Increasing productivity seems straightforward: encourage communication, define team roles, determine adequate processes, delegate tasks accordingly, and motivate your employees through financial incentives and training. Easy, right?
Except, that doesn’t really work in real life. It turns out, everyone is already aware WHAT should be done. The question is: HOW?
We asked small business owners, CEOs, and HR managers to share with us actionable tips and tricks they use to increase productivity.
1. “What’s going on?” email every week
When we talk about productivity, transparency is unjustly neglected. By allowing the entire team to have an insight into each other’s work, there is less chance of social loafing.
Felix Winstone, a founder and director at Talkative, maintains transparency and productivity at his startup with one simple email every week.
Every Monday morning everyone emails 3 things at our 'All' company email:
- What they said they were going to do last week.
- What they did last week.
- What they are going to do this week
This ritual takes only 5 minutes but has multiple benefits: we know which projects are being worked on, we can identify slipping deadlines before it’s too late, and people get things done because they are accountable for their promises.
With regular accountability, people started working harder to meet their deadlines. Everyone has greater visibility into what everyone else is doing, and since everything is in writing, we have also saved time thanks to reducing excess communication made during progress meetings.
2. Zero meetings monthly
Lengthy and pointless meetings are the biggest time wasters at work. Christian Ranella, CEO and Cofounder at elMejorTrato.com, claims that his company increased productivity dramatically by eradicating all meetings.
Eliminating meetings was a radical process that couldn’t be achieved overnight, so we had to do it gradually, taking it one step at the time.
At the beginning, we’ve sent a circular email to all employees that explained reasons for the change and how we plan to implement it. Also, we asked for feedback since we felt it was important that everyone was on board.
After that, we shortened duration of meetings and reduced the number of people that were required to be present. During the first three months, we had two daily 30-minute meetings with 7 team members. Later on, we moved to organizing one 15-minute meeting a day, with only 5 people present.
Finally, after 9 months, we completely removed meetings and started with one-on-ones only. Apart from that, we’ve implemented a project management and collaboration tool and moved all discussions and decision making to our internal group. We tried using email as well but gave it up since it was too restricting.
3. 360 degree white board
Whiteboards have been used for brainstorming and as a productivity tool for ages. However, since they are usually placed in meeting rooms and next to project managers’ desks, everyone loses sight of them as soon as the meeting ends.
According to James Goodnow, the productivity expert from the Lamber Goodnow legal team at Fennemore Craig legal firm, his organization decided to use the whiteboard paint on every surface in their workspace.
This new twist on an old school technique has made a huge difference. We have covered every surface of our ‘war room’ conference room and much of our offices with paint made to be used with dry erase markers. We use the surfaces to brainstorm, write key tasks, create strategic mind maps, divide work assignments, and more. If something is important for goal setting and productivity, it goes on the wall to be a constant reminder of how we should focus our efforts. This one simple idea has taken our productivity to new levels.
4. Short walks every hour
Pomodoro technique is widely accepted as a viable productivity hack. However, Tyler Stavola, marketing specialist at OWDT has taken it a step further: his 18 member team increases productivity by taking hourly brakes in the form of short group walks.
We have gone out to lunches together, we have gone out together socially, but for us as a company, nothing has helped promote productivity more than our exercise program. By getting up and breaking up the day with short walks, we are bonding as a team, getting our circulation systems moving, and focusing more at work. Through this program, we are adding 30 minutes of exercise to the work day. By adding that reset every hour, people come back to the screen refreshed and focused. We noticed that if people spend longer than 2 hours at the desk, their productivity levels go down quite a bit.
5. Fitness wristbands for all
Being overly engaged, overly productive, and overly efficient will overload your system. James McCarty, CEO of Placement Labs, considers burnout to be the greatest enemy of productivity. So he decided to tackle the problem with hardware.
To combat the burnout, I purchased a fitness wristbands for each member of my team and encouraged them to get up, take a little walk, chat with coworkers, and just take their minds off of their work for several minutes each hour. Since then, most of my employees appear to be fitter, happier, and more productive.
Since the moment I gave out these wristbands, I have noticed an increased focus on fitness, with team members looking at the data on each other's trackers, and then going right outside for a walk to increase their step count. I do happen to have a fairly competitive group though, so the trackers have yielded healthy competition - both literally and figuratively.
