A Leaders Guide to Improving Employee Productivity [15 Ways]

This is Ninety’s guide on how to improve employee productivity in the workplace. We’ll walk you through five steps and break them down into 15 easy, actionable tips that will transform your team. 

The Step-by-Step Guide of How to Improve Employee Productivity

In this article, we lay out five logical steps for how to increase employee productivity at work, complete with 15 of our easy, actionable tips that can transform your team.

We used our imaginations on this. We hope you will, too. Here we go.

Step 1: Challenge Your Existing Ideas About Productivity

Whether people work remotely or from an in-person environment, recent survey research finds at least 89% of them prefer to work alone. Why do you think that is? Survey respondents give a few clues:

They experience fewer distractions in their work environment when they can separate themselves from others. For instance, 61% think loud colleagues are the biggest office distraction and 40% get distracted by coworkers stopping by their workspace for a chat or an impromptu meeting.

They would rather not have to rely on someone else to do their part of a collaborative project, even if working alone means they work harder.

They can focus entirely on their work and are less pressured to behave in ways that could hinder their productivity.

Their productivity can increase up to 77% when working remotely at least a few times per month, with 30% of them doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same time.

People Often Ask: What is employee productivity?

A general definition of productivity is the amount of work a person can produce within a specific time frame. But let’s put this notion in perspective. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, productivity was measured by the number of hours people were actually at work. High productivity meant that they went to work as much as 80 to 100 hours a week.

The eight-hour workday changed all of that, as did the 40-hour workweek, developed by the automotive leader and industrial genius Henry Ford after he realized his employees who worked too many hours didn’t necessarily contribute to greater productivity.

Nowadays, people think of productivity as a measurement of efficiency when completing a task. When combined with the notion of high total output, this definition perhaps tells more of the story.

For productivity to be a measure of worker performance in The New Age of Work™, the quality of completed work is just as important as the hours it takes to finish it and how much work is completed. Especially if employees are working on creative, high-value tasks and projects.

Ninety Tip #1: Determine What Productivity Means for You

If you want to know what success looks like for your organization, benchmark productivity. Once you have a standard point of reference for defining and measuring performance, it becomes more meaningful to leaders and teams. You’ll be able to compare current processes and levels to know whether you’re improving employee productivity and when you’re falling short of the big picture. As you watch your company’s growth, you’ll likely adjust your productivity benchmark over time.

For example, Microsoft wanted to test Japan’s long-held benchmark for increasing productivity: working excessive hours. So in the summer of 2019, Microsoft Japan offered their employees a three-day weekend each week, with the hope of improving work-life balance. But they also found one of the ways to increase employee productivity: the four-day workweek. Decreasing worker hours in a week actually increased productivity by almost 40%. Plus, nearly 93% of their employees loved it.

Ninety Tip #2: Identify Hurdles to Productivity at Your Company

For leaders and teams, workplace obstacles that impede productivity are handicaps to improving efficiency. These barriers are either 1) organizational (unclear objectives, ineffective goal-setting, lack of flexibility, multitasking or obsolete tools); 2) environmental (noise, visual interference or coworker interruptions); and 3) psychological (not enough communication, negativity or lack of trust and respect) – or a combination. Each one contributes to why an overwhelming number of employees would rather leave collaboration on the proverbial table and work alone.

Studies show that, during one workday, the average employee is productive 60% of the time or less. However, the average office worker is only productive for two hours and 23 minutes each day. Once you identify the specific hurdles your employees face to their productivity, you can prioritize the solutions that need the most attention in your organization.

Ninety Tip #3: Set Achievable Goals That Align with Performance  

Employees are more likely to improve productivity if they work toward achievable goals. This helps boost their confidence in their ability to succeed and ignites their motivation to do so. It also encourages collaboration and inspires them to work together as a team.

Taking ownership or accountability and improving employee productivity are directly linked. Those who are accountable for their work answer for their actions, honor the positive culture, vision and ethics of their organizations and contribute to increasing overall performance.

Read our article,How Can Employers Increase Worker Productivity? for ten tips that will help foster accountability and elevate your team’s commitment to high productivity, regardless of where your employees are located.

Ninety Tip #4: Find Ways To Encourage Collaboration

One of the ways for leaders to help employees increase productivity is to appeal to their human side. Humans enjoy being part of a group and often appreciate a little competition among group members.

Studies on workplace competition do show that 50% of employees thrive on it, but 25% languish in response to it, and another 25% remain neutral toward it. So it’s better to evaluate workplace competition against the composition of specific teams. However, when paired with suitable rewards, friendly competition can help less productive members of the group step up their game, which adds to an overall improvement in productivity.

Ninety Tip #5: Create Places to Collaborate With All Team Members

If your workspace isn’t set up for hybrid collaboration, it’s now considered a wasted space and won’t help the process. Since only 38% of employers have upgraded video technology to improve collaboration, there’s room for them to improve the odds.

