Productivity is a problem. Every year, lack of efficient communication, endless meetings and wasted time cost U.S. businesses billions of dollars. Yet, increasing productivity remains one of the greatest, most elusive challenges of the modern enterprise—everyone talks about it, but few know how to actually be more productive.
The problem isn't that we don't want to be more productive; it's that how we work is fatally flawed. The tools we have at our disposal add to the problem. Often the "fix" or "hack" we use to solve one productivity problem actually creates an even bigger hurdle. In fact, even technology that's supposed to help, like email, instead creates a whole new challenge. Each year, unnecessary emails cost employers $1,800 per employee, while companies lose between $2,100 and $4,100 annually per employee due to poorly written communications.
Added together, lack of productivity in all forms means that 60 percent or less of the time we spend at work is actually productive.
Introducing or restoring productivity starts with providing the right tools, empowering employees to take control of their workload, a shift in corporate culture, and best practice implementation.
Give all team members access to the data they need
One of the biggest problems with productivity is simply the way tasks are handled. The lack of an efficient system for managing the work process from start to finish causes many tasks to get lost in the shuffle, delayed, or ignored.
Task assignments come from all directions—via email, telephone, and water cooler conversations—making it nearly impossible to keep track of them all. Conflicting priorities make it tough for team members to know what tasks to do first and whose requests take precedence. Tasks take longer than expected because the information and resources needed are scattered throughout multiple software tools and formats—email, spreadsheets, whiteboards, to-do lists. As a result, managers spend more time tracking down status updates from team members than they do actually getting work done.
Eliminate information silos and the time wasted in searching through email threads, databases, and company intranets for vital data by creating a central repository for each project. By providing employees with the information needed on projects upfront – including the business case, deadline, requirements, etc. – and storing them in a single location, employees will be working toward an agreed-upon conclusion, rather than grasping for straws.
Foster an atmosphere of collaboration
It's easy to say that the fastest way to solve the productivity problem is to simply stop wasting time. But, in many cases, employees don't even know they are—they're simply following the standard protocol for how work usually gets done—or doesn't get done, as the case may be. It's time to make a fast and firm break away from the "way we've always done it."
Encourage your employees to collaborate together on tasks and projects with the purpose of determining the most impactful way to reach the end goal of the work. (As stated before, having that end goal in mind really helps with the overall process.) This way employees can work together, share ideas, give input, and provide assistance and support for one another, rather than toiling alone like hermits in their hobbit holes, I mean, cubicles.
With collaboration, it's important understanding when enough is enough. This can vary from organization to organization and from team to team, so define within your organization how to benchmark the time that should be spent collaborating versus getting the work done, so that you can remain effective.
Get iterative and stay flexible
Meetings are another huge drain on productivity. For many employees, one-half of meetings are considered "wasted time," while, nationwide, employees waste 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings—nearly 1/5 of the average working hours each month. In total, U.S. businesses spend $37 billion in salary costs on unnecessary meetings each year.
A better way to work is to plan for change and work iteratively. When you kick off a project, get the business case and the basic requirements documented and then plan to tackle specific work in chunks. As priorities shift or new work comes into the queue, the team will be flexible enough to iterate while keeping the end goal in sight.
Do quick check-ins, not drawn-out meetings. There are a number of agile methodologies you could explore, like Lean or Kanban, and then apply the best ones that will work for your team.
The truth is productivity can only increase through the effort teams make to be flexible, collaborative, and transparent. The alternative is wasted budget and stifled creativity. Taking a cold hard look at where work processes, collaborative culture, and information sharing break down inside your organization is the first step to improvement.
Bryan Nielson is an IT work management expert at AtTask, maker of best-in-class enterprise work management solutions.