By Sean Blanks, marketing director, cartridgesave.co.uk.
In the UK we work more hours than our European counterparts yet we have one of the lowest productivity levels on the continent. So how can we address this? How can we improve and increase our employees' productivity to ensure they do not feel chained to their desks, but instead have a great work-life balance while doing the work required?
Here are some top tips for you, your team and your organisation to consider.
1. Test and feedback
Firstly, it takes 21 days to break a bad habit. And the chances are staff feel compelled to work long hours because a tradition of working late has developed within your company. If this is the case, you may need to overhaul your company's working habits. The key is to get everyone on board, keen to drive through this change.
Start by sharing these tips, suggesting that you implement them for a month as an experiment. Then lead by example, practising what you preach, along with your senior management team, to encourage the whole company follows suit.
After a month, ask your staff to come back with their feedback. Has their working day improved? Which of the tips will they continue to apply? And are they happier and more motivated, knowing they can achieve the same in less time?
2. Shut the office at 5.30pm
We have developed a bad habit - a tradition of long 10-12 hour days to show dedication and a belief that people who leave the office on time are shirkers when really we should admire these people as they are the ones able to manage their work load.
If staff have developed a bad habit of working long hours, quash it by making it impossible for them to work past a certain time. Physically lock the office and insist they leave. By imposing a deadline, staff will be motivated to finish, cracking through their to-do list in order to get home to their families and social life.
Rather than working slowly, indulging in the false security that they have the next 10 hours to complete what they could do in eight.
3. Regular five-minute breaks
It's impossible to concentrate for more than 45 minutes. So get your staff to step away from their desk regularly for a chance to reboot their brains. Encourage them to make a drink, walk around or have a quick chat, as a few minutes away from a screen will stop attention waning. Plus it will give them a chance to either refocus on the next job in hand or come back to their current task with a fresh perspective.
4. Daily huddle
As the week progresses, it can be easy for a team to lose focus on the ultimate objectives. When this happens, time is lost in procrastination, in doing jobs just 'to be busy' or in mistakenly doing jobs that are no longer relevant due to changing priorities. A brisk, daily 10-minute team meeting at the start of the day will ensure teams are focused and all working with the same clear aim in mind.
What's more, it provides staff with a great forum for questions, meaning you're not disrupted by internal emails throughout the day.
5. Prep for a brainstorm
Brainstorms are incredibly helpful for idea generation. But I often find they overrun because it's taken a good 20 minutes for the ideas to start flowing. Stop this being an issue by giving staff 24 hours to mull over the challenge ahead of the meeting. That way they have an opportunity to think of solutions to debate at the brainstorm, ensuring each session is off to a flying start and you can keep to the time allotted in everyone's diary.
Ask staff to keep a diary of where their time is going so that you can identify problem areas. For example, do they procrastinate over certain tasks? Are they being badly briefed at the start of a job, which means they sink hours into correcting at a later date? Are you making them work late because you're asking them to "quickly do this…" or "can you pop into this meeting…". Once you have a month-long diary, work together to address the areas that are impacting on efficiency.
7. Think smarter
Get your staff to think smarter by constantly interrogating the tasks on their to-do list. For example: "Given today's daily huddle, is it still necessary to prioritise this?", "Did I understand the brief or should I request a quick five minutes with my manager?", "Do I need to extend the deadline on this, because another urgent job has just come in?" By asking them to take time to review what they're working on, you are encouraging planning and management, which in turn stops staff just 'doing'.
8. Power hour
We all have those jobs we don't want to do. Either because they're boring, or hard, or we still haven’t quite got our heads around them. The problem is, by putting them off, you are just delaying the inevitable. Instead initiate a daily power hour: a single hour to tackle these jobs head-on, so you don't have to think about them for the rest of the day.
9. Stand up
Standing up increases the blood flow to the brain, which, in turn, makes you more motivated and dynamic, able to move quickly from one task to the next. If you have the budget, invest in standing desks. Not only are the health benefits proven but so is the productivity value.
If you don't have the budget for standing desks, make sure your daily huddles and informal meetings are conducted standing up. At the very least, it will prevent you taking longer over the job in hand than you need to.
10. Hot desking
A change is as good as a rest. Encouraging staff to swap their working environment regularly will inspire and motivate. Insist they swap desks daily, if not more frequently. Don't underestimate the power of a new view to generate a new perspective.