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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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25 Tips to Increase Your Agency’s Productivity

The numbers never lie – sometimes, it seems as if you're not getting as many billable hours from your employees as you'd like. This simple truth is that people aren't machines – their energy levels rise and fall, and some times they will work faster and harder than others.

But if you want to see a general increase in productivity across your staff, then there are some simple steps you can take. Here are a few ideas on proactively improving productivity at your office.

1. Clean Up The Clutter

Okay chaos and creativity sometimes go hand-in-hand, but make sure you (and your staff) know the difference between clutter and the natural messy creative process! After all, they say a cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind. Clutter also makes things harder to find, and can lead to misplaced files and missed deadlines as work goes unseen in the mess. As a manager, you can enforce a tidy desk policy, as well as making communal workspaces clutter-free.

2. Flexible Work Options

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The truth is that every employee is different, and while some will be switched on the minute they arrive in the office, others don't start their best work till late afternoon. Flexible work options, such as the ability to come to the office early and leave early, or to work from home certain days of the week, help workers to devote their most productive hours to your company. Check out how to make the transition to remote working  and read more about flexible working options for agencies here!

3. Lights, Camera, Action!

Proper lighting is important to maintain concentration. The results of this 2002 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory showed that access to natural light improved subjects' concentration, energy levels and creativity. Customers with access to natural light spend more time in stores, and employees with access to natural light work harder and better.

OK, so you probably can't start knocking out walls, but you can position employee desks around natural light sources, use diffusing tactics to filter light around the office, and institute a hot-desk policy so everyone gets to enjoy the natural light sometimes.

4. Track Time Effectively

OK, this one is pretty damn important. It's all well and good following some of these tips to improve productivity, but if you don't have any data to measure improvements against, you won't know what's working and what isn't.

How do your staff track time? Do you need to come up with a better system? WorkflowMax offers multiple ways of tracking time, and you can then import use that data to create quotes and invoices, create timesheets, and generate reports. You'll be able to see the results of your efforts to improve productivity.

5. Use in-office messaging to cut down on emails

Emails are getting out of control. It's not uncommon for employees to spend up to 2 hours a day wading through email correspondence! That's some serious lost productivity!

Help to eliminate unnecessary emails by implementing some form of office collaboration system – many companies use software like Yammer, Slack or Skype to keep employees connected. Instead of sending around an email to ask who's got the stapler, you can just shoot out a message and have everyone see it instantly.

6. Feng Shui the Desks

Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophical school that posits that human existence is in harmony with the surrounding environment. The arrangement of buildings and objects in an environment in ways that align auspiciously is believed lead to a happier life.

Feng Shui principles can be applied to create harmony in the office, by:

  • Keep desks positioned so workers have their backs to the walls, providing support.
  • Place aquariums or fountains in the east, north or southeast corners of your office, to activate success.
  • Avoiding desks in line with the door, which puts you in the path of negative energy.
  • Eliminating clutter, which interrupts the flow of chi (positive energy).
  • Avoid mirrors in your office, as they reflect negative energy back into the room.

I don't know if Feng Shui has any scientific merit, but it certainly can't hurt to give it a go.

7. Offer Productivity Workshops

You're not the only one who wants to improve employee performance. Most of your staff are keen to learn ways to work better and manage their time more effectively. Opportunities for personal development are always appreciated, so combine the two and get in some productivity experts to talk to your staff about ways to improve their workflows. You'll get some extra kudos and provide some valuable tips, and who knows, you might even learn something!

8. Supply Brain Boosting Foods

Diet plays a huge role in energy levels throughout the day, which in turn has a huge impact of productivity. By supplying some simple brain-boosting foods to your staff, you can keep everyone at the top of their game.

When I worked at an agency we always had a fresh supply of nuts at the ready for all staff – better than a jar of cookies! Lots of other workplaces have a coffee machine for staff and get fresh fruit delivered bi-weekly. I even knew one software company who regularly gave their employees packs of sliced celery and carrots to munch on. 

9. Provide Family-Care Programs

This may seem a little odd, but hear me out. One of the most common productivity killers is stress, and employees get stressed about situations in their personal and professional lives. By providing programs to help employees deal with that stress, you'll be creating happier, more productive workers.

Care programs might include discounted counselling, career advice, workshops on coping with stress, or seminars on relationships and financial planning.

10. Do Yoga

 An in-office yoga group can be a great way to release negative energy and renew your energy throughout a busy day. Hiring an instructor to come in once a week can make a great workplace benefit.

Another cool idea is to hire an instructor to teach your staff yoga positions they can perform in their office chairs – that way, no one even has to leave their desks to benefit from yogic stretches.

11. Set Daily Tasks

 Here's a simple one – every morning when you get to the office, call a quick meeting, or send out an email to your team and brainstorm the action points for the day. This ensures everyone has a task to do and feels as if they are adding value to the team as a whole.

12. Ditch the Open Plan

 Walk through your open-plan office and count the pairs of headphones. Have you ever noticed how many there are before? A recent study from the University of Sydney suggests that open plan offices aren't the hubs of creativity and collaboration we thought they were. People find the noise level distracting, and feel self-conscious and nervous about talking to colleagues when the whole office can hear their conversation.

Create private nooks and conference rooms where staff can go to be alone when they need to concentrate. Long term, consider moving away from an open-plan office if you don't think it's working the way it should.

