People want to be productive, and workplace productivity is one of the most popular topics on the web. Yet so much of the advice we read shows us how to be succeed despite our environment, assuming that our workplaces and less dedicated colleagues hold us back.
For any business owner – and anyone with the power to change things in their organisation – that poses both a challenge and an opportunity. If people really are being held back by their environment, then a positive change to how an organisation works will have a major impact on its success. With that in mind, here are five features that the most productive offices in the world have in common.
Functions Have an Owner
The modern workplace, which demands flexible employees and treats job descriptions as relics from the last century, curiously enables a large amount of buck-passing. We’ve all been in situations where a particular task needed to be done, but everyone assumed that someone else would take ownership. They rarely end well.
To stop shared responsibility from killing workplace productivity, the best workplaces devolve ownership of certain functions to individuals. If the overdue invoices haven’t gone out with reminders, that’s on Anne in accounts. If a client didn’t get the sales proposal on time, Tim should explain why. It means that individuals sometimes need to corral their colleagues into supplying information or input, but making workers act as project managers (even of a small aspect of the organisation’s activities) is also empowering too.
Processes get Reviewed
“We’ve always done it this way” may just be the six most expensive words in any business. In age when technology, customer expectations and even regulatory environments constantly change, failing to review processes creates unnecessary risk and kills off workplace productivity improvements.
Smart organisations make sure that their processes for various business functions – from sales to account management – are continually reviewed. With big companies, this can require large staff consultation projects. In smaller organisations, it can simply be a case of asking one or two people “is there any way we could do this better?” Budget some time for these conversations and you’ll quickly see a return on investment.
Information is Shared – Appropriately
Information is the lifeblood of modern workplaces. Even if you’re not using big data, your sales team depends on information about your products or services compared to those of competitors, your product development team needs feedback from the customer service department, and your accounts team needs reliable information on sales to make effective revenue forecasts.
Many workplaces go one of two ways – information is either stuck in silos, leading to avoidable bottlenecks, or so easily accessible that data security is compromised. Enterprise content management systems help avoid these problems with digital data. When it comes to paper documents, a centralised access control system (whether in-house or with an off-site storage provider like DFS) will allow individual workers to access data within a reasonable timeframe while still retaining control and accountability.
Targets are Real
Even though they’re designed to motivate and measure employee performance, targets are often major demotivators in the workplace. Targets that don’t challenge people are meaningless, while unachievable goals only end up making employees feel inadequate or oppressed. When targets are continually missed, they get taken less and less seriously.
Smart organisations don’t set targets by plucking numbers out of the air. Their targets are realistic projections based on past performance, a changed environment or market, and a reasonable expectation that an individual will gradually get better at their job. For employees, this incentivises continued hard work, helps prevent apathy, and gives a measurable record of achievement over time.
Progress Counts More than Hours
It is notoriously difficult to measure how hard a person is working, especially in a role where their knowledge (of sales, customer service, or account management) is employed more than physical labour. Thus, “putting in the hours” becomes a fall-back measure of hard work.
The problem is that, while an employee staying past 5:30 may be easy to observe, you’re not seeing what that unpaid overtime is doing to their mental agility, their motivation, and even their productivity. Studies show that, when given extra time to perform a task, human beings consistently take it, even working slower than they normally would. So, when a person feels that office expectation stretches their work day out by another half hour or hour, they eventually stretch the same work out to cover the longer period – and end up resenting their employers for it! If you start to treat employees staying late as a problem rather than an expectation, and look instead at what people actually do during the working day, you’ll soon start to see improved workplace productivity.
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