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Leadership Our Culture

How we can improve the productivity of our organisations

Prioritisation is crucial for achieving our objectives, especially within the business realm. The ability to manage tasks effectively and prioritise what's most important is intrinsically connected to enhancing productivity. This skill is beneficial and essential for leaders at all levels, from middle and senior management to project managers. However, it's also evident that the finest planning won't yield results in an environment that stifles productivity. Creating a setting that fosters focus and efficiency is equally important to ensure prioritised tasks can be accomplished.

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Contents:

Some data on productivity

Business owners yet to embrace even a partial digital transformation or who shy away from offering remote working options might find the results from several studies quite sobering.

Research indicates that the peak productivity of the most efficient employees reaches only 60% during the working day, and notably, this peak occurs when they work from home.

The traditional office setup significantly hampers effective working. Open spaces, frequent meetings, constant noise, ringing phones, video conferencing, and people walking behind or approaching to ask a quick question are just a few distractions.

It turns out that office workers are interrupted on average every 3 minutes and 5 seconds, and it takes them about 23 minutes to refocus on their tasks.

As a result, they can only dedicate 3 minutes of productive work for every 26 minutes spent in the office.

So, it’s hardly surprising to learn from another study that up to 65% of employees report higher productivity levels during vacation when distractions naturally decrease as most people are away.

Adding to the challenge is multitasking, which can slash productivity by up to 40%.

The data clearly points to a need for change. Traditional office environments and working practices need to evolve to increase the productivity of our organisations. So the question is, how do we do this?

Allow people to work remotely

Since 2023, there’s been a growing public discourse about companies and organisations migrating back to office-based work. Understandably, these spaces were built and heavily invested in, representing significant financial outlays. Yet, from an organisational standpoint, one must ponder whether reverting to traditional office setups is genuinely beneficial.

Inc.com highlights a telling statistic: 9 out of 10 employees currently working remotely express a desire to continue this arrangement indefinitely.

So why are companies keen on cutting remote work options? It appears to stem from a belief that increased oversight can enhance efficiency. As I mentioned, even top performers only reach a 60% productivity rate. Additionally, unproductive employees spend over an hour reading news on non-work-related activities, nearly 45 minutes on social media, and 26 minutes job hunting.

It is not surprising that companies are trying to solve this situation. However, the problem seems more complex and tightening control may not be the way forward.

Such measures could backfire, particularly with highly engaged and committed employees, who are proven to be up to eight times more productive than the average worker.

Falling levels of job engagement are frequently tied to stress, a prevalent issue in the modern workplace. Dynamic Signal reports that this stress can arise from various factors, including:

  • low morale affecting 34% of employees,
  • project delays or failures cited by 44%,
  • loss of sales at 18%,
  • and unmet performance targets concerning 25% of the workforce.
The American Institute of Stress adds another dimension to this issue, noting that approximately 12% of employees have taken sick leave due to work-related stress.

The financial implications are stark, with stress-induced illnesses costing businesses between $200 billion to $300 billion annually in lost productivity.

It is mainly the bad workplace that is the cause of the previously mentioned factors.

Yet, when we go back to consider remote working, the narrative around productivity shifts significantly, employees overwhelmingly report higher productivity levels away from the office:

  • 66% of employees feel more productive working from home.
  • 76% of employees yearn for fewer distractions and less unnecessary interaction with colleagues.
  • 70% of respondents are eager to eliminate the stress associated with commuting. Supporting this, data from the Auto Insurance Center reveals that commuters spend an average of 100 hours each year getting to work, with 41 of those hours wasted in traffic jams.

These statistics paint a clear picture: remote working promises to alleviate stress and enhance overall productivity, suggesting a potential pathway for organisations looking to boost engagement and efficiency.

Plus, employee satisfaction can translate into clear financial benefits for organisations. According to Global Workplace Analytics, a typical company can gain around US$11,000 per year for every employee who works from home at least part of the time.

The best use of our offices is to make them mostly a space for creative collaboration. Of course, space should also be left for those who don’t want to or can’t work remotely (but we should leave that decision to them).

Create an environment that encourages collaboration

The number of distractions caused by other people in the workplace has resulted in up to 86% of employees preferring to work alone, regardless of whether they are at home or in the office.

Employees say they are less distracted when interacting with fewer people, allowing them to be more efficient and focused on their work.

While a solitary work environment might boost individual productivity, complex projects inherently require collaboration, even when working remotely. These projects demand diverse skill sets and expertise, necessitating teamwork even in remote settings.

Due to their different working styles, 46% of people perceive teamwork as extremely difficult.

