—neutral colors that don’t stand out. But at least one study suggests that employees in white (or similarly neutral-colored rooms) tend to make more mistakes and have trouble focusing more than employees in red or aqua-colored rooms.
Consider the psychology of your room colors, and seek something that better fits with your brand. Green, for example, is thought to inspire more creativity and innovation, while blue is calming, and promotes tranquility.
10. Add plants.
The presence of plant life can boost your employees’ productivity as well (by as much as 15 percent), though there are many hypotheses about why this effect exists. It could be that they provide more oxygen in the air, that they add interesting things to look at in the office, or simply that they make the office feel like a more natural environment.
Consider investing in a handful of live plants to use around your employees’ desks, and throughout the building—you’ll be surprised at what an impact they can make.
11. Create a communal break room.
Consider decking out a room of your office to be a communal break room. And yes, most break rooms are (almost by definition) communal, but your job is to create a space where your employees truly feel welcomed, and want to interact with each other.
Employees who feel like they have a friend in the office are much more likely to report high engagement, and when your employees are comfortable talking and hanging out together, they’ll be more comfortable working together. Make your break room a large, open space with inviting colors, and maybe even a ping pong table to give them something to bond over.
12. Change the seating arrangements.
Shaking up the seating arrangements in your office can do a lot of good for your team’s overall productivity. First of all, you should know that not all office floor plans work equally well for all employees. An “open” office plan, with minimal walls to encourage collaboration, can actually hinder productivity in some cases, reducing face-to-face interactions by as much as 70 percent.
This is largely due to employees feeling less privacy and fewer personal boundaries, so it may not apply to all businesses. Changing your desks and seating arrangements allows you to experiment and learn what works best for everybody. It also gives your employees something novel in their work lives, breaking up the drudgery of coming in to the same chair and same space, with the same views every day.
13. Play the right music.
Some people swear that they’re at their best when they’re working to the blaring sound of their favorite music. Others say they prefer total silence to work best. In reality, scientific evidence suggests that the optimal level of music is moderate; it shouldn’t be so faint that it’s hard to hear, but it also shouldn’t be so loud that it’s distracting.
On that note, there’s no one type of music that works best for everyone; people tend to perform better when they’re listening to music they actually enjoy, though music that’s heavy on clearly articulated lyrics can be distracting for certain tasks. If you want the best work environment, set a control for the volume, and rotate who has control of the playlist throughout the day or throughout the week. Better yet, allow your employees to listen to their own music through headphones.
14. Minimize distractions.
Distractions have the power to disrupt anyone’s productivity, and they can come in a variety of forms. When your focus is broken, it can take up to 23 minutes to fully restore it; that’s a huge time cost for what could amount to a single email or text message. There are some distractions that are easily controllable in your environment; for example, you can get rid of lights, music, or other installations that pull people away from their jobs.
But the most impactful distractions—interruptions and notifications—are harder to get rid of. Encourage your employees to respect each other’s heads-down time by not interrupting their work, and be open about having “blackout” periods where you either turn off all notifications from your devices or disconnect from the internet entirely.
High-Level Procedural Changes to Increase Employee Productivity
You can also improve employee productivity by instituting better high-level procedures and approaches. These are some of the best:
15. Provide better, more comprehensive training.
A better-trained employee is going to be a more productive employee. With more training, an employee will understand their job much better, and will make fewer mistakes. They’ll also feel more confident, enabling them to make decisions on the fly, and will feel more valued in the workplace, which can help reduce employee turnover.
The type of training you offer will depend on the position you’re training for, but may include onsite training with a more experienced coworker, or reimbursement for external classes. This isn’t a one-time investment, either; you can cross-train your employees to be better versed in each other’s responsibilities, and dedicate a budget to ongoing learning and development opportunities if you can.
16. Make a big push at the beginning of the day.
Try to make a big push for productivity at the beginning of the day. For example, you could call for a quick team meeting, then encourage your teammates to tackle their most challenging projects, or handle their most complicated tasks. Early in the morning, you’ll be starting from a clean slate, which means your team won’t be as bogged down by stress or exhaustion.
It also sets a precedent for momentum; starting with a strong push for productivity means they’ll be more likely to work hard the rest of the day. Plus, studies show that your mood at the beginning of the day has a high likelihood of determining how you feel the rest of the day. If you start the day with a sense of accomplishment and pride, you’ll be in a better mood for the rest of the day.
