With entire companies of people now working remotely for the first time, productivity, and how it can be maintained and increased, has been high on the agenda of many senior executives.
Productivity has almost become a dirty word, eliciting groans from workers around the globe. People are talking about it, worrying about it, and trying to monitor it. What they aren’t doing is making an effort to understand what it means specifically for their organisation and what they can do to see significant improvements beyond scheduling more Zoom meetings and installing timesheet software.
With this post, I aim to shed light on the concept of productivity, and offer practical, measurable ways organisations can improve it, whatever circumstances they face.
What does productivity mean?
Productivity describes the level of output achieved per unit of labour, capital investment or piece of equipment. It can be measured in several ways: in manufacturing, it’s calculated according to how much time and money it takes to produce an item. In a service environment, it can be measured by how much revenue each worker generates or how much labour is required to deliver services in a defined timeframe.
We often see organisations make mistakes when it comes to improving productivity because they fail to identify what good productivity looks like for them. Productivity will look different from organisation to organisation, depending on the goods or services they offer, the equipment or software they use, the number of staff they have, the skills available, and the processes that they work within.
Once an organisation identifies what good productivity looks like for them – whether by analysing historical data, researching industry trends, identifying process gaps where productivity is lost or setting objectives – they can then work towards improving it in a meaningful way.
How can we achieve greater productivity?
In a traditional factory, optimising productivity involved ensuring you had the best technology or machines, the most efficient production line, the right number of staff or the best floor plan. Senior managers would walk around the floor and ask workers how things could be improved.
However, the world has changed. We’ve gone from optimising a physical factory floor with physical processes and a defined outcome to optimising a digital factory floor where information is the raw material. This means we need to approach productivity differently.
Acknowledge that you could be more productive
The first step is acknowledging that every organisation can make productivity improvements. However, we often see individuals, teams or even entire organisations miss out on productivity gains because they simply don’t know that there are different ways of doing things that can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their processes. We regularly see how inspired people become when we offer them new ways of doing things, and it generally spurs them on to think about the possibilities in other areas.
Commit to change
Maintaining the status quo when it comes to digitally-enabled processes will only harm your business in the long run. In a highly competitive, turbulent economy, it’s fair to say that if you aren’t moving forwards, you’re moving backwards.
We like to think of it as a case of the “digital haves” versus the “digital have nots”. Those who have invested in their digital transformation with sophisticated infrastructure, and opt to work in an agile way, will have a better product offering and better customer service, and can therefore offer their product at a higher cost price. Those who are maintaining the status quo, the digital “have nots”, are less and less able to compete as time goes on.
For real productivity gains to be realised, the highest level of management must commit to leading a digital transformation, adopt an agile way of working, and be willing to invest financial and human resources.
Audit your processes and tools to find the gaps
Firstly, look at industry trends and research what your competitors are doing. Where is your industry headed? What technology is around the corner? What’s already in the market that could give you an edge?
With that research in mind, you can then review all your processes and your tools to see if they are fit to help you take advantage of those trends. You’ll need to assess if they work end-to-end without gaps where information is getting lost, or where there is a break in the connection between steps in the digital production line. You may find that crucial steps are missing or that people are creating unnecessary work for themselves. Do a virtual ‘walk’ around your organisation and talk to staff about what tools work, what don’t, and what they need.
In pre-Covid19 times, where almost everyone was in the office, these gaps were less obvious as we could get clarity via quick chats at the coffee machine, or by wandering over to someone’s desk. We’re missing out on these chats now, so our processes need to be much tighter to offer individuals and teams access to as much information and digital collaboration as possible.
Invest in the right tools and training
Productivity rolls upwards from individuals to teams and then to the organisation. If individuals have the right tools, they will be more productive team members, and in turn, teams will be more productive working with each other, even if they are dispersed around the city, the country, or even across the globe.
A well-configured productivity platform that streamlines and organises work efficiently with tools that enable real collaboration and tracking with high levels of transparency is the backbone of a highly productive organisation. The question isn’t whether to invest; it’s which platform to choose (Atlassian or Microsoft) – but that’s another post.
Productivity is also inextricably linked to data integrity: if your data has holes in it, errors will occur, and you’ll lose time and effort to finding and fixing issues. Therefore, an essential step in optimising processes is configuring your organisation’s tools so that data is entered correctly, double handling of data is avoided, and information is kept securely.
Consider the impact of change on your staff
Regardless of how big or small your productivity improvement plans are, and how beneficial they will be in the long term, it’s likely that some staff will struggle with changes to their work. Some forward thinking can go a long way in reducing their resistance to change and get them on board.
Firstly, as we’ve said, the word “productivity” can have negative connotations. There’s a mindset that the phrase “optimising productivity” is code for more work. Talking about your intentions in terms of efficiency or finding better ways to do things can help dispel any fears. After all, improving processes and seeking better productivity isn’t about working harder; it’s about working smarter.
On the other hand, optimising productivity in a digital world generally means automating specific tasks, which may lead some staff to worry about job security. It can be helpful to focus on the fact that while a new productivity platform will automate manual tasks like data processing, they will be free to work on higher-value tasks. Furthermore, their lives will be made easier through better collaboration, greater clarity, and an easier way to organise their work.
The potential outcomes of productivity optimisation
The ultimate outcome is to be able to provide a product or service faster and at a higher quality than your competitors, delivering greater revenue and business sustainability. But there are less tangible positive outcomes to be had.
From an HR perspective, improving processes that support productivity mean you may see a significant increase in output from existing workers without hiring anyone new. You’ll keep your staffing budget in balance and keep teams stable.
On an individual level, greater clarity, immediate access to information and data integrity mean fewer errors, less stress and less tension in meetings (no more snarky comments about late reports). When people have processes in place that make their jobs easier and working in teams more enjoyable, they’ll be happier and more productive as a result.
In a digital world, productivity rests on having the right digital tools linked by a well-configured productivity platform, effective collaboration, and organisation-wide clarity. Once these are in place, productivity is no longer a dirty word. It stirs the imagination in terms of what’s possible and what your next step might be.