6. Extra paid time off
Whether it’s because of personal issues or burnout, a distracted employee is an unproductive employee. According to Shawn Rubel a CEO of Eezy, letting your team members unwind from time to time at company’s cost is an excellent way to increase morale and productivity.
Between kids, travel, and side-hustles, we realized that some members of our team - many of whom are remote workers - needed a couple of days off to get their personal affairs in order. It turned out that they were taking a lot of unpaid time, so as an incentive and a way of showing appreciation, we provided more paid time off to all members of our team. Everyone enjoyed this option and the flexibility has boosted company morale.
As far as working conditions are concerned, we tried to create a system in which employees depend on one another. This approach removed micromanagement, while still ensuring that work gets done quickly and efficiently. With a strongly connected team and good flexibility, we feel our team is far more productive than they would be in a strict, cold environment.
7. The “Love Tokens”
If members strive to help each other, the overall productivity of the team will inevitably increase. Knowing this, Alison Donaghey, the owner of Sonshine Girls Painting painting company, introduced a very intuitive peer review in her organization.
I do “love tokens”. Every other week (between paydays), I ask my staff to submit votes or “love tokens” to their fellow workers. All of the tokens have to be used, they can’t all go to one person, and employees can’t vote for themselves. They give them to their coworkers based on how well they show up, how easy they are to work with, and how inclined they are to help. The winner with the most tokens gets a $50 bonus. This concept was widely accepted and embraced by my employees: it created acknowledgment between peers and has proven to be very effective.
However, the best part of this peer review is the fact that I can pinpoint bad fits simply by analyzing “love token” distribution over the course of several months. If someone is getting no love, it’s a good warning sign that something is off.
8. Hiring aggressive but talented individuals
Some entrepreneurs believe that productivity is in direct correlation to attitude. For example Joshua Meah, founder, and CEO of Therapist Marketing, chooses only the incredibly talented, assertive, and aggressive individuals. He believes these types of employees bring a lot of positive characteristics.
An aggressive person is not just aggressive. They can also have integrity, be reflective, and act kindly to their peers. Furthermore, that aggression may be targeted primarily toward a collective goal.
The one drawback to this approach is that it can be disruptive at first when you have a bad hire, and conflict ensues. However, this is usually quickly resolved when other members of the team protect the culture and company values as aggressively as their own. Internal fights do happen, but if the culture is clear, then the fights resolve well.
The upsides outweigh the drawback, in my view: you are always building toward the most elite, passionate, outwardly competitive, and capable unit possible.
9. The Supervisor Cup
When your company has many employees, it’s important not to lose focus of your supervisors and managers, says Brandy Shope, the Corporate Director of Human Resources at HB McClure Co To keep them motivated, her company created something called The Supervisor Cup.
Each week, the executive team assigns a task. If a supervisor completes it, his or her name is entered into a monthly drawing for the chance to win a gift card. We are aware that people typically do not leave successful companies unless they feel there is poor management in place, so the Supervisor Cup is a unique practice to keep our supervisors focused on employee engagement. Not only it’s a competitive and fun way to improve engagement and productivity, but it also reminds managers about motivation, rewards, and recognition, and has been very positively received amongst team members.
10. Close coordination and weekly task delegation
For company goals to be achieved, there should be excellent inter as well as intra-team communication. Louie Balasny, managing director of Botkeeper, claims that productivity at his organization is maintained by constant communication and proper task management. The key is in the close coordination of different members from various departments.
To achieve constant communication, we have 90-minute weekly management calls, 15-minute daily check-ins, and weekly 1-hour one-on-ones. During our weekly management calls, we determine and assign tasks that are most crucial to moving the company forward. That means our business is improving every week, and our team is collaborating on high-level items, while completing smaller tasks individually.
When an individual takes on a task, there is a mutual understanding on time and effort required for its completion. If they feel the task at hand is something they wouldn't be able to be held accountable for, that task is given a later due date, or some less urgent task will get pushed to a later completion date.
11. Setting attainable goals
One can only be productive if they know what is expected of them. That is why Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco, always sets realistic and attainable goals for her team .
By setting long term goals and milestones, my team feels a sense of accomplishment and pride when they complete their task. I always explicitly articulate my next business plan because I want them to understand and feel personally connected to the concept. If I set too many unrealistic goals and deadlines, I would be setting them up for failure.
Not only will their productivity suffer but the stress will affect their efficiency. When my team feels they are contributing to our success, they feel accountable for their work. These are the two most important foundations on which every great and productive team rests on.