17. Allow naps.
Napping on the job is practically synonymous with laziness in modern parlance, but sleep affects productivity more than most people realize. Just an hour or two of missed sleep in a single night is enough to compromise your brain’s ability to solve complex problems or do its most best high-level thinking. If you miss sleep on a chronic basis, your performance could suffer even further.
There isn’t much you can do about your team’s sleep habits when they’re away from the office (other than promoting the importance of sleep, and encouraging chronically tired employees to change their habits), but you can mitigate the problem by allowing naps in the office. Invest in a couple of comfy couches, or establish a dark, isolated room of the office as a place to get some shuteye.
A 20-minute nap can help your employees feel refreshed, alert, and focused, ultimately get far more done over the rest of the day. A 20 minute investment could result in hours of increased output.
18. Grant more flexible schedules.
Consider implementing more flexibility in your employee scheduling; for example, instead of mandating that all your workers follow a strict 9-5 schedule, give them wiggle room to set different hours, such as working 8-2, then picking up additional work from 6-8. This will have a number of benefits.
For starters, people are genetically predisposed to be at peak productivity during different times of the day; letting people work during the hours when they’re most productive is ideal for getting more done. It also gives your employees the chance to run errands during weekdays that they might not be able to, or complement a partner/spouses working hours to provide better care for their children. Because of that, you’ll see a healthy boost of morale once you implement this policy.
Allowing flexible schedules also allows people to work in different environments, enabling the coffee shop effect to take hold; the brain is constantly seeking novelty, so doing work in new, inspiring locations can reduce stress and foster the development of new ideas.
19. Delegate and distribute effectively.
Productivity shouldn’t just be about who works more hours, or who gets more tasks done during a given week. It should be about balancing those tasks so they’re executed as smoothly and efficiently as possible, based on the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. For example, if you put a pro soccer player on a baseball team and a pro baseball player on a soccer team, it won’t matter how many hours they each put in—they still won’t perform as well as a baseball player on a baseball team and soccer player on a soccer team.
As a team leader, manager, or CEO, your job should be to maximize your own time by focusing on the tasks and projects that are most important. Other tasks can and should be delegated to the people best capable of handling them—make sure you know who’s best at client communications, who specializes in different types of technical tasks, and who’s reliable at picking up urgent tasks on the fly. It’s also important to delegate with specific instructions, so there’s little to no risk of a miscommunication.
20. Cut meetings.
It’s estimated that useless meetings waste up to $37 billion every year. They’re the scourge of the modern workplace, and rarely offer more in value than they cost in time. Meetings tend to be unproductive because they’re poorly organized, because they’re allowed to run for a full hour (or longer), and because they’re usually not as efficient as email in terms of communication value.
They’re also a problem because of how frequently they arise (some managers call for multiple meetings every day), and because of how many people they include (you can multiply the number of hours wasted by the number of people attending to calculate the “real” cost of a wasted meeting). You can greatly improve your productivity by cutting your meetings as much as possible. For some businesses, that means meeting far less often. For others, it means reducing the number of meeting attendees.
For still others, it means reducing the time for meetings down to 15 or 20 minutes—and trust me, you won’t miss the extra time.
21. Kill multitasking.
Dozens of studies have confirmed what we all knew deep down; multitasking simply isn’t effective. With the exception of a tiny fraction of the population, most of us are only able to truly focus on one thing at a time. When we try to juggle two tasks simultaneously, we end up underperforming at both of them.
Unfortunately, you can put a ban on multitasking that prevents your employees from ever engaging in this activity, but you can set a good example and discourage multitasking when you do see it. For example, you could ban using smartphones while in meetings, or point out when someone seems like they’re working on a project and chatting with you at the same time.
22. Try a hands-off management approach.
There are many different management styles to choose from, and the jury’s still out on which, if any, are better than the others. However, there are some styles that don’t work—including micromanagement and overt controlling. Adopting a more hands-off management approach allows your employees to figure out which techniques and approaches work best for them, and gives them more confidence and freedom to explore their own positions.
Be available for guidance, and step in when you notice a problem isn’t being addressed, but otherwise, leave your employees to find what works best for them on their own.
23. Allow more breaks.
Breaks are another habit that have, unfortunately, become seen as the opposite of “productive.” After all, they take you away from work for a set period of time, during which you’re seemingly accomplishing nothing.
However, empirical studies seem to universally find that taking a break—even a small one—at regular intervals can greatly improve not only your focus and critical thinking skills, but also your morale. On average, people tend to do best working for 52 minutes and breaking for 17, but this is just an average—different employees will do better under different breakdowns. Encourage your employees to take periodic breaks throughout the day, and set a good example by leading some of your own.
