I was speaking with a civil engineer the other day about his early days in the business. When he was in college, he learned how to design roads and bridges with the slide rule and hand drew all his designs. It was not very long ago where rooms of engineers would crank out blueprints by hand, one hand-drawn line and manual calculation at a time. He told me that one of his friends refused to learn AutoCAD in the late 1980's and 1990's. He eventually left the industry and has had menial jobs ever since.
Even though that story was about an individual, businesses can be in the same position. All businesses rely on their employees to perform well so that the business is successful. We've witnessed tremendous productivity growth over the last century because of advances in technology. These advances have allowed fewer employees to do the same type of work with more accuracy and faster. There are a few simple ways to improve your employee's productivity and offer them a better work environment.
1 - Provide up to date computers and multiple monitors
If your staff can work faster than their computers, you are losing out on tremendous amounts of productivity. I recommend replacing servers every 5 years and workstations every 3-5 years. This provides computers that run efficiently, less possibility of down time, and increased productivity because your employees won't be waiting on their computers.
I used to recommend each employee having two monitors. Studies have shown that 2 monitors can provide a 60% increase in productivity because the user doesn't have to switch between screens as often to get the information that they need. I now recommend providing users with as many monitors as they need to be efficient. It is an inexpensive investment that can give you huge dividends in productivity. I currently use 4 monitors at my desk. For mobile users, you can provide a second portable screen that can be plugged into a USB 3 port on the laptop and requires no additional power. I recently started using one on the road and I have noticed a huge improvement in my ability to get work done on the road.
2 - Analyze your procedures and reduce inefficiencies
If your business has been around for more than a few months, you may have developed procedures that may not be the most effective way of getting work done. The principles of LEAN manufacturing can be incorporated into the office environment to improve efficiencies. Ask your employees some questions about the job that they are doing:
- Is there anything that you do that you don't know the reason you do it?
- Are there any reports that you generate or look at that don't have any meaning?
- Do you have to consistently get up out of your work area to go to a printer, talk to another person, or perform any task that you can't do from your desk?
- Is there anything that you do that doesn't provide value for your clients?
- Is there anything that you do that isn't aligned with the organization's key business objectives?
Having each employee answer these questions may reduce the amount of needless work that they do and dramatically improve their productivity.
3 - Take breaks
Sitting at your desk for hours on end not only decreases productivity, but also causes health issues. Encourage your employees to take short breaks every hour. A short 5-minute walk or other brief diversion from their main task will allow your employees to stay focused longer and increase productivity.
For a time in our office, we had a company wide email that went out on the hour every hour with a short workout that almost everyone could do, such as a short walk, lunges, squats, etc. This improved moral, increased health and was fun to do as a group.
4 - Reduce distractions
Sometimes you just need to focus. Reducing office noise, the beeping and buzzing of devices, emails, etc, will help your employees stay focused on their main task. Encourage your employees to close Outlook, shut off alerts on their phones and reduce distractions when they need to focus on complicated tasks.
One thing that we are asked often is to block social media and other distracting websites from business networks. While I don't disagree with the premise behind this request, understand that your employees will probably switch to using their cellular phones to look at social media sites while at work. It is important to set out a business policy on social media and personal cell phone use in your business and stick to those rules. Also, a brief distraction with social media may be a good thing to allow your staff to be more focused, allowing them to be on it for hours at a time will produce the opposite affect.
5 - Provide training
I've heard a business owner say, "When I give my employees training, they leave and take all the training I gave them with them." The response to that is, "Do you want untrained employees staying with you?" Technology today can provide easy ways to offer training to your employees. Keeping up with common business products such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook can provide huge benefits to you and your organization. Make sure your employees know how to use your line-of-business applications. Whenever you purchase new software, make sure you purchase as much training for your staff as possible. Companies like Skillsoft provide online training for many general business applications. If you are willing to provide training for your employees, it will increase your employees productivity and keep you competitive in this business environment.
6 - Provide a work-life balance
Even if your employees love working for you, they can get burnt out with the pressures of this fast-paced world. There are some ways that you can help them have a great balance.
- Provide an opportunity to work remotely, if possible. Technology gives you a way to allow your employees to work from home or in other places just as well as the office. Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Skype allow your employees to communicate with each other easily without being in the same office.
- Give your employees plenty of opportunity to take time off. Being away for a few days or more improves focus and work happiness.
- Change around your office to provide more sunlight. According to this study, workers who sat near a window performed better, processing calls 6% to 12% faster and performing 10% to 25% better on tests.
Be a great company
Most of these things won't cost much money and providing a productive environment boils down to try to be better humans. Staying on top of technology, using the rights tools available, and giving your employees a good balance will improve your company dramatically.