8 Ways To... Increase Productivity

Published: 04 May 2016

Boasting productivity, whether that's on the shop floor or in the office, starts with people. Reasearch by UK management school Roffey Park Institute has found that the most influential factor motivating workers to increase their output is 'the opportunity to make a difference'. But there are several other interventions that can help businesses of any size to become more productive, many of which require minimal investment. 

1.Let everyone see the big picture

Employees do their best when they fully 
understand all their organisation’s 
objectives and their part in achieving 
them. There’s nothing more demotivating 
for people than to feel that they are “just a number on a spreadsheet”, argues Phil Foster, MD of Love Energy 
Savings, a price comparison website. He cites the famous story of a janitor at 
US space agency Nasa, who was asked by 
President Kennedy what his job was. “It’s 
to help put a man on the Moon,” he replied. 
The secret to creating such impressive staff engagement is to share a compelling vision 
of the future, according to Foster. “Managers will find that their team 
members are far more likely to engage in certain tasks if they understand how their 
efforts will have an impact on the bigger 
picture,” he says. “Give them something to 
work for and you’ll find that they’ll strive a 
lot harder to achieve success.”

2.Encourage people to co-operate

There are various ways to nurture 
teamwork. Piers Chead, the founder and CEO of incorporation agency The Formations Company, has started 
holding daily “stand-up” meetings. “It may sound simple, but these 
sessions put everyone on the same page 
and get everyone chatting about their 
projects,” Chead says. “If someone is 
overworked or having problems, they can ask for help right there and then.” Holiday company Unique Home Stays has even implemented “rural 
walking meetings” to improve teamwork, according to its CEO, Sarah Stanley. She reports that the number of bookings 
has increased by 37 per cent as a result.

3.Develop more efficient working methods

“Smaller firms like to think of themselves 
as more flexible and responsive than their larger competitors, but in fact they 
often suffer from a lack of established 
procedures,” says Jack Bedell-Pearce, MD of cloud provider 4D. Sound processes reduce uncertainty 
and stress – and they make the most efficient use of people’s expertise and 
experience – Bedell-Pearce says. When estate agency Coalters found that the task of arranging property 
viewings was consuming too much of its employees’ time, the firm’s MD, Reuben Barrett, established procedures that streamlined communications among 
everyone involved. “We defined the process from end to 
end and identified any improvements that we could make, automating simple notifications,” he explains.

4.Make more efficient use of time

Poor time management is one of the main 
drags on productivity. Robert Kelsey, 
author of Get Things Done (Capstone, 
2014), believes in the time management 
matrix proposed by US academic Stephen 
Covey. Under this approach, each activity 
is assigned to one of four quadrants: 
urgent and important; not urgent but 
important; urgent but not important; and not urgent and not important. Many people spend too much time on 
tasks that are urgent but not important, 
which often consist of things people have 
asked us to do, according to Kelsey. As a 
result, we neglect the “not urgent but 
important” quadrant, which often includes 
tasks for the future, such as R&D or 
building relationships, he observes.

5.Focus on incremental improvements

Productivity improvement isn’t a 
destination; it’s a journey. For any 
organisation, there will never be a time 
when productivity cannot be improved, because developing technologies 
continually present new opportunities to make things better. PP Electrical Systems has a continuous 
improvement team that’s always looking for ways to increase productivity, 
according to its MD, Tony Hague. The team devised a programme, entitled 
“Route six”, that encourages all 
employees to help achieve a 6 per cent 
overall productivity increase. “Everyone who contributed received a special lapel badge,” Hague explains. 
“We formed a Twitter feed to share examples of best practice and we gave 
participants tickets for a raffle offering 
small prizes. Two years on, we are close 
to completing our fourth ‘Route six’.”

6.Introduce a flexible working system

Employees tend to deliver more and feel 
less stressed when they are able to work 
flexibly. When Group Risk Development 
(Grid), an industry body for providers of 
life assurance and critical-illness cover, 
studied the most popular methods of improving productivity, it found that 
flexible working ranked highest, having 
been implemented by 29 per cent of firms. Grid’s spokeswoman, Katharine 
Moxham, notes that introducing flexible working poses more of a challenge for 
smaller firms, but adds that it’s important 
for them to “think about the long-term 
gains to be had from such measures”.

7.Make the most of advances in IT

“Manual work is the enemy of 
productivity – with the right systems you 
can develop processes that eliminate 90 
per cent of it,” according to Darren Fell, 
chief executive of Crunch Accounting. His firm’s technology-driven approach 
reduces human error and saves time. “Our accountants love this, as it means 
that they can spend time speaking to 
clients and helping them to solve 
problems, rather than fiddling around in 
spreadsheets and double-checking their 
work,” Fell says.

8.Create a better working environment

Few people are able to perform to their 
best abilities if their surroundings are 
uninspiring. The provision of well-designed 
work spaces can help to improve their 
productivity, according to Jitesh Patel, CEO 
of office design consultancy Peldon Rose. He says that firms seeking to make their 
offices more conducive to high productivity 
should consider making improvements in 
areas including light, colour, cleanliness, 
tidiness, temperature, sound and even smell. Addressing these issues should help 
to make people “feel at home” at work. “By introducing sit-stand desks or 
standing meeting tables, you’ll ensure that 
your employees will be more active during 
the day,” Patel says. “Soft furnishings, such as sofas and comfortable chairs, can improve acoustics and also provide a welcome area for informal meetings.”

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