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Deconstructing Productivity In The Workplace

employee workplace productivity
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There’s no shortage of statistics illustrating the various ways employees waste time, slack off, or get distracted during any given 8-hour workday. Want to know how productivity can be affected by sleep deprivation? Or your office temperature? Or even football? There’s research on all of that and more (American companies lose around $65B due to employee sleep deprivation, studies have shown that temperatures under 65° F decrease productivity, and a report estimates that the annual 17 weeks of fantasy football costs employers around $14B in lost productivity).

We conducted a poll of our own — specific to HR and finance professionals — on workforce productivity and the role of HR. Polling professionals from over 300 organizations across a variety of industries (accounting, architecture & construction, consulting, engineering, government, finance, tech, manufacturing, and nonprofit, to name a few), we were able to pinpoint several common detriments to productivity across industries, and come up with strategies to combat them.

top factors affecting employee productivity

Too Many Distractions

This first factor comes as no surprise — with personal technology blurring the lines between personal and professional communication, distractions from coworkers, issues with the now-popular open floor plan, and various other everyday office occurrences that can pull you off-task, the workplace today can feel like a minefield of distractions.

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper conjectured that, on average, employees spend around 50 minutes a day off-task — a likely conservative estimate, as their data was self-reported. While these minor, everyday distractions might seem trivial, they aggregate into a massive loss of productivity, and, consequently, loss of profit.

A Few Solutions:

Short of imposing a few sure-to-be-unpopular policies restricting or monitoring use of personal technology, there aren’t many ways you can directly limit your employees’ daily distractions. Instead of restricting bad behaviors, strive to foster good ones by making small changes in company culture that support self-regulation and transparency.

solutions for employee productivity

Some Ideas

  • Educate your employees on ways to self-restrict when it comes to their phone, social media, etc. This could mean setting aside chunks of time where you put your phone on silent and commit to an hour of focused work, disabling notifications on your most distracting social media, or enabling a newsfeed blocker during work hours.
  • If you have an open floor plan design at your office, ensure that employees have access to quiet or secluded spaces. Set aside a few empty offices, and make them available to employees to reserve for an hour (or do the same with meeting rooms).
  • Encourage regular, short breaks throughout the workday.In a 2014 study, more than 85 percent of employees believed that taking regular breaks throughout the day would increase their productivity, but 55 percent also felt that it would be frowned upon to leave their desk to do so. Set clear guidelines that not only encourage taking breaks but define what you mean by “break,” so your employees understand exactly what is and isn’t appropriate.
  • Encourage transparency with daily goals. Implement a ritual where employees post what they want to accomplish for the day on Asana, or a public Slack channel (or whatever other tools you might use), and then briefly follow-up on what they did or didn’t accomplish at the end of the day.
  • Educate your employees on the value of tracking and limiting how much time they spend on certain tasks. Often, setting a time limit (“I will spend the next 45 minutes finishing this presentation”) sets the tone for more sustained and focused work.
  • Consider implementing a 6-hour workday. Though a more extreme solution, the 6-hour workday has shown increases in productivity in Europe, and is said to reduce the total amount of sick-days taken by employees.

Administrative Overhead

Businesses rely on HR systems and processes to help them manage their workforce and ensure its effectiveness, but clunky or broken processes can hinder you from optimizing employee productivity. As demonstrated in the figure to the right, 75 percent of professionals polled believe that manual effort and administrative overheads are the #1 challenge they face with current systems.

challenges facing employee productivity

There are countless ways manual HR processes can lose you time and money – employees have to be tracked down to submit hours on time, there can be considerable human error when self-reporting hours worked, it can be difficult to recall exactly how time was spent, and someone has to spend no insignificant amount of time collecting, sorting, and inputting all this data.

Additionally, a haphazard or error-prone approach to these HR processes leaves you with little valuable data to understand how your company is functioning, and where your problem areas might be.

A Few Solutions:

If your company’s HR systems rely heavily on manual processes, then the most comprehensive solution is to find ways to automate these processes. The general idea is simple — if an HR manager spends five hours at the end of each pay period manually running payroll, then automating this process frees up a considerable amount of time for this manager, allowing him or her to focus on higher-order tasks.

Ideally, you want to be able to examine your process to pinpoint error-prone areas.

tracking employee productivity

At the end of the day, manual processes aren’t likely to give you the data you need to make informed decisions for your company. Ideally, you want to be able to examine your process and workflow to pinpoint error-prone areas, and be able to access enough reliable information to glean some understanding of what exactly is causing problems. Do you have process errors, or do problems stem from technology? Can you trust that your data is reliable? By trading in manual processes for automated HR systems, you empower your company to make more data-driven deductions and decisions.

Lack Of Visibility Into Work

Organizations often manage employee productivity by tracking metrics around resource effectiveness and benchmarking performances based on these metrics. However, 60 percent of professionals rated their organization at a six or lower on a 1-10 scale determining visibility into resource effectiveness. This is problematic in a few ways, because managers can’t fully conceptualize how and where their employees work best, and employees aren’t empowered with the knowledge of their own metrics.

employee productivity tracking effectiveness

Additionally, more than 50 percent rated their organization at a six or lower on a 1-10 scale determining time management capabilities in general, which can also be a direct symptom of lacking visibility. Without proper visibility into resource effectiveness, striving to improve your company’s time management is more like guesswork than a series of informed decisions.

employee time management

A Few Solutions:

In order to ensure visibility into data, as well as the quality and accuracy of that data, seek out HR systems that retain both global and granular information. More summary-level, holistic data is useful in understanding the bigger picture, but access to granular data is equally if not more important when it comes to resource effectiveness. You want to know exactly where your red flags are, what’s causing them, and how to work around them none of which is information you can glean from exclusively bottom-line data.

In addition to the aforementioned various levels of data, seek out ways to aggregate historical data to create benchmarks for your business. Numbers can be misleading without context, and in order to know where your red flags are, you have to first know what your baseline is historically.

employee productivity in workplace

Being able to see how your resources are being utilized, and effectively manage their time (and yours) accordingly demands consistent, accurate data. Empower your employees with tools that allow them to give real-time information from wherever they might be – you want all employees (remote, traveling, and otherwise) to be part of the workflow even if they don’t happen to be in office. Ensure that you’re consistent in defining the metrics you use, and standardizing them across the workforce. Define your benchmarks as a company, and then strive to implement informed, data-based strategies to improve your bottom line.

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