Your small business is your pride and joy — and maybe even a legacy you’re hoping outlasts you. However, small businesses are nothing without the right approach to productivity. If you’re looking for some concrete steps worth taking on the road to improved productivity, you could get a lot of mileage out of the following nine suggestions. Some of these may be more challenging than others, but they’re all worth considering. What are you waiting for?
1. Explore Remote Work Options
Remote work and telecommuting exploded in popularity over the last few years. This has all the hallmarks of a long-lasting trend, too, as 90 percent of surveyed telecommuters indicate they intend to continue working remotely for the remainder of their careers.
If some of your employees have come to you asking about potential work-from-home opportunities, this might be a great time to explore the concept with them. This is certainly a case where your mileage may vary, but lots of anecdotal evidence suggests employees who can work from home when they wish are happier and more productive than commuters.
Making this change may feel like a growing pain for your company. Not every employee, for one reason or another, will even be into the idea. For interested parties, though, the positive influence on morale and productivity could be too great to pass up.
2. Provide the Right Organisational Tools
Not investing in the right organisational tools — or not having any at all! — could deal a crippling blow to your small business’s productivity. Which tools are right for your company? As the saying goes, there’s an app for that — but they’re not all created equal.
Your company’s different teams, and the people on them, probably all have a different way they like to do things. If you want everybody to get on the same page, it’ll probably make good sense for you to encourage the use of just one or two organisational platforms.
Web and mobile apps like Trello and Asana provide free organisational functionality in the form of personal and shared task boards. Whether it’s a series of single-stage tasks or a long-term project you want to break into manageable chunks, they are both great choices. On the other hand, Basecamp and platforms like it are much more fully featured and could provide a real organisational backbone for your whole company. Even Outlook offers task-based functionality for the organisationally challenged small-business employee or owner.
3. Give the Micromanagement a Rest
It’s a wise manager who seeks useful organisational tools for their employees and teams and helps them learn how to get the most out of them. Unwise managers are those who show an offputting amount of interest in how their workers and teams get things done. Micromanaging can be a nuisance for employees of all kinds, especially in cases where you want your employees to go above and beyond, demonstrate free-form thinking and stick around for the long haul while enjoying good morale.
The thing about micromanaging is that it’s not nearly as abstract a concept as you might think. Studies throughout the years have confirmed what many of us have long suspected: Micromanagement in the workplace can be shockingly expensive over the longer term. These added expenses arrive in the form of higher turnover and squandered growth potential in the value of your employees and teams. In surveys of workers, micromanagement came in as one of the top three reasons they leave their jobs.
4. Invest in Your Work Environment
The open floor plan approach to building modern work environments came and went even faster than most fads these days. It’s not a mystery why, either. In addition to the fairly obvious problems of reduced privacy and a lost sense of personal space, open floor plans also appear to minimise the amount of face-to-face communication happening in our work environments.
That’s not great for productivity. Figuring out a better way to subdivide your available space, up to and including investing in modular or movable furniture and partitions, is just the start. Employees want to arrive at work each day and earn their living in a space that’s welcoming, comfortable and private or semi-private as needed for various tasks.
If you want some relatively low-cost ways to put a productive spring in your employees’ steps, start with buying plants or creating green spaces around your building or campus. Offering employees more comfortable and ergonomic chairs never goes amiss, either.
5. Do the Hard Work First
Some productivity tips for small-business owners are straightforward enough that you can begin implementing them immediately. Doing the hard work first — that task or series of tasks you’ve been dreading or putting off — is one of them.
If you want a charming phrase to help you put this concept into practice across your company’s culture, you can go with “Eat That Frog.” It’s a phrase Brian Tracy borrowed from Mark Twain, and it simply means we should put in the effort, early in the day, to do the work that provides the most value. If our job was to eat a live frog every day, we’d rightly want to get it over with as soon as possible.
It’s not hard to imagine how this benefits productivity in the workplace. This demanding but high-value work is what propels your company forward. On the employee side of things, getting it out of the way frees them up to worry less throughout the day and spend more of their brain’s bandwidth on creative problem-solving. This is better than thinking about how much longer they can avoid their frog — whatever species it might be.
6. Find Ways to Automate Wherever You Can
We hear about automation on an almost daily basis now, but have you considered what kind of role it might play in your small business and its productivity?
As usual, we have a survey of modern workers to call on — and it reveals that 60 percent of employees estimate they could save six billable hours of effort per week if they had fewer recurring and repetitive tasks to deal with. This could be anything from generating invoices and returning customer emails to placing orders for supplies at regular intervals.
If your employees are getting bogged down with returning correspondence, get on the same page about the value of setting up canned responses inside your email client. For employees who deal with documents and spreadsheets all day, every day, consider a set of company-branded templates to slice through the tedium of starting from a blank page every time. You’ll even find tools to streamline your online outreach, including social media.
7. Learn What Kind of Incentives Produce Results
Can you pay people to become more productive? Signs point to yes — but monetary incentives aren’t the only tool at your disposal if you want to raise morale while encouraging higher levels of productivity. What kind of options are on the table? Here are some ideas for motivating your employees financially:
- Quarterly or annual bonuses for exemplary performance
- Year-end awards for employee ideas that yielded the best boost in company earnings
- Stock options and profit-sharing plans
- Paid days off
As far as nonmonetary incentives, think about options like reserved parking spots, paid trips to attend training programs or seminars, and even flex-time opportunities for top performers.
8. Make Start Times More Flexible
Speaking of flex time, when was the last time you saw an employee shamble through your doors with only seconds to spare before the opening bell? In many cases, a less-than-optimal work-life balance can be plain as the noses on our faces and the bags under our eyes. If you’ve got productivity on your mind, exploring flexible start times might be a place to begin.
Flexible schedules benefit employees and employees alike. Workers who worry less about the time they get to spend with their family and at home are happier and more productive at work — and that means lower rates of employee turnover.
9. Use Company Time More Mindfully
The concept of Parkinson’s Law is decades old at this point, but it’s a chestnut of wisdom that never gets old. To put it simply, it states that all our tasks and workplace to-do items tend to expand until they occupy exactly as much time as you’ve allotted for them. In other words, an all-hands meeting for which you’ve set aside one hour will almost certainly take the full hour — even if there’s only 30 minutes of conversations to be had or work to be done.
Company and employee time is a precious commodity and can be easily wasted. Being overzealous when assigning blocks of time to various tasks might feel like playing it safe, but you might just be wasting time. When it comes to the reasons employees waste time unnecessarily at work, overly long meetings are probably one of the most preventable. This takes its toll on personal and collective productivity — but the change is yours to make as a small-business owner.
These changes are well worth your consideration. A couple of them might feel like you’re rewriting a big part of your company’s culture. Incrementalism will never change the world, though — and it’s not going to salvage your small business’s productivity.