Repeat after me. Unicorns are NOT real. Unicorns are mythical creatures.
Schools are closing, the sun is shining, and everyone’s packing up their suitcases with beach gear. Meanwhile, you and your team are in the office daydreaming of how to take advantage of the warmer weather.
Staying focused and productive at work can be extremely difficult in the summer months, especially when the office is half empty.
If you’re one of the few people holding up the fort while your work colleagues are away, don’t fret. Here are six ways to keep yourself and your team both productive and inspired during the dog days of summer.
1. Encourage strategic time off
Let’s be honest: given the option of taking time off over summer or staying in the office, almost everyone would choose to be relaxing outdoors than typing away at their cubicles. But just because people choose to be working doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still find at least a day or two to get out and enjoy the heat.
If your coworkers are full-time employees, remind them of their benefits and personal days – particularly if they have amassed a significant number of days off and work is slower over the summer months. If they haven’t taken their personal days yet, encourage them to do it now.
About 40 percent of American workers leave vacation days unused for fear of returning to a mountain of work. However, encouraging people to take time off is an essential part of good time management. Be sure to communicate to them that it’s fine for them to take some days off, even if they’re relatively new, and provide them with steps and tools to ensure their workload won’t become unbearably heavy on their return.
A day out of the office can be refreshing and make all the difference in turning “stuck in the office during summer” to “being productive at the office during summer.”
2. Stay busy on career-boosting initiatives
Having nothing to do is a major de-motivator, especially in the summer when the office is dead quiet. On the other hand, having too much to do is a stressor that can also lead to demotivation, resentment and low morale, especially if your coworkers are sending you selfies from their Airbnb rental in the Bahamas.
Summertime presents the perfect opportunity to fine-tune your delegation tactics and create an optimal blend of busyness and career development opportunities for your direct reports.
Make sure they not only have enough to do but that they’re also doing things that are engaging and important to their job profile, as opposed to just busy work. Help them prioritize their time and tasks, and if it’s appropriate, give them the chance to take on new responsibilities or wear new hats. Millennials, for example, want to invest time acquiring skills and knowledge rather than just earning a paycheck – summertime would be a great time to take them up on this opportunity.
3. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Sitting around in an empty office naturally breeds procrastination and laziness, but there are many time-tested techniques to boosting productivity.
One example, invented in the late 1980s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo, is the Pomodoro Technique, which is based on the idea that frequent breaks improve mental agility and productivity. The method involves using a timer to break work hours into 25-minute intervals separated by short breaks.
What’s nice about the Pomodoro Technique is that it’s very simple and inexpensive to deploy: you simply break your ultimate goal into well-defined, 25-minute tasks, set the timer, work until the timer rings, mark the task as complete, take a short break, and start on the next task. Before you know it, the work day will be over and you’ll be free to go
4. Take meetings outside and encourage walks
Most offices are located in areas surrounded by easily walkable terrain – such as parks, paths, and lakes. This provides ample opportunity to take the daily stand-up or weekly update out of the conference room and into the sun
Getting outside for meetings not only provides fresh air – it also provides fresh context. A change in scenery can spark creativity and open doors to new ideas and new ways of looking at problems or challenges. A University of Michigan study found that people who spent time outside were better able to solve creative problems.
In this sense, taking meetings outdoors can really solve two issues at once: relieving your team’s summertime office blues while giving them an outlet for insight and problem-solving.
You can also encourage getting outside not just for business but pleasure. Organize a daily half-hour team walk for morning or mid-day, or create a longer event that takes place weekly.
If the sun’s out – why not enjoy it? You and your team will feel better for getting out and will return to the office refreshed and focused.
5. Do half-day Fridays
“Summer Fridays” are practically standard-operating-procedure at European companies, but a mere eight percent of Americans receive additional time off in the summer.
As evidenced by taking pretty much all of August off, our European counterparts understand the importance of long weekends and getting the proper amount of sun exposure to one’s mental health.
Instituting summer Fridays – where people take the afternoon off on Fridays rather than work until 5pm – will not only give your employees the chance to beat traffic and get to that campsite, beach house, or lake retreat that much earlier, it will also squeeze their time a little, forcing them to be that much more productive and focused while in the office. That’s a win-win.
6. Use the time to give back
The quieter summer months – if they are indeed quiet – are a great time to give people the chance to give back to the community. They could also be a great time to invest in learning, development, and training. Altruistic initiatives encourage people to step away from their desks and get into a more positive frame of mind.
Research has shown the benefits of volunteer work on both physical and mental well-being. Take a look at your local charity organizations and see which ones cater to corporate groups. Better yet, finding colleagues who can help identify and champion a volunteer program at work can help drive more employee engagement to the cause. This is not only a great excuse to get outside – it’s also something that everyone can do together to feel good. Another win-win.
Staying productive and motivated during summer is always going to be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. With the proper tools and tactics, you and your team can easily beat the summer office doldrums. In the end, it’s your employees’ happiness and well-being that are the primary determinants of work quality and output. If they’re happy they’ll do good work, which translates into greater team morale and productivity for any office environment.