A busy employee checks his phone while he works.

How to Be More Productive at Work

Updated May 1, 2021 . AmFam Team

With digital distractions just a click away, maximizing productivity in the workplace is harder than ever. Here are tips to boost efficiency in your business.

Organizing your team and planning around a culture of success is foundational to taking your business to the next level. Erik Fisher, productivity podcaster with Beyond the To-Do List, says teamwork, technology, time tracking and disconnecting from work are organization strategies for small businesses that not only meet, but also helped them exceed their goals by improving productivity in the workplace.

Once those goals are laid out, here’s how to reframe a hectic work week — that can increase employee productivity and get those objectives met:

What Is Employee Productivity?

Employee productivity is usually defined by the amount of work — also called “outputs” — that are produced by a worker during a fixed time period. Employee productivity is also understood as the ratio between employee input volumes and output volumes for a worker over a given period. Suppose inputs are tasks assigned to an individual employee, and outputs are the completed tasks. When the ratio of inputs to outputs remains 1:1 for a given date range, you know that the worker’s getting their assignments done on time and workplace productivity is healthy.

But if the worker falls behind, only completing 5 of 10 assigned tasks, the ratio (now 0.5:1) can indicate that adjustments in workload may be called for — to better balance their day-to-day assignments. But it’s key to understand that the quality of the work should also be taken into consideration, too. Just because work is done on time doesn’t guarantee it’s done correctly.

You may want to explore how to improve efficiency in the workplace by reviewing workstation ergonomics, or inquire about other distractions that could be impeding employee performance.

What Affects Employee Productivity & Efficiency?

Keeping your employees productive and content is a real balancing act. In order to know how to increase employee productivity, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the ways in which employee performance can be impacted:

  • Managerial style and attitude of supervisors and administrators
  • The employee's personal experience — what the employee perceives as their workplace culture
  • Personality differences within cohorts and employee groups
  • Workload expectations and timelines
  • Perceived psychological safety of employees
  • Physical and ergonomic conditions of the work environment
  • If COVID-19 restrictions are in place, the difficulties related to working from home can be an issue

All of these factors contribute to how well your employees will perform. But remember, they’re not the only concerns in this equation. Personal issues like the health of loved ones and relationship troubles can sideline employee productivity and efficiency too.

What can a business do to improve its productivity? Start by assessing the culture that exists at work. Although this can be difficult to see clearly with a distributed workforce, it’s not impossible. Managers can schedule one-on-one Zoom meetings to check in with their workers. And employees should be encouraged freely speak to their supervisors — to keep the communication lines open. And by performing a detailed performance review with applicable productivity measures and other key touchpoints in focus, managers can help uncover issues and build lasting solutions that nurture workplace productivity and employee performance.

How to Measure Productivity in the Workplace

Quantifying productivity is a complex process. It usually involves collecting many forms of data, from employee production details, and internal statistics that measure performance over time. By analyzing these data carefully, trends can begin to emerge, and productivity patterns reveal insights that identify which methods are helping get work done — and which ones aren’t.

If you’re wondering how to measure productivity in the workplace, project managers and HR employees will reference the following:

  • Individual objectives assigned to an employee
  • The amount of time it takes to complete an employee’s assignments
  • The quality of the deliverable or job performed by the employee
  • Review the volume of tasks performed, known as quantitative measurement
  • The amount of training and experience a worker has
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis and compare the profitability of the employee against their salary or rate
  • Explore department-wide profits and revenues
  • Leverage software to track employee performance and productivity over time like Atlassian (Opens in a new tab), nTask (Opens in a new tab) and Producteev (Opens in a new tab)

15 Tips: How to Increase Productivity in the Workplace

So, what can a business do to improve its productivity — after making changes that enhance profits and productivity? The truth is, there’s always room for improvement. After you’ve reviewed your key metrics and established goals, it’s time to think about how fine-tuning your plan can keep your profits trending upwards. You may want to offer incentives and shine a light on employees that are leading the charge.

Here are 15  great ways to increase productivity in the workplace:

1. Get an accurate assessment of time use

Effective time management is crucial to maximizing productivity in the workplace. Many small business owners know what tasks need to be done, but have no idea how long they will take. As a result, they create weekly goals that rarely are met. Team leaders should use time-tracking software such as T Sheets  (Opens in a new tab)to get a realistic picture of the steps involved. “I think they’ll be amazed at how much time they spend on some things and not on others,” Fisher says. Once you know it will take you three days to finish a report rather than three hours, you can schedule your time accordingly.

2. Schedule meetings for you, alone

Many of us put meetings with others on our calendars, but the mere task of penciling in a time for a meeting with yourself to complete important tasks can keep you from being distracted by other activities. Close your door, ignore your email, and don’t answer the phone during this time. The key is making sure you honor the appointment with yourself, just as you would respect the time you've dedicated to another colleague.

3. Add in soft deadlines

Instead of setting one deadline for a project’s conclusion, create milestones that will mark your progress along the way. Keep team members on track by scheduling goal-setting meetings and short check-in times for progress updates on weekly accomplishments. That way, you can identify problems early and make adjustments to your processes in order to address those issues.