For teams to function effectively and achieve high productivity, some essential factors need to be considered:

  1. Effective Communication
    It’s fundamental for team members to communicate effectively. The McKinsey report highlights that teams that excel in alignment and communication can see 20-25% productivity increases.
  2. Clear and Specific Goals
    The team must have specific, well-defined goals. This alignment ensures that everyone works towards a common objective, significantly enhancing organisational commitment. Remarkably, 79% of employees feel more engaged when they have autonomy at work, which fosters responsibility and boosts productivity by an average of 5.2%.
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities
    Each team member should have a clearly defined role, which helps avoid confusion and ensures everyone knows their tasks. Interestingly, Gartner found that 9% of employees surveyed felt more productive with less supervision, emphasising the value of clarity in roles.
  4. Prioritisation and Workload Management
    It is crucial to manage work and deadlines according to priorities, delegate tasks, and share workloads. However, 85% of people admit to struggling to prioritise effectively.
  5. Information Processing
    Teams should possess the ability to process information appropriately using, for example, critical thinking skills. The Stanford Research Institute International has shown that 75% of an individual’s job success is attributed to people skills, compared to 25% for technical skills.
  6. Friendly Environment
    Creating a supportive and friendly environment that fosters teamwork is crucial for achieving team goals and boosting employee engagement. Involved employees are 21% more productive, leading to substantial organisational benefits, including a 41% reduction in absenteeism and a 59% decrease in turnover.

Reduce the number of meetings to a minimum

Research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that 70% of meetings stop employees from doing productive work.

Since 2020, remote working has led to a 20% reduction in the average length of company meetings. However, the number of meetings an employee attends has increased by 13.5% on average. In addition, new managers hold almost a third more meetings than their more experienced colleagues.

Other studies cast a critical eye on company meetings, revealing widespread issues that suggest an overload of meetings may be counterproductive:

  • A staggering 91% of employees report their minds wandering during meetings rather than staying focused on the discussion.
  • Nearly 39% have admitted to falling asleep in at least one meeting.
  • An overwhelming 96% have skipped at least one ‘mandatory’ meeting.
  • About 73% confess to working on unrelated tasks during meetings instead of participating.
  • Half of the surveyed employees view meetings as a waste of time.
  • And 89% criticise meetings for being ‘ineffective or poorly organised.

As we can see, drastically reducing the number of meetings could not only alleviate reluctance to work with other team members but also positively impact overall productivity.

A 40% reduction in meetings increases employee productivity by 71%.

It might be a good idea to consider introducing a day (or even days) without meetings in your organisation.

According to research conducted by MIT Sloan, introducing meeting-free days in the workplace can profoundly impact employee productivity. Even just one no-meeting day per week can make a difference, but scheduling two days without meetings per week increased productivity by 71%. The reason for this increase is that employees felt more in control of their work and were empowered to manage their to-do lists, which allowed them to prioritise important tasks and become more productive overall.

Work asynchronously

While it may sound complex, asynchronous working is actually quite straightforward and something we engage in daily.

Essentially, asynchronous communication is any interaction that doesn’t require participants to be in the same physical space or communicate in real-time.

Examples of this approach are readily found in the modern workplace, such as corporate instant messaging and email. In these scenarios, when we send a message to a colleague, we don’t expect an immediate response. Instead, the understanding is that they will reply when it’s feasible for them, allowing for flexibility.

Asynchronous work allows individuals to concentrate on their main tasks without constant interruptions. It provides the space to thoughtfully respond to communications at a more appropriate time. By embracing asynchronous communication, we facilitate a more focused and efficient working environment where tasks can be prioritised effectively.

Furthermore, insights from a GitHub survey shed light on workplace communication preferences, revealing that a mere 3% of respondents favour verbal over written communication. Interestingly, only 12% reported challenges in capturing others’ attention asynchronously.

In another study, when employees were directly queried about their productivity, only 7% felt effective in a traditional workplace setting, attributing their lack of productivity to constant distractions throughout their day.

Delving into additional research highlights further benefits of asynchronous communication:

61% of employees report that it contributes to a better work-life balance, 35% find it leads to more focused and less interruptive communication.

However, the adoption of asynchronous working practices is not without its challenges. 58% of respondents indicate that their companies lack the tools necessary to support effective asynchronous communication.

If organisations persist in adhering to conventional task completion methods and favour direct interactions over asynchronous communication, productivity may not see the improvement sought.

Considering the earlier mentioned statistics about the high distractions cost, it’s imperative to reevaluate communication strategies. Notably, only 6% of employees believe that preparing for asynchronous communication takes longer than arranging and conducting a meeting, underscoring its efficiency and potential for enhancing workplace productivity.

Summary

Reflecting on this array of advice, one might worry that organisations risk becoming less human in their quest for efficiency. Yet, such a viewpoint overlooks the true essence of these changes.

The primary goal of evolving organisational practices is to enhance the well-being of individuals, prioritising their needs. It aims to make work more comfortable, reduce stress, boost engagement, and improve work-life balance.

Indeed, while working with focused concentration, it is essential not to lose sight of the fundamental human need for connection. Therefore, it’s crucial to carve out specific times and spaces dedicated to fostering relationships. By doing so, we can ensure that our interactions are meaningful and that we’re giving proper attention to others who deserve it, thus maintaining the delicate balance between productivity and the human touch.

Sources and additional materials:

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