How businesses can increase work productivity

A team brainstorming together around a table.

“Effective” productivity at work is a vital part of a thriving business, especially one which has ambitions for growth. It is also vital for teams to be effective when the economy is challenged, and sales performance has begun to plateau.

The word “effective” has been added for emphasis, because everyone is busy in their jobs simply due to the everyday demands of their roles. But how many workers are simply bogged down in a swamp of admin and other “business as usual” tasks? As a result, how many workers are actually effective in their roles?

It is important for the majority of your staff to be “effective” if your business really wants to achieve growth and ongoing success.

On the back of the global pandemic, working practices have changed to include hybrid working and full-time remote roles, both of which have added to the difficulties that managers face when communicating with, and motivating, their teams.

In our article we look at ways in which businesses of all sizes can motivate their teams to increase productivity and improve performance.

Why is productivity so important for small businesses?

Running your own small business can be challenging. Unlike long established competitors in your marketplace, you are likely doing everything with little backup and limited resources.

Therefore, every minute of the day counts. The more time you can spend growing your customer base and recouping payments your business is owed the better.

In a small business there is no place to hide if you are not effective in your job role, whether you are the business owner or one of the employees. That is why it is crucial to make sure you’re working smarter, not harder, and why it is important to streamline workflows for the greatest efficiency.

What is a high performing team and why is it important?

Small companies as defined by s382(2) of the Companies Act (2006) can have up to 50 employees on their books, so it is obvious that they too can create high performing teams just as medium to large enterprises can.

In many ways it could be argued that teams in small businesses must be high performing and effective due to a shortage of resources in comparison with larger competitors.

High performing teams are important to all businesses, but every team has the same potential for disconnection, depending on how the team is managed. High performing teams are characterised by unity of purpose, strong and consistent communication and great collaboration.

However, all these qualities can be at risk if employee skills are underutilised, if employees do not feel valued or involved, if communication is scant, and as a result of these if some attitudes within the team are not consistent with the required levels.

Why is teamwork so important?

Organisational success depends on strong, cohesive teamwork. A group of individual experts working on a project will always lose out to a diverse, cohesive team.

Individuals have a limited set of skills and a finite knowledge base. Everyone needs the help of others and their unique perspectives to solve difficult problems and to see beyond their own blind spots.

Teamwork can improve employee relationships and cement deeper levels of respect for each other, whilst also learning something new. Team members can lift each other and hold each other accountable. They can motivate each other, which can make others feel supported.

Overcoming the obstacles to greater productivity

There are many obstacles to overcome to achieve greater productivity from your teams. Fortunately, there have been many methods developed through trial and error that can help to overcome these obstacles.

There are many blockers to genuine collaborative teamwork, including:

• Ineffective leadership – True leaders empower their team members to make decisions and to ensure they feel involved and valued. If staff are siloed, or if they feel disconnected and isolated, they can rapidly become demotivated which can impact on their morale and their output.

• Confusion about objectives – Make sure you have a very clear plan that has short-term and long-term objectives.

• Unclear and inconsistent communication – Whatever your plans are, you must ensure you convey them clearly to your staff, because you are relying on them to implement your plans for you.

• Lack of trust – Trust within teams is vital for success. Lack of trust can stem from poor communication and constant push-back from team members.

• Conflict – Constant internal barriers to progress, such as pushbacks on requests, can breed conflicts. If managers do not find amicable resolutions, then this can stifle workflows and cause rifts within teams.

• Unbalanced decision-making responsibilities – Ensure everyone has a voice that is heard. Some people can lose motivation if they are less vocal than others and if they feel that their viewpoints are not noticed.

• Team size – Small teams can be tighter knit than larger teams and work more collaboratively, but they can also be subject to a greater workload which can result in busy staff that are not as effective as they could be. Finding the right balance of a collaborative team that is not overworked can take time.

• Lack of accountability – Assigning responsibility throughout a team can help to nurture leadership and greater accountability. Managers need to be aware of those in a team that might need more help than others and be available to offer guidance.

• Mismanagement of workflows – Sometimes a project can seemingly carry on forever. This can be down to losing site of the main objective and constantly ‘moving the goalposts’. Assigning a project leader can help to provide a clear cut-off point for a project. There are many digital time management tools that can help with this, such as Asana, Monday and Trello.

• Physical and mental separation – Hybrid working models and remote working have provided freedom but have undoubtedly made management more complex. Regular catch-up meetings in person can help to retain the connection between team members.