4. Combine teamwork with technology

Distracting email and social media messages can hamper strategies to organize time and can lead to a decrease in productivity at work. Accordingly, Fisher recommends apps such as Self Control (Opens in a new tab) and tools like Rescue Time (Opens in a new tab) whose features include blocking websites to aid in organizing your team and fortifying productivity. “One of the keys is using these tools to break the habit of checking on those sites or procrastinating on sites that have nothing to do with what you’re working on at the time,” says Fisher. Productivity will increase as the benefits of these technology tools become engrained in office culture.

5. Share productivity strategies

As you discover techniques to better organize your time, model them as principles of your business’s culture. “I think a lot of the efficiency and effectiveness, as well as communication issues, go away once everybody’s on the same page as to what the culture’s expectations are,” says Fisher. When employee productivity issues arise, ask for employees’ input into workable solutions to help remedy the problem.

6. Factor in downtime

Build healthy breaks into your organizing strategy. Fisher recommends that small business teams relinquish work to the workplace, often. “Just because we can be connected at all times doesn’t mean we should,” he says. By giving team members the time and space to disconnect and recharge, they work much more efficiently.

7. Recognize and reward top-performing employees

One of the best ways to increase productivity of employees is to give recognition where it’s due. High praise from management can produce positive results in a couple key ways. First, it typically propels the top-performing employee’s self-esteem to new heights. Secondly, it creates some friendly workplace competition that can boost employee performance across an entire department. Adding a gift card into the mix or remembering their accomplishments with a bonus can help sustain that momentum.

8. Leverage SMART business goals

Lean into proven methodology for achieving goals by introducing your workforce to SMART goal-setting best practices. Because each employee works at their own cadence, SMART goal-setting can help managers to fine-tune individual plans that work on a per-employee basis.

What are SMART goals? SMART goals are defined as: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time sensitive. Taken together, the acronym is designed to help workers remember the steps, clarify their purpose, focus their attention and increase productivity.

9. Limit employee distractions while working

Pull distractions out of the equation by requesting workers stow their smartphones or turn them off during specified hours. But be sure to allow time for them to check in across the day. If you’ve got a distributed workforce, it can be hard to enforce this requirement. A good way to increase employee productivity is to request workers chart their time in a daily spreadsheet which reminds them to store their tech out of reach at the start of each work period.

10. Ensure you’re hiring the right fit for the business

It’s really important to validate that each candidate is a good fit for your organization. Remind your HR department to seek out candidates that have highlighted efficiencies and improvements they’ve made during their tenure at other jobs. It’s a work ethic that can add value to an entire department, if changes are adopted internally that may save hundreds of work hours every year.

11. Sharpen the onboarding process

Providing the right training for your workforce can lead to an exponential increase in employee productivity in the long-term. Because first impressions are key to employee wellbeing, it’s also important to illustrate to them that they’ll have the knowledge, support and skills they’ll need to succeed. A well-balanced and nuanced onboarding process can put a new hire’s mind at ease and allow them to focus on what it’s going to take to get the job done.

12. Make meetings more effective

Because meetings pull employees off their assigned tasks, it’s imperative that you make the most of each get-together. In addition to thorough preparation, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your meetings are effective. Agile-based meetings are a great business model to consider because they focus on direct communication between stakeholders and foster efforts to continuously improve work processes.

13. Motivate employees with flexible management styles

By adopting a responsive “situational leadership approach (Opens in a new tab)” to managing employees, you’ll have a variety of managerial styles to pick and choose from — depending on the task and desired result. Situational leadership styles were first uncovered in a Harvard Business Review article by Daniel Goldman. This researched-based design to management suggests leadership and executives select a managerial style that most effectively improves performance and productivity.

14. Encourage employees to take care of their health

Statistics have shown that employees who attend to their wellbeing are more productive and suffer less downtime due to illness or injury. By providing a workplace health program, you can incentivize and encourage your hires to take control of their health. The results may really grab your attention. From decreased employee absenteeism, to reduced overtime costs, to a marked reduction in employee turnover, the benefits of a workplace health program can really pay off.

15. Encourage collaboration in the workplace

Fostering a community of collaboration is a great way to build up employee productivity. Not only will it potentially enhance the relationships between workers, it also bakes in cross-checking and accountability into a given task. But perhaps the biggest benefit of workplace collaboration resides in the opportunities for your employees to learn from one another. They may be more likely to adopt new processes and more efficient work habits that push productivity levels to new heights.

Discover Ways to Boost Business Performance

When you dedicate resources to improve work efficiency, you may feel like your work is never done — there’s always room for improvement. And most entrepreneurs wouldn’t have it any other way. But by creating room for new intrapreneurial leadership systems and meeting time management dilemmas as they rise, you’ll stand to achieve record-breaking workplace productivity.

At American Family Insurance, we’re not only committed to helping you protect your business from the unexpected — but we want to support its growth, too. Check out our curated collection of business advice and best practices — all of which are designed to take your business to the next level.

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