Employee productivity can feel transactional when the focus is put on the amount of work an individual is producing in a pre-determined amount of time. Is that the right focus, though?
Having a productive team is less about finding areas to cut time and work faster and more about the different factors that play into where good productivity comes from – like employee engagement, company culture and overall employee happiness in their role.
What we know now, in our post-pandemic paradigm, is that employee productivity is a critical human resources initiative deserving of company time and resources. After all, it’s directly linked to higher retention and better employee performance.
It’s entirely possible to have a bunch of happy, engaged employees who love their jobs but aren’t terribly productive or hard-working. It’s also possible to be surrounded by productive employees who aren’t engaged at all. So, how can you ensure your engaged workforce is also as productive as possible?
Here are some of those basics, which should help you lay the foundation for improving employee productivity in a hybrid landscape.
1. Give employees an environment in which they can each personally thrive
During the COVID-19 pandemic, working professionals got the chance to try a different way of working – one that largely proved to be successful. Now more than ever, people are free to work how it best suits them as individuals. This is the number one most crucial workplace shift that leaders can embrace to boost morale and productivity.
Remote work enabled employees to have more time back in their day and achieve a better work-life balance, while eliminating commutes, alleviating stress and avoiding personal costs associated with going in to the office. Many workers strongly prefer this lifestyle and claim that it’s made them more productive.
An individual’s productivity can thrive in a hybrid arrangement. Their work may also incorporate other forms of workplace flexibility, such as more autonomy over their day, a flex schedule or a shortened work week, for example.
Throughout the pandemic, what employers have learned is that what brings people joy and fosters engagement and productivity isn’t always the work itself. Often, it’s also about an environment that enables employees to:
- Work when they feel most productive
- Work under conditions that encourage more creativity and innovation
- Balance productive “alone time” with team collaboration time
- Be more involved with their family life
- Have time to pursue hobbies on the side or attend to personal matters
- Take advantage of more opportunities to recharge
2. Establish values
Your company’s core values help you:
- Define how and why you’re in business
- Explain to the public and your employees what they can expect from your company
- Decide who you’ll hire
- Identify who your clients are
As it relates to employee productivity, your company’s values should be:
- Easy for employees to translate into actions
- A guidepost for the manner in which work gets done
Your values should determine what constitutes good performance and should help you set clear and effective measures of productivity.
3. Communicate clear goals and instructions
Employees who understand their jobs and the associated requirements and expectations will do their jobs better – and, as a result, be more productive.
To aid in good communication and therefore higher productivity, your workplace must have:
- Well-written job descriptions that clarify the responsibilities of each position and help managers and employees establish clear, relevant performance standards and goals.
- Regular interaction between direct managers and employees. That’s because, ideally, managers:
- Explain to employees how their individual activities support the overall organization
- Coach employees through challenges
- Redirect employees if they get off track
If a manager’s expectations aren’t clear, employees may become confused, bored or resentful, and more focused on their own survival than how they can help the business succeed. It’s especially important to maintain clear and consistent channels of communication when working in a remote or hybrid workplace.
4. Make deadlines realistic
Before giving your employees a deadline to meet goals or complete projects, first determine:
- What is the desired outcome?
- How do you gauge success?
- What steps are required to meet the goal?
- How much time will it reasonably take to complete the goal?
- What other projects is the employee or team handling, and is their overall workload feasible?
- What milestones will you use to measure progress?
In other words, any goal that you give an employee should be a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely).
Clarity from you is vital to the success of any project.
On the other hand, confusion or lack of firm direction causes frustration in employees, which generates unnecessary stress and can waste their time.
Some managers apply greater pressure on their team, because they believe that having big, aggressive goals spurs productivity. However, not allowing adequate time for employees to meet deadlines and juggle other professional and personal responsibilities, or prizing productivity over your employees’ well-being, can result in them feeling overworked and burned out. In this scenario, employees are more apt to disengage – the opposite outcome of what you intended.
5. Balance accountability and authority
Most managers want their employees to take ownership of their work. After all, people are more productive when they’re:
- Given more autonomy over their work
- Assume responsibility for the output
- Held accountable by others for the outcome
In this scenario, employees have a vested interest in performing well and generating quality work.
But more responsibility must be accompanied by the authority to get the job done – otherwise you’re setting your people up for failure from the start. That means you, as a manager, must:
- Provide adequate resources
- Give employees the latitude to make decisions and execute their ideas
- Make management and other stakeholders accessible to employees so they can obtain timely buy-in and approval
- Remove any other roadblocks
- Micromanage less, delegate more
Let’s elaborate on micromanagement, because it’s a big management mistake that kills morale and productivity.
Your job as a business leader is to empower your team and serve as the coach on the sidelines, available for questions and suggestions. It can be one of the hardest lessons for a manager to learn, but their job is really about setting clear expectations, providing training and direction, and then getting out of the way to let employees do their job.