• Lack of incentives – Incentivising teams can yield great returns for organisations. The easiest way to incentivise someone is to praise them for their work and their efforts. Organisation can also offer monetary bonuses, paid time off, and team social outings for meeting objectives within agreed timescales.

How leaders can motivate staff to maximise productivity and efficiency

There is a fine line between effective management that nurtures skills and allows employees to develop as responsible leaders, and micro-management that stifles productivity and makes staff feel unvalued.

In the new age of working where many employees either work from home or work to a hybrid model – such as two days in the office and three days at home – managers and company owners need to be increasingly intelligent in the way they maximise staff productivity.

Managers will undoubtedly find it easier to manage output when staff all work together in the same location. When there is distance between Managers and staff, how your staff are motivated can make all the difference between a successful team and one which is falling behind its targets.

The relationship between productivity and employee motivation is well known, what is difficult is knowing how to encourage staff to be more engaged and more prolific.

Some key points to focus on that can help include:

• Measure performance – It is important for managers to measure employee performance on an ongoing basis. Performance measurement should be used as a motivator, so it is important for managers to get that message across so that staff do not feel unnecessarily pressured.

• Focus on personal development – Discussing performance with staff on a regularly basis can highlight how much they have developed as a professional and help managers and staff to set new goals to achieve.

• Focus on company culture from the outset – If a company has a strong culture, then it is important to recruit staff who fit with the organisation’s ethos. If an employee fits the company’s culture, they are more likely to be proactive and motivated and quicker at connecting with their team and their work.

• Stop micromanaging and give staff more responsibility – If staff must check with higher management for every task they undertake, it can discourage employees and lower their self-belief in their own abilities. This type of business model is time-consuming and can stifle productivity. Instead, managers should consider delegating tasks across their teams to nurture leadership and self-belief and encourage accountability, whilst also quickening workflows and shortening timescales.

Incentives and rewards

Incentives and rewards are nothing new but were historically the reserve of the sales department. In the modern world, incentives and rewards are offered as part of the overall salary and benefits package. Candidates are looking for incentives in job descriptions and expect them, and if a business is not forthcoming about what they are prepared to offer, then they could miss out on recruiting the best talent.

Typical incentives that candidates are looking for includes:

• A decent employer pension contribution (percentage of salary).

• Health insurance, which could include eye tests, private dental and health care.

• The potential of a bonus scheme on top of the basic salary.

• Office perks such as free fruit, social events, subsidised gym memberships, cycle to work scheme.

Rewards can also include ad-hoc internal initiatives that could be based around seasonal trends or specific sales campaigns, such as employee of the month or quarterly sales leader. The rewards could include a voucher for a popular retailer or restaurant, a one-off monetary bonus, an extra paid day off.

There are many ways in which organisations can motivate their employees, and incentives and rewards are just some of the options, but by far the best (and the least expensive) is to simply pat someone on the back and say “thanks and well done” for their efforts. Simply because making your staff feel valued reaps its own rewards.

Key points to remember for a high performing team

1. Communicate clearly and regularly.

2. Retain connection between team members.

3. Measure and support

4. Assign responsibility to create accountability.

5. Incentivise and reward performance.

How can employers protect their teams?

Injury prevention should be taken seriously by your organisation, especially for those workers in roles where manual handling is common. This can be achieved by clear and consistent messages and training.

The two key business insurance policies that protect your business and your employees from injury are employers’ liability cover and occupational personal accident cover.

Employers’ liability insurance

If you employ staff, you are responsible for their welfare whilst they are in your employ. What is not always clear to is that you can also be responsible for the welfare of your previous employees, an example could someone falls ill because of work they did for you, and they make a claim as a result, even though they have long-since moved on.

Employers’ liability insurance is one of only two UK insurances that is mandatory by law. If you employ staff, you must carry an EL policy with a minimum of £5 million of cover, as per the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. The policy will cover the cost of defending or settling a claim from an employee who has suffered injury or disease because of the work they have done for you. Cover can include medical costs, legal costs, loss of income, and other related damages.

For every day that you do not carry EL insurance you can be fined up to £2,500. If you do not have a certificate of insurance that is accessible to view, or if you refuse to make your EL certificate available to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors when they ask for it, you can be fined up to £1,000.

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This article does not constitute advice and is provided for information purposes only. The information should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any decision. You should always seek expert/professional advice, before using any information published by us or if you have any queries or concerns.

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