This article was contributed to VentureApp by Cody McLain, CEO of SupportNinja, a company that helps business owners with their outsourcing needs.
Increasing employee productivity doesn’t always require fancy techniques or apps. Sometimes all it takes is giving employees a little more freedom.
In the past, businesses encouraged everyone to follow the exact same rules. The idea was that the more structured and regimented you made the work day, the more you could squeeze out of employees. All this really accomplished was squeezing the joy out of everyone who worked for you.
Instead, focus on the individuality of each of your employees and look for ways to nurture their talent — otherwise known as the reason you hired them. Then, they will naturally start to work to the best of their ability. In this article, we’re going to explore four ways to do that.
Allow Employees to Determine When They Work
Requiring that your employees come into the office at the same time, or all take the same amount of breaks, at the same time, for the same duration of time isn’t going to lead to a productive and organized office. Why? Because people are different. Some might perform better in the morning vs. the evening. And, being strict on 45 minute lunches (and not a minute more!) isn’t going to make them feel like they have much agency over their time.
If your employees spend most of their work day on a computer or otherwise engaged with technology, frequent breaks will actually make them more productive. Let them determine for themselves how often to take those breaks and for how long. Typically, people like to be productive, and they’re not going to come to work to do as little as possible. They have their own to-do lists and they’re not going to ignore their responsibilities. Implement a rule that employees can work & take breaks when they see fit, and watch if the productivity and overall mood of your office doesn’t improve.
In the beginning, it may be good to specify a time that you expect people to be contactable (especially if you use a group messaging/project management system like Slack) or a minimum response time.
Consider Letting Employees Work from Home
There’s a fear that employees who work from home will do less work. While this isn’t true of newer businesses and startups, more established businesses tend to believe that all employees should be commuting into the office. It seems like this makes sense: if an employee is at work, you can monitor them, and they’re less likely to be distracted.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
There are a ton of distractions in the office, including unnecessary meetings that interrupt your employee’s time. Plus, the need to never mix the personal with the professional — i.e. your employee should concentrate ONLY on work while at work — can lead to a decline in productivity. If an employee is at home and they need to run their kid to the doctors, they can do that quickly and get right back to work without having to worry about getting permission or commuting back to the office. Surprisingly, most people are good stewards of their time and not many employees see working from home as an excuse to slack off.
In a recent study, Ctrip, a Chinese travel center, experimented with having some of their employees work from home. They found that work-from-home employees not only outperformed in-office colleagues, but Ctrip was also able to save $1,900 per employee over the course of the 9-month experiment.
So, give your employees the option to work from home at their discretion. This doesn’t mean that they have to become full time virtual workers, as there are collaborative benefits to having an in office team, but it does allow them to more fully integrate their personal life into their work life. Everything you can do to show your employees that you trust them will increase their happiness, and as a result, their productivity and likelihood of staying with your company.
Create Team Extensions with Outsourced Solutions
Often your employees don’t have the bandwidth to complete every single task on your company’s plate. For those menial or seasonal tasks, consider outsourcing. Team extensions provide a business with as many or as few workers as necessary for each department, and they all work together (in the same building – and often beside each other). This means you get a team of highly committed people that have the same sense of community and purpose that most startups try to foster.
How can you ensure proper and productive communication with teams from afar? Simple – each team has a project manager that takes direction from departmental leaders. In many cases, businesses that use team extensions for support roles receive better communication and fewer mix-ups than when support happens from within.
Productivity is high with these team extensions – there is never any internal conflict between departments, because each support worker’s role is understood as it relates to their own outcomes. Moreover, these teams stay together at a much higher rate than in-house support staff. They follow established protocols, and optimize repeatable processes according to scale.
Create “Fun” Areas in the Office
Relaxation or fun areas are the standard for new startups. Your team is likely not just working 9-5’s; they’re coming in as early and staying as late as the job requires. However, that doesn’t mean that humans have suddenly become adept at concentrating on work for 10 hour stretches.
Your employees need a break. They need a few minutes in the day where their thoughts aren’t consumed by work issues. By including an area where employees can relax — whether it’s a ping pong table or simply a quiet room — will allow them to re-energize and return to their work more focused than before. Including some kind of game will also improve office morale.
For most of these suggestions, it’s going to take some experimentation to find out what works best for your business, office and employees. The key thing to remember is that you hired people who you felt were capable, so you should trust them. The ones who rise to meet your high expectations and increased trust will not only be more valuable employees, but they’re also more likely to experience increased job satisfaction and stick around. By setting high expectations for results with no set rules for exactly how it gets done, you might see an uptick in productivity.
As always, experimenting and testing for results is important – if the freedom isn’t making employees more productive, make some changes.