Instead, a micromanager tries to get involved in every detail, imposes their preferences on others and hovers to ensure that employees get their work done. At its core, micromanagement is about a lack of trust. This stifles employees, causes them disengage and can hurt productivity. By the way, this is the exact opposite of giving each employee an environment in which can thrive and have the flexibility to work as they see fit.
An effective and empowering management style means you check to ensure milestones are met, but you don’t expect every detail of the project to be run through you. It takes finesse to know when to not over-communicate and over-manage, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with employees who flourish.
Effective managerial communication is about more than talking, hosting meetings and sending emails.
Listening is the other vital and sometimes overlooked component to improving employee productivity. Good managers realize that maximizing the performance of team members is often rooted in open, two-way communication.
Employees are on the front line dealing with customers and handling day-to-day issues. If you’re not tapping into your employees’ knowledge, you’re missing out on good sources of information that can inform realistic productivity goals and keep you tuned in to what employees are feeling and experiencing on the job.
Making employees feel heard and valued is important for their morale. By simply listening to them and finding out what’s going on in their lives that could impede productivity, you can reduce their stress and help them focus more on work.
Additionally, you can empower employees and increase their productivity by:
- Regularly asking employees for their input
- Challenging them to come up with a solution to a problem
- Letting them independently work through issues they encounter
7. Celebrate success
It’s human nature to want to know whether you’re doing a good job and making meaningful contributions. When you know you’re doing well and others notice, you continue that behavior.
Employees want and deserve recognition when they contribute to the success of your company, so look for ways to acknowledge and celebrate individual, team and company milestones. Recognition can be an equally powerful motivator alongside bonuses and special perks.
What are some of the ways you could recognize employees?
- Monetary rewards are certainly desired and the most popular option.
- Greater workplace flexibility or extra time off.
- Often, a simple, genuine “thank you” can go a long way toward boosting employee morale and making employees feel as though they’re a valued member of a team.
What we appreciate and find motivating is personal to us. As a manager, you have to get to know each person on your team and understand what they find meaningful.
Never forget: Lack of recognition may drive your best talent to look for jobs at which they’ll get the appreciation they feel they deserve.
The status quo doesn’t last forever. Keeping one’s knowledge and skills current and maintaining pace with industry trends helps employees to work smarter and more efficiently. If you provide them with resources and training to help them do their jobs better, productivity will follow.
Furthermore, having internal mobility and a career path within an organization, in alignment with personal career goals, is a strong motivator for employees. They need to feel that opportunities exist to further their potential and achieve their dreams.
To keep employees productive, don’t focus so heavily on the here and now of your company’s needs that you overlook training and development. If you invest in employee skills, you’ll foster loyalty to your company and build your bench of future leaders.
Remember that what employees want in their career development may change throughout each stage of their professional lives. For example:
- Fresh-out-of-college new hires may want the experience necessary to gain a promotion.
- A mid-career employee may seek new challenges by making a lateral move into a different department.
- A subject-matter expert may want to take classes on emerging technology rather than be trained to manage people.
Not everyone is hard-charging and fighting for promotion to be productive and a real asset to the company.
Create employee development plans that describe how your employees will acquire needed skills, whether that’s through formal or on-the-job training, development courses, coaching or mentoring. To keep employees motivated and productive, you’ll need to follow up on that training with opportunities to apply what they’ve learned.
9. Manage growth
Measures of productivity can change as your company grows.
When there are four, five or even 10 people in your company, communication is organic. Everyone wears multiple hats and people tend to work and collaborate as a team more frequently. Productivity goals may be more general.
But when a company grows, people tend to be hired for a specialized area of expertise. Individual expectations for performance may expand and become more targeted.
Employees can become more siloed and therefore communication can become more challenging. As a result, it can be difficult to spread messages throughout the company to maintain culture and keep everyone on the same page in explaining how they support the business and share values.
It this issue is left unattended, you could end up with a bunch of hard-working people who rarely speak to each other or never work in multidisciplinary teams. In such cases, you may have departments or individuals who meet or exceed all measures of productivity, but the company may be struggling to meet its goals.
To combat this scenario, you’ll have to be more intentional and frequent in your communications.
When your business was small, it may have been a foregone conclusion that “this is what we believe and this is how we do business.” As you grow, make sure that your core values and expectations are:
- Strategically defined in your policies and employee handbook
- Communicated during the hiring and onboarding processes
- Practiced daily
Revisit and update old procedures and processes to ensure operations are as smooth and supportive of employee productivity as possible.
Summing it all up
To improve employee productivity and performance in today’s hybrid workplace, you’ll need to be in tune with individual employee preferences and foster a culture of trust and open, two-way communication. You’ll need to be guided by core values and clearly established, realistic and strategic goals. Offer employees ongoing training and development to keep them sharp and motivated. Develop a leadership style that embraces delegation, empowerment and personalized recognition of others. These ideas are encapsulated within the nine approaches outlined here.
Ready to learn more about how to increase your employees’ productivity and performance? Download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.