The productivity of UK workers has dropped back to pre-financial crisis levels, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Hourly output fell 0.5% in the first three months of 2017 and the UK’s productivity continues to lag behind its major trading partners, such as the US, France and Germany.
Analysis of productivity tends to focus on the macro level – the big picture for UK plc as a whole. However, most professionals are interested in the micro level – namely, what can we do to make our company, division or team operate more productively?
Typically, commentators identify three core elements to productivity: people, technology, and time.
When it comes to getting the most out of employees there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Nevertheless, a few simple management rules can help to boost productivity:
- Notice good work.
- Never be too busy or bootstrapped to invest time and/or money in coaching, mentoring and training.
- Cross-train. If people understand how others in the company work, they make their own processes fit better with those of other teams, boosting efficiency.
- Make sure everyone understands the business’ goals and their own part in them.
- Try to make work enjoyable, and the workplace sociable and supportive.
- Give workers the flexibility to work their way. For most people, this means choosing working hours and places that fit in with needs like childcare.
Engaging employees in this way can deliver significant results. Businesses recording top levels of employee engagement have 21% higher productivity, according to research by Gallup.
Today’s mobile technology and cloud-based services boost productivity by enabling staff to work wherever they find themselves. Gone are the days when a business trip meant being disconnected from colleagues or data.
However, these advantages also present potential problems. Employers must be careful not to abuse the 24/7 communication possibilities of technology, otherwise they may end up with stressed, resentful staff.
With new ways of working come new challenges, particularly for those managing a remote workforce. The convenience of technology should not eliminate face-to-face time. Research from Regus reveals that 84% of UK professionals believe remote staff should attend monthly meetings.
Interestingly, when it comes to using technology to track productivity, results were more mixed. The use of IT systems to track and measure levels of work activity was regarded as a necessity by only half (51%) of respondents.
Clearly, business decision makers must strike a balance between staying on top of remote worker productivity while not seeming to monitor every working minute.
It is also vital that employees have a conducive place to work. Mobile technology may enable people to work from cafes or at home, but these environments can be distracting. Who can forget the recent BBC interview that was interrupted by two young children bursting into the room?
Employers are right to allow flexible working in order to boost the wellbeing and productivity of employees. However, the strategy should be to look for workspace that is both close to home and gets professionals out of the house and away from domestic distractions.
Employees will welcome the odd day spent operating from the home environment, but research suggests that if this pattern becomes the norm, performance may suffer as a result.
Successful time management is another key factor in productivity levels. Recent studies have pointed to the negative impact that emails and meetings have on productivity, with analysts suggesting that workers spend more than a quarter of each day on emails alone. Whether employees can successfully reduce this impact remains to be seen but there are other, easier wins.
One significant destroyer of employee time is the commute. On average, UK professionals spend approximately 8.1 hours per week travelling to and from work – the equivalent of an entire working day. This is the time taken to physically travel from point A to point B.
What the figure does not reflect is the effect that commuting has on a person’s levels of tiredness and stress – and the knock-on effect this has on productivity once the destination has been reached.
So why persist with a model that asks people to work fixed hours at a fixed location? Eliminating the commute is better for work-life balance, and this flexible working model is proven to enhance both staff wellbeing and productivity.
By enabling staff to work remotely, businesses can also widen their recruitment search in the knowledge that successful candidates can be located anywhere. The best talent may reside at the other end of the country – or even internationally – but flexible working allows them to set-up in workspaces close to home.
Often, this flexible work model will require a change in mindset from business leaders more used to managing face-to-face. Forward-thinking businesses are approaching the issue proactively, looking at working structures and re-evaluating how and where business objectives are achieved.
With businesses facing tough competition to attract the best employees, keeping hold of good people is essential. Getting the practical details right for the people who work for you – from their working hours, to enabling them to work closer to home – will boost engagement and enable them to do their best work.
Attitudes are changing; no longer is the worker asked to adapt to the workplace, rather, businesses are championing working structures that better enable employees to excel. The result is a happier, more productive workforce – and a boosted bottom-line.
Richard Morris is the UK CEO of Regus.