13. Embrace Ergonomics

 You don't need a scientific study to tell you that if your back's hurting and your shoulders are dead you're going to be a bad worker. So get everyone's desk assessed by an ergonomic expert, and adjust heights, angles and sizes accordingly. You could even have a staff member certified to conduct workstation assessments, so that you can continually monitor ergonomic conditions around your office and instil good habits.

14. Get 'em Moving

Sometimes one of the best things you can do to improve productivity is to move the coffee machine 20 feet further away. Why? Well, getting up and moving around for 5 minutes every hour has a profound affect on levels of comfort. It's a great way to give your brain a rest and your body a dose of energy.

Make sure there is space in or around your office for employees to move around. A little lounge area where work can be done without sitting at a desk can also be a great productivity booster. Most importantly, instil an office culture that makes it OK for employees to walk around and stay active during the day.

Want to take it to the next level? You can encourage staff to bike or walk to work, host lunch-time runs and bootcamps for staff. 

Bike Auckland recently featured an article on the awesome bike culture at Xero: read the write-up here!

15. Power Hour

Often, the first hour of the day is one we waste, getting coffee, checking emails, reading blog posts, etc. Why not make the first hour of the day the "Power Hour?" This is an hour dedicated to getting as much done as possible: ignore your inbox, silence the phone, and don't look up till the hour is over. A good way to start the day with a few essential tasks all ticked off.

16. Stay Hydrated

You need water to keep you going throughout the day. It's infinitely better for health and productivity than all that coffee and sugary soft-drinks folk normally consume. Make sure you provide a good source of water, like a cooler, in a central location, and encourage staff to keep filled bottles at their desks.

17. Add Productive Colours

World-renowned colour psychologist Angela Wright developed the Colour Affects System to demonstrate how the effects of certain colours are universal, despite your colour preferences.

Wright's research shows that blue stimulates the mind, yellow inspires creativity and green creates calm and balance. Bolder colours stimulate and muted colours soothe and relax. Choosing the right colours for each team's area can help improve both the quality and quantity of their output. Why not get some paint swatches and see which areas of the office could use a little productivity-inspired spruce-up?

18. Turn off the Internet

 Here's a weird one. For one hour a day, turn off Internet access in your office.

You'll find even your most diligent employees are browsing websites, checking Facebook and answering emails during work. When it comes to the web, we have short attention spans, and this means we're often flicking between several open tabs.

By turning off the Internet for an hour, you eliminate the distraction of work emails, notifications, web browsing, Internet radio … any of those activities that can impact productivity.

Measure results – I bet you'll be surprised to see productivity rises after an hour of internet-free time. It gives people the break they need to push through with their own work.

19. Eliminate Bad Clients

Every business has clients that are a lot of trouble, taking up more staff time than they can be billed for. Often, these are the largest, most loyal clients, and the idea of letting them go can seem terrifying. But to grow as a company, it's important to recognise when you've grown beyond certain clients, and to let those clients go.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but culling your client list can actually lead to more success and more productivity, as suddenly you have all this room available to finish other projects, discover better ways to do things, and work with new clients who better fit your offerings.

20. Ask Your Staff

If you want to know how to get your staff working better, but don't know how to achieve that, then why don't you just ask them what would help? Each person knows best what keeps him/her alert and productive, so you could host a brainstorming session and get all their ideas together. You never know – someone might have a technique or tip that could double productivity!

21. Get Inspired By Nature

 Adding a pot plant to the room, or installing green walls around the office may seem like small things, but they can have a profound affect on employee productivity. A 2013 study found that having access to nature by simply placing a plant on your desk could increase cognitive attention and productivity. Plants also filter the air and help remove mould and bacteria, making for a healthy, happy office. 

22. Laugh

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All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy … and an unproductive employee. Research shows that laughing is great at the office – it improves morale, increases productivity, and makes for a happier, more creative team. So don't stop sending around those silly emails and inject a little humour into team meetings and outings – remember, relaxed minds produce better results.

23. Banish Paper

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In this electronic age, having lots of documents printed out is both a waste of resources and a waste of space. Printed documents need to be filed, sorted, stored, and catalogued. Paper piles up on desks and creates clutter (see point 9). Encourage documents to be scanned and read on computers, instead of printed out.

I can't even remember the last time I printed something at Xero – there's simply no need!

Take tablets and laptops to meetings, and use collaboration tools such as Dropbox or Google Drive to make notes on documents.  

24. Recognise Achievements

This may seem as if it's putting the cart before the horse, but it's important for employees to know that their hard work is recognised and rewarded … before they even begin that hard work. Employee incentive programs, regular awards and regular acknowledgement from management can go a long way toward encouraging great work.

25. Organise Computer Files

If you're anything like me, you tend to dump all your files in a high-level folder, and you spend significant amounts of time scrolling through lists of randomly named files to find what you need. If everyone in your office stores digital files in this matter, think how much time is lost just hunting for files!

Assign someone in the office the task of creating a standardised system for naming and storing files. Create a digital storage guidelines document explaining their chosen system and circulate this. Get everyone to adopt the same new naming conventions, and you'll soon find your digital desktop a lot easier to navigate.

How can you / have you improved productivity in YOUR workplace? What tips and techniques can you share with us?