Step 2: Create A Work Environment Where People Can Accomplish More

Ninety Tip #6: Provide Employees With the Right Tools For the Job 

A recent Gallup poll finds that less than half of U.S. employees believe that their companies provide them with the technology they need to effectively perform their roles. Giving your employees tools that make it Almost Easy™ for them to thrive at their jobs is one of the better ways to increase employee productivity.

These days, the right tools for the job include mobile devices, cloud-based business operating systems, collaboration and productivity software and communication channels that are high-quality, reliable and easy to use. In addition, social technologies — wikis, blogs, social networks, web conferencing, podcasting and others that enable social interactions — improve knowledge worker productivity by 20 to 25%, according to McKinsey research.

Ninety Tip #7: Get Everyone Communicating Better

Strengthening your company’s communication processes among leaders and their teams is essential for how to increase employee productivity at work. Leaders who can effectively communicate expectations and responsibilities to their teams help team members feel directly connected to the organization’s mission and goals. Clear communication also supports overall efficiency within your company, which can contribute to increased job satisfaction, as well.

Ninety Tip #8: Value Learning and Training

One of the most effective strategies for improving employee productivity is to offer them more opportunities to learn. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there’s a direct correlation between access to continuing education and increased employee productivity. Can you say tuition assistance? Expanding offerings in online learning? Bring them on!

Ninety Tip #9: Create A Company Culture of Trust

Researchers at Harvard Business Review have often reported that trust helps employees focus more intensely on their work without the constant fear of being fired, reprimanded or ridiculed by peers. In a work environment where people can accomplish more, clear deadlines and expectations will be set. Trust will be one of the key components of your company culture in determining vision, ethics, goals, relationship building, and teamwork rewards. If trust enables improved productivity, untrusting leadership impedes productivity by negatively impacting employee morale and engagement.

Ninety Tip #10: Limit Interruptions and Repetitive Tasks

It’s well-known that interruptions, distractions and unnecessary processes contribute increasingly to a less productive workforce.

Not only is the average employee interrupted every three minutes and five seconds, but it takes them an average of 23 minutes to refocus on their work after the interruption. Distractions are taking away from productive work time, too. Research on browsing time on social media shows employees spend about 32% of their workdays on Facebook.

Especially with hybrid work models, encourage employees to use office meeting rooms or lounge areas for impromptu meetings instead of lingering at a colleague’s workspace to talk. Designate areas where employees can make phone calls without disturbing others. Identify space for deep work and collaboration as well as socializing. Automate office processes, so teams spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time on processes that create value.

Ninety Tip #11: Say Thank You to People, Whenever You’re Grateful

In 2019, Deloitte conducted a study on “the practical magic of the thank you” and found that a straightforward verbal ‘thank you’ given to an employee can boost morale, foster trust and make that employee work better for more of them. The acknowledgment is also what employees appreciate the most.

Rather than delaying rewards and recognition for evaluations and reviews, celebrate successes when they occur. Make sure employees know consistent feedback and clear rewards for a job well done are always on the table. Set up employee engagement and rewards programs and approve time off and work breaks to refresh and recharge workers while strengthening trust, job satisfaction, and continuing to work better and smarter.

People Often Ask: How do you determine employee productivity?

In today’s Work From Anywhere World™, productivity is determined by measuring leaders’, teams’ and team members’ efficiency to create value. This can be achieved by:

  1. Setting measurable goals for employees and monitoring their progress. Feedback can be given at weekly team meetings and one-on-one reviews.
  2. Considering quality of work in addition to quantity.
  3. Tallying the amount of work completed in a set amount of time. A simple equation for this measurement is: productivity = output (the volume created) ÷ input (labor hours and resources).

Step 3: Find A Better Way To Conduct Meetings

It’s no secret that leaders and teams consider traditional meetings as one of the most unproductive requirements of work. These statistics on wasting time at work tell it all:

91% of employees daydream in meetings

39% of employees have slept in meetings

96% of employees have missed at least one “mandatory” meeting

73% of employees worked on other work while in a meeting

50% of employees consider meetings wasted time

89% of employees complain about “ineffective or poorly organized meetings”

Ninety Tip #12: Get Great Ratings On Your Meetings

Whether your teams are working from anywhere, navigating a hybrid work environment or commuting to an office each day, it’s a good bet that a meeting is in their future. Why not find a way to make that meeting productive?

In one report on Work From Anywhere™, 26% of people report meeting more than usual after transitioning to remote work, and 80% support a one-day-a-week schedule with no meetings at all. They also confirm that “Zoom fatigue” is real.

