Productivity becomes increasingly vital in a fast-paced workplace where we seem to be getting busier by the day. Just do a quick search on the internet and you’ll find about a thousand different tips on how to increase it. However, productivity is a highly personal matter, and there are as many solutions as there are people. While many leaders and organisations are working hard to improve productivity, we believe there is a more pressing question: are we, as leaders, truly allowing people to be productive?
Productivity is different for each individual, so even when we implement new ways of working with the best of intentions, we may wind up obstructing rather than helping.
Is it really about productivity or is it workload?
It doesn’t matter how many tactics, tips, or benefits people have to boost productivity if they are overworked. Even if the project is completed, which it usually is, two things happen: first, the quality of the job is not as good as it could be, and second, employees are working extra, which leads to dissatisfaction, stress, and burnout. Furthermore, continued overworking can lead to serious health problems.
First and foremost, we must consider how much we are asking of people. We can’t always control how much work we have, and even when we can, there are a lot of other factors that might influence it. People quitting their jobs, vacations, sick days, and so on… we’re all sure to feel like we’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it, at some point. However, as leaders, we must consider long-term situations, and while we may need to ask members of our team to put in extra effort on occasion, we must ensure that this does not become the norm.
Having clear processes and timings for how long each task takes can be a good place to start. We have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete particular tasks. So, while we may assume it will be a simple process, it could take hours. We also need to prioritise more and make sure that everyone understands what the individual, team, and organisation’s priorities are so that we can all work together to complete projects and assignments on time.
As leaders, we also need to keep thinking about how the team feels and what we can do about it. It’s not the same to ask your team for a push to meet a deadline when they know they will be appreciated and even compensated in the end. Giving people an extra day off for example. More importantly, we need to make sure people feel comfortable voicing concerns. Having a safe space where people can speak up if they feel overwhelmed or if they need extra support is not easy, but it’s definitely a must-have to ensure satisfaction and wellbeing.
Flexibility: The Where, the When and the How
We mentioned above that productivity is something really personal, what works great for one person, may not necessarily work for another. So, how can leaders ensure that everyone takes ownership of their productivity? By being flexible.
The debate around working from home or at the office doesn’t seem to have an end or a clear answer, and while some may misinterpret the motivations for working from home, the majority of individuals consider it as a tool to increase productivity.
However, it’s not only about home or office, there are many other options. Some people may think better in busy spaces while others may need the quiet. Some people may even like to work outside. Even more, the same person can prefer different workplaces depending on the type of work they are doing.
Working from home can be great when doing something that requires our full attention, but being in the office can work magic when it comes to creative tasks.
The When can be even more overwhelming than the where. According to studies, productivity levels are different depending on personality (night owls, lurks, nappers, etc…). Obviously, allowing individuals to work whenever they want isn’t always realistic, and it’s certainly never easy. However, flexibility is becoming essential in order to retain people.
According to research, 40% of Brits believe working traditional hours in an office environment would hinder their performance.
Consider the case of a creative writer who is extremely prolific late at night. Couldn’t we allow them to write at night and work fewer hours during the day if we’ve prioritised and committed to a deadline? Another great example is parents who prefer to spend time with their children in the afternoon and early evening hours, then work in the evening to maximise productivity and life (this is certainly what some of our team does).
A few weeks ago, on LinkedIn, there was an interesting survey asking if people work on weekends. The majority, predictably, say yes, but what’s interesting is that they do it because it’s a calm time when they don’t have to check emails or know they won’t be interrupted.
Following the interruption point, there are numerous methods in which we may provide flexibility in the How. To decrease interruptions and boost productivity, several firms are introducing meeting-free days or attempting to reduce the number of meetings or emails. However, we must always keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution while developing new ways of working.
Did you know that a company loses 6.2 hours every day due to interruptions? Or that, even if the interruption is brief, it takes us 23 minutes or more to refocus?
Furthermore, interruptions aren’t always associated with meetings; they can be as simple as responding to a quick slack message or checking our emails to ensure we don’t miss anything important. Did you know that the average employee is interrupted every 10 minutes, or 56 times each day? On top of that, we need to consider all the notifications we receive daily from different sources. If we start summing everything up, it’s a wonder how we get anything done at all.
Fortunately, there are things we all can do to reduce interruptions, but as leaders, we have the opportunity to provide even better solutions. Allowing people to schedule time for deep work where they are completely off the radar can be a great way to deal with interruptions. However, we need to be conscious of what that means for the team and the organisation because, in the end, it all comes down to trust and transparency. Are you, as a leader, willing to relinquish some control in order to increase productivity? Do you trust people enough to know that they are working to the best of their ability? Allowing flexibility is a matter of trust, without trust, there will never be real flexibility.
The Optimist view…
The leader’s job is not to tell people how to do their job, but to create a safe and great environment where people can shine. As leaders, we must recognise that each individual is unique and we need to allow them to be themselves. Because it’s only when people are at their best, that they do their best work.
Are you ready to give your team the freedom to be the best they can be? If you are, you will need to focus on trust, which, while not the easiest thing to do, is the greatest option in the long run.
At Optimist Performance, we help leaders and organisations to build a culture of trust where everyone can bring their best selves to work. Get in touch with us and learn more about how we can help your organisation.