Companies are on a quest to improve employee productivity all the time. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Deloitte have experimented with the idea of a four day workweek that has been proven to create happy and productive employees.
However, this has not worked out well since a number of studies show that such a concept can actually raise stress levels among employees and could therefore be hazardous to their health.
Countries like Sweden experimented with shorter work hours instead. The pilot program was however scrapped after it was found that although this improves the health of the workers, it can be too expensive for the organization.
Achieving higher productivity levels while keeping employees healthy and operational costs low is clearly not possible with such big changes in the workplace.
I recently came across an article by marketing expert Jacqueline Biggs on the Shopify blog where she talks about the 10% strategy to improve business metrics.
The idea is simple – identify the needles that need to be moved in order to achieve your goals and develop strategies to improve them incrementally – 10 percent at a time.
The compounding effect of such an incremental change to so many of your metrics can be immense.
This got me thinking – can we create a similar strategy to improve workplace productivity?
Identifying the Needles
Before we devise the strategies necessary to improve productivity, we must identify the needles that need to be moved.
According to a Replicon survey, there are four factors that affected the productivity of nearly half of the participants.
Distractions at work contributed to decreased productivity of over two thirds of the participants while administrative overheads came in a close second.
Other major factors include the lack of transparency in the workplace and the inability to collaborate effectively. Let’s try to address these challenges with the 10% strategy of incremental improvement.
Why Are They Distracting
Before we look at ways to fix these distracting factors, it is important to understand the reason these factors reduce productivity of workers in the workplace. Not all distractions are bad for productivity.
Some studies have shown that employees who check social networks such as Facebook at work can actually be more productive than those who don’t. This is because such distractions can help employees take a break from work and thus rejuvenate themselves.
At the same time, other distractions like office chatter can make it difficult for workers to focus and thus brings down their productivity.
Companies that require employees to file weekly reports, log in their entry and exit times, and file detailed reports for reimbursement contribute towards a drop in productivity.
In such cases, workers spend their time on redundant tasks that do not add value to their job responsibilities. Such tasks not only reduce the amount of time that your workers get to complete their responsibilities, it also contributes towards stress which, in turn, can reduce productivity.
Stress could also be the reason why lack of transparency at work can hit productivity of the workers.
Employees who do not have a clear vision of their role or how their work impacts business can either get stressed or may lose motivation and this brings down their productivity.
Fixing These Factors
There are several reasons that contribute towards a distracting work environment. The open floor plan is intended to bring employees closer and increase collaboration. But this also means frequent disruptions that make it impossible for a worker to stay focused for any significant amount of time.
Internet and smartphones pose a challenge too as employees routinely slip into a sinkhole when they try to catch up on their Facebook or Instagram feeds. Smoke/snack breaks and disruptions caused by incoming emails also reduce worker productivity.
According to a CareerBuilder poll, employers feel that employees put in less than five hours of actual work every day.
While the instinctive solution to such a challenge might be to restrict social media access or create enclosed work spaces, they might be too disruptive in accordance with the 10 percent strategy.
The first step in the process would be to see how you could increase productive work hours from five hours by an additional 30 minutes.
One fix could be to create ‘quiet spaces’ within your office where employees are not permitted to talk or take calls. Perhaps, you could also make it mandatory to keep phones silent.
Employees who cannot focus could move into these quiet spaces to get more work done. Another strategy could be to send a daily automated report to the employee of the time they spent on the various applications.
Even if these reports are not shared with the boss, a daily report on the employee’s productivity may be enough to nudge them towards getting more work done. It is a good idea to periodically survey your employees on their productivity levels.
Even though the numbers are likely to be conservative, because employees don’t like sharing their dismal productivity levels with their employer, it is a good way to track the trends to see how much productivity improvement you are seeing over time.
Similarly, the 10% strategy could be deployed to counter each of the factors hampering productivity. Productivity loss due to collaboration could be fixed with online tools.
On the administrative side, if an average employee spends one hour every week filling in their timesheets, you could look at bringing this down minimally by insisting on a daily report instead of a weekly one.
Workers are more likely to instantly recall the work they have done at the end of each day compared to performing the same task at the end of the week. The time saved could only be a few minutes, but that’s productivity bump you may have not achieved otherwise.
Unlike conventional solutions, the 10% strategy does not require any significant investments in operational expenses. Additionally, any disruption caused to regular workflows is very minimal.
Consequently, the success rate with deployment is very high and improvements to productivity are considerable over time.