Using the right meeting software, leaders can add a well-organized structure to meeting agendas so participants can focus on priorities that require further discussion, stay on task, create actions to identify opportunities and hold people accountable for solutions. Leaders can run meetings more efficiently with less administrative time afterward. Plus, allowing participants to rate a meeting can help leaders understand what’s going great in meetings, what isn’t and whether they’re making good use of everybody's time.

How did a Florida-based fruit and vegetable grower, wholesaler and distributor improve remote employee productivity with Ninety.io? Learn more here.

Step 4: Elevate Personal Productivity

Ninety Tip #13: Forget Multitasking, Try Chunking 

Is multitasking the better strategy for boosting productivity? Here’s what research says:

Doing two or more tasks at once can lead to a drop in performance in at least one of the tasks.

Even the brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of your productive time.

If you increase the number of tasks you focus on at the same time, you’ll experience information bottlenecks that disrupt your ability to make decisions.

Humans are sequential processors of information, so switching between complex tasks like writing, coding, designing, and visioning can decrease efficiency, effectiveness and productivity.  

Working amid a relentless influx of message notifications can reduce your IQ by 10 points and decrease your ability to focus as much as losing one night’s sleep.

No matter where you’re working, you shouldn’t have to endure a constant flow of interruptions that break down productivity. That’s why you should try chunking. With it, you can achieve the uninterrupted flow you need to produce more incredible, creative work and meet your goals.

Chunking is an approach to planning your work that focuses on completing single tasks one at a time rather than reacting to constant multiple interruptions all at once. You start by chunking up your time into segments you can devote to specific single tasks. You will be able to focus on a single task at hand, and you will likely do it better.

By breaking up your time into dedicated chunks, you’ll find that you get much more accomplished throughout the day. This even works for smaller, less cognitively demanding tasks, such as responding to emails or scheduling meetings. Simply batch these all together into a chunk of time dedicated to these kinds of miscellaneous tasks.

To get started with chunking, pick a single task you already do, set aside the amount of time you know it will take to complete it and get to work completing the task. Ignore the phone. Don't check your email. Just work on the task in the amount of time you chunked out.

Eventually, you can apply the chunking concept to your entire work schedule as follows:

  1. Make a list of your tasks from the most important and urgent to the least.
  2. Chunk your time into segments for specific tasks.
  3. Do one task at a time in the chunk of time you’ve set aside for it and focus on it until it’s done.
  4. Stick to your chunking plan. Give yourself a deadline for each task so you can track your progress.
  5. Assess your progress and review the results. You should notice an increase in productivity, more free time, more focus, less stress and pressure and a feeling for achievement.

Step 5: Consider Work As An Integral Part of Whole Life Balance

Today’s modern employee values work/life balance, and so should you. It’s a top reason why workers gravitate to remote and hybrid workplace models — even though those who prefer remote work still need to balance other parts of their lives to elevate their productivity. Nevertheless, 90% of employees say they are more productive working remotely than commuting to an office. 

When companies allow employees just one day to work remotely, 24% of them say they are happier at work. Increased job satisfaction is also directly linked to improving employee productivity, so it’s worth consideration.

People Often Ask: What is the importance of employee productivity?

Productivity is important to the purpose of work. When people are engaged in an activity to achieve a desired result, that’s productivity in action. It’s often the reason why people work. Productivity can also give meaning to work.

Within organizations, productivity leads to desirable benefits like a motivated workforce, healthy working environments, satisfying collaborations and great customer service. When people are less productive, it can be a sign of disengagement, discontent or diseased operational processes.

Ninety Tip #14: Champion “Non-Linear” Workdays

Non-linear workdays are what file hosting service Dropbox calls flexible work schedules for their employees. The company has a growing distributed workforce that requires a balance between collaboration and individual employee focus. To increase employee productivity, they prioritize impact and results instead of hours worked. They set specific collaboration hours where everyone is expected to participate and encourage setting hours individually whenever an employee is ready and wants to work.

Ninety Tip #15: Keep An Eye on Employee Engagement

High productivity can often be attributed to equally high engaged employees. Engaged employees have an emotional commitment to the culture and goals of their organizations and work on behalf of them. Forbes says, “When employees care … they use discretionary effort.”

People who are engaged in their work show up more often, stay longer and are more productive overall. Although the percentage of actively disengaged U.S. employees is up to 15% through June 2021, 36% are engaged in their work and their companies. The ratio is 2.4 to one, according to a recent Gallup poll.

A study on the impact of employee participation on job satisfaction, employee commitment and productivity indicates that companies can keep their employees highly productive by encouraging employee involvement. In this kind of company culture, employees are more willing to invest time and effort in goal-setting, decision-making and problem solving, which results in higher performance.

Want to learn more about how to increase employee productivity at work? Subscribe below to the blog for more step-by-step guides and actionable tips on how to improve productivity and more.