Email-Specific Changes to Increase Employee Productivity
At EmailAnalytics, we’re especially passionate about email, and believe that email is a major key in unlocking the true potential of your employees’ productivity.
24. Have online and offline periods.
I briefly mentioned the idea of allowing your employees to disconnect from communication channels in order to reduce distractions, but the break from email is important for a number of reasons. Establishing online and offline communication periods helps you to limit the number and length of conversations your employees have; and yes, modern communication speeds allow us to work faster, but if left unchecked, email threads can take far more time than they need to.
Having dead time between email sessions gives you more time to evaluate what you want to say, and breaks the anxiety-fueling feeling that you need to respond to every email the second it comes in. Your communication will get tighter and more valuable, your employees will be less distracted, and morale will likely improve. What’s not to like? Just make sure everyone’s on a slightly different schedule for online and offline periods, so there’s not a company-wide blackout at the same time every day.
25. Stop emailing late into the night.
If you and your team are swamped with work, it’s tempting to email late into the night—after all, most of us have grown accustomed to a culture where work communications extend late into the nights and into the weekends. However, it’s better for you and your team if you avoid this temptation; sending an email late at night means your recipients might get a late-night notification, stress about it, and either do work or miss sleep due to anxiety.
Instead, if you feel the need to write down your thoughts immediately, consider saving them as a draft, and encourage your employees to disconnect entirely at night by turning off email notifications. If there’s an emergency, you can always call or text them.
26. Keep your email threads short and sweet.
Email threads are the most notorious threats to your email-related productivity. If they’re addressed to too many recipients, you’re going to be dealing with the chaos of a dozen recipients all getting distracted every time there’s a reply. And since anyone can respond to prolong the conversation, chances are, the thread will extend far longer than it was originally intended to.
Add to that the fact that over time, a bulky email thread can become practically unnavigable, and it’s a no-brainer that your email threads should be kept short and sweet. Try to limit the number of people you send them to, and put a cap on the number of messages you send and receive before opening a new thread or moving to a phone call (or other, more appropriate medium for back-and-forth conversation).
27. Master and teach the art of the concise email.
Emails are most valuable when they’re concise. If you can convey the same meaning with 25 words that you can with 500 words, why would you bother writing out all 500? It takes more time to write, more time to edit, more time to read, and allows more room for misinterpretation.
Set the standard by mastering the art of conciseness in your own messages, relying on formatting, bullet points, numbered lists, and succinct sentences to accurately convey meaning with as few words as possible. Then, teach your employees to do the same, and reward them when they make progress in this pursuit.
If you’re interested in uncovering more ways that email can improve you and your team’s productivity, be sure to read out post about 101 Gmail tricks and hacks to boost your productivity, or explore our 54 recommended Gmail add-ons, extensions, and apps to streamline efficiency even more. For the purposes of this article, we’ve kept our list of email-related productivity insights high-level, but if you explore our blog further, you’ll find dozens to hundreds of new ways to boost productivity.
Accounting for Individual Differences
I should also mention the importance of accounting for individual differences when plotting your course for productivity improvement. Your employees will likely respond differently to your strategies, based on their individual preferences and histories. You can improve your employees’ individual responses by considering the following:
- Strengths and weaknesses. Some employees are going to be inherently strong with some strategies, and weak with others. For example, you may have an employee who is genuinely able to multitask (though this is an extremely rare ability); in their case, you may have to make an exception to your “no multitasking” rule. You might also have an employee who’s especially susceptible to distraction; they may require more “heads-down” time than another employee, or an environment with less music than average.
- Intrinsic motivation. Every employee will be intrinsically motivated by a different combination of forces. Some are working just to make money, while others want a sense of accomplishment, and still others are looking to progress their skillsets. Know what makes each of your employees tick, and customize your perks, motivation strategies, and productivity enhancements accordingly.
- Personal preferences. Some employees will flat-out subjectively prefer one type of environment or working condition over another. As much as possible, respect those choices, and don’t assume that your one-size-fits-all approach is inherently superior.
Increasing employee productivity in the workplace starts with a good analytics strategy, and a strong employee monitoring tool to help you gauge employee productivity on a high level. That’s why we built EmailAnalytics—it’s the perfect tool to monitor your employees’ use of email, and find the detailed insights you need to put together a plan for improvement.
Sign up for free today, and learn why so many managers have already turned to EmailAnalytics for productivity analysis and ongoing improvements within their teams.
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