Leaders’ advice for boosting employee productivity

Five thought leaders offer tips to help overcome obstacles to raising productivity

01 Workplace support: Josh Krichefski, MediaCom UK

Productivity is reliant on people, and people produce their best work when they have support around them, whether that is a line manager, mentor, colleague or mental health expert. They need to feel supported to be comfortable and happy, so knowing there is someone to turn to is crucial.

We live in an always-on world, so it can be difficult to take a break from work as our mobile phones mean we are always contactable. But the link between stress and mental health is clear, and if people feel under pressure, they do not necessarily perform at their best. This means putting the right structures in place to ensure they are given the best chance of success.

As a result, we offer mindfulness workshops every two months, in which inspirational speakers come and talk. We also offer flexible working as it is important to treat people like grown-ups and let them do the job in the way that best suits their lives, although one of the rules is not to email colleagues after 7pm or at weekends.

There are also mental health allies, trained to look out for people across the business, who may need someone to talk to or might benefit from professional help. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but at the heart of it is simply listening. It is a very under-rated leadership skill.

02 Ownership: Hannah Dawson, Futrli

When employees feel they have no real influence at work, their productivity suffers and it is demotivating. But if you give people ownership of what they do, if they feel their ideas are heard and they have opportunities to test them out, you will get 100 per cent from them.

This means that your team leads can either make or break your business as it is about managing both up and down. In other words, it is important to create a sense of openness so ideas and feedback can be shared in a non-fearful manner.

As a leader, you have to put your ego aside. You have to take feedback and adapt your behaviour. Sometimes you will not want to hear it, but you have to. You cannot ask people to behave in a specific way if you do not do the same. So it is about modelling behaviour and inspiring from the front, and it is not easy.

But having controlled objectives is also necessary. You need to be completely clear about what each department has to do; it must be completely measurable and each person needs to understand the part they have to play, because to get velocity and buy-in, it is about having clear outcomes and results.

03 Perfectionism: Ben Roberts, Talkative

All too often people put in a lot of effort to get something 100 per cent right. The problem with trying to get to Utopia is that everyone’s idea of perfect is different. So you may spend all your time getting something spot on, but someone else may have other ideas of what it should look like.

Another issue is that perfectionism can stifle creativity. It can stop people pushing the boundaries due to a fear of failure, but it can also slow the pace of work and block the expression of the rest of the team.

So, what I have done is come up with minimum standards to give people something to work from. For example, we create a lot of content, but I expect minimum standards of spelling, punctuation and grammar, and there are no more than two drafts of anything or it tends to get nit-picky and our productivity suffers.

You have to work out, does the effort warrant the return, or should you try to reach a Utopia you cannot prove exists? In my view, getting something done is more important than getting nothing done, but doing it badly is worse than having nothing. So as long as everyone meets the minimum standards set, I am happy.

04 Work about work: Geraldine MacCarthy, Dropbox Business

All the administrative, bureaucratic things we do before starting our real work is disempowering teams and sapping their energy. According to a McKinsey study, employees now spend about 60 per cent of their time doing “work about work”, which means only 40 per cent of their week goes on the meaningful activities they feel inspired and energised by.

So maximising productivity is about creating the right space to enable people to focus on that meaningful work. This means ensuring there is a place for them to come together to collaborate on things, but also a place to escape the hustle and bustle when they need to.

For us, this is our Deep Focus Room, which we set up about two years ago. You do not need a huge space for it, but it can be really powerful and help to foster creativity.

Another thing I do to give people more space to work is make a point of reviewing my calendar each month. The idea is to remove recurring meetings that are no longer necessary and ensure the right people are attending, which usually frees up a couple of hours each for the leadership team. But you do need the discipline to do it regularly as meetings undoubtedly have a tendency to creep back over time.

05 CO2: Keith Chanter, Emcor UK

Human performance is conditioned by the environment in which we operate. People are receptive to physical and sensory changes in light, temperature, humidity and CO2, which means it is important to create a workspace that is mindful of humans.

So we undertook research, together with Oxford Brookes University and King’s College London, to test the impact of environmental changes on people at a customer site. It was based on the findings of a Harvard University study, which showed that CO2 levels in the air of above 1,500 parts per million could have a negative effect on cognitive skills.

We gave controlled groups of workers maths puzzles, a reading test, which included inaccuracies, and also asked them about their mood. What we found was that if CO2 levels were above 1,500 parts per million, productivity was damaged by around 8 per cent. Mood and motivation also appeared to be affected by poor air quality.

CO2 levels inevitably build up due to exhalation if there are a number of people in a room, but you can monitor the situation using cheap sensors. Ventilation equipment such as air conditioning will circulate the air, but you have to be careful about overdoing it. Air quality below 1,200 parts per million makes little difference cognitively, but it will cost you more money in terms of energy consumption.