Want to Improve Productivity in the Workplace? Here's How

How to Improve Productivity in the Workplace
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When it comes to productivity, we tend to think primarily in terms of individual accomplishments. You make a list of tasks and then methodically work your way through them. It’s all about that to-do list. If you accomplish a lot of tasks in a relatively small amount of time, you consider yourself to be productive.

And there are approximately 25,000 books and apps and websites devoted to helping you improve your personal productivity. In our information-saturated age, everyone wants to know how to get more done faster.

While it’s certainly essential for individual employees to be productive, it’s just as important for a business as a whole to be productive.

In other words, personal productivity fits under the larger umbrella of workplace productivity. Each individual’s productivity adds to the overall effectiveness of the entire workplace. And the more you empower your employees to be productive, the more success you achieve as a company.

Of course, this raises two critical questions:

  1. How exactly do you define and measure workplace productivity? 
  2. Once you’ve defined workplace productivity, how do you increase it?

In this article, we’ll dissect exactly what workplace productivity does and doesn’t mean, as well as specific strategies to improve it.

Quote by Peter Drucker saying "You can't manage what you can't measure"

What is Workplace Productivity?

The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure applies directly to workplace productivity. If you don’t nail down specifics, you’ll never be able to determine how effective your workplace is or how to improve the overall productivity.

It’s similar to evaluating the performance of athletes. Without statistics like three-point percentage and rushing yards and batting average, you can’t gauge how well a player is performing.

So what is workplace productivity?  

At a 50,000 foot level, it can be defined as how much is accomplished in a work environment and how efficiently that work is completed by employees. But this definition is far too general and nebulous if you’re intent on actually making your workplace more productive.

So let’s get a little more specific.

Workplace productivity essentially boils down to two key measurements: Outputs & Inputs

Outputs simply refers to completed objectives, both in terms of individual tasks and overall projects. For example, output could be both the creation of a financial spreadsheet as well as the bigger report that spreadsheet is part of.

Inputs refers to the amount of resources required to produce an output. This can include a large number of variables, like hours worked, dollars spent, physical resources used, etc. Essentially, it’s everything that goes into generating a specific output.

Again, this is somewhat generic, but at least we’re headed in the right direction.

To get to a point where you can actually measure workplace productivity, you need to actually define the key metrics that make up outputs and inputs.

This is going to be different for every business, but you can start to determine the key metrics by asking the following question: what best represents the result of effective teamwork?

In other words, what are your key value drivers as a company? What achievements are directly related to your success?

Is it total revenue in a quarter? The number of new customers onboarded? Leads generated in 90 days? A new app coded?

The first step in evaluating overall workplace productivity is determining what outcomes/outputs are most representative of team effectiveness. You start with the end in mind and then work backwards.

After establishing key outputs, you need to determine what inputs are required to generate those outputs. For example, if your goal is to generate 50 new leads in 90 days, the inputs may be hours spent networking, cold calls made, or follow up emails sent.

If the key output metric is $100,000 in a quarter, inputs may include hours worked, products created, new customers acquired, etc.

Once you’ve established the key outputs and inputs, you can get a general feel for overall workplace productivity.

At a high level, you can simply divide output by inputs to get a number that represents workplace productivity. This number can then be measured and evaluated on a regular basis.

But dividing outputs by inputs just gives you a number.

Realistically, your evaluation of productivity will probably be more fluid, taking into account established key metrics (inputs), monitoring them over time, and comparing them against industry standards.

Instead of trying to reduce workplace productivity to a single number, it will be more helpful to constantly engage with all the relevant factors.

Why Measuring Workplace Productivity Matters

Consistently measuring workplace productivity is absolutely essential. If you don’t, you can’t know whether you’re effectively achieving your objectives or whether efforts to improve productivity are actually working. You have to rely on gut feelings, which are wrong more often than not.

You need data. To measure, manage, and improve upon what matters.

By assigning objective values to key metrics and then constantly measuring them, you can begin a process of systematic improvement, starting with the 20% of inputs that generate 80% of the outputs (see: Pareto Principle).

Graph showing how top 20% of earners paid 86.3% of all income taxes in 2006

Additionally, by focusing on key outputs and inputs, you can avoid the common trap of assuming that busy equals productive. The reality is that it’s easy to be busy without accomplishing the key tasks and projects that actually drive value in your company.

When you identify what matters most (outputs), as well as what tasks are required to achieve those objectives (inputs), you can ensure that you’re devoting the lion’s share of your time and attention to the key inputs.

Digital Transformation: The Undervalued Secret To Improving Workplace Productivity

There are a number of well-established methods for improving overall workplace productivity, including:

  • Strategic guidance from management regarding key objectives
  • Standard policies and procedures for dealing with critical tasks
  • Providing employees with sufficient resources to do their jobs
  • Creating workplace environments where wins are celebrated
  • And many more

But in recent years, what has become increasingly obvious is that digital transformation is an incredibly powerful (and supremely underrated) method for improving workplace productivity.

This goes back to the difference between busy work and productivity. True productivity comes from constantly focusing on the few tasks that drive value. It comes from devoting a large amount of resources, hours, and energy to the inputs that move the needle and create the most outputs.  

The corollary to this is that the more you can minimize or eliminate busy work, the more time can be given to truly productive tasks - the ones that feed directly into your desired outcomes/outputs.

Digital transformation is the process of using technology to streamline, automate, and improve upon processes and tasks that are typically repetitive, manual, and slow. It’s these processes and tasks that make up a large percentage of busy work.

And when you’re mind is constantly bogged down by the minutiae of busy work, it’s hard to make substantive progress on your key projects.

However, when you combine digital transformation with your key inputs, you can drastically improve overall workplace productivity.

For example…

  • Does your sales team spend 20% of their time every week processing paperwork and obtaining signatures? An electronic signature platform like HelloSign can drastically reduce the time spent on paperwork.
  • Do projects often stall when documents are passed from one team to the next? Implementing an automated system in which completed documents are seamlessly passed from person to the next can eliminate this hiccup.
  • Does it take a significant amount of time to onboard a new customer due to all the paperwork that must be sent and signed and scanned and filed? This is an area ripe for digital transformation.
Illustration showing the documents required for employee onboarding in the conventional method and the HelloWorks method

These are just a few examples of the many ways digital transformation can radically improve overall workplace productivity.

And here’s one further benefit. When you eliminate tedious, morale-sucking busy work that doesn’t generate any meaningful results, you end up with happier employees. Your employees want to feel like the work they do matters, and implementing digital transformation allows them to spend more time on that mattering work.

When your employees are happy, productivity goes up even more. A 700-person study demonstrated that increased happiness results in a productivity bump of anywhere between 12-20%.

So in addition to increasing productivity by eliminating busy work, digital transformation also ups overall workplace productivity simply by making employees happier.

Measure, Manage, Improve

Despite the massive number of books written about it, productivity is a somewhat generic concept, and usually refers to simply getting things done. And while the concept is helpful, it needs flesh and bones if you truly want to implement it throughout the workplace.

Putting on this flesh and bones take concerted time and effort. You need to be able to identify what truly matters to your company, as well as what tasks are required to meet your big goals.

However, if you don’t do this, you don’t have a consistent, reliable method for evaluating and improving the productivity of your company.

So measure and manage what matters, and then implement key strategies like digital transformation to continue increasing your workplace productivity.

Your employees, stakeholders, and bottom line will thank you.

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