Productivity is a topic that comes up a lot when I speak with CEOs and business leaders about their companies. Whether they operate in B2B, B2C, or even the social sector, nearly every leader I know spends a significant amount of time worrying about how to help their employees get more done.

Higher productivity is such a common pain point because it’s so hard to achieve: How can you improve your team’s performance without adding expenses and stress or breaking the team altogether?

Working Longer Hours Is Not a Long-Term Solution

Over the years, I have seen a number of approaches that can help drive productivity, but this is one that definitely doesn’t.

While it can be tempting to expect employees to add a few more hours here and there, there is no linear relationship between longer hours and productivity gains. In fact, employees who work longer hours are more likely to burn out and make mistakes that can hurt your company. So, while it may sometimes be necessary to ask employees to spend more time at the office to get major projects across the finishing line, this measure should be used as infrequently as possible.

Give and Take: The Real Secret to Higher Productivity

When it comes to getting more out of people, the secret isn’t to demand more. It’s to give something back. Here are three ways to actually improve productivity by doing just that:

1. Help Employees Work Effectively From Anywhere

Today, most companies are staffed by a complex mix of people working from various locations. In any given day, you and your employees might be dealing with colleagues who work in different time zones, as part of an offshore team, or 100 percent remotely. While that mix can help you to get the talent you need, managing people you may never physically meet (not to mention tracking their productivity) can be a significant challenge.

No matter where your employees happen to be, it’s imperative they all feel connected, supported, and able to communicate easily with colleagues. We’re fortunate to have many modern communications tools like Slack and cloud-based project management software like that provided by Atlassian to put everyone on the same page in real time regardless of location. Throw in video conferencing, and it’s easier than ever for people to have regular face-to-face contact with their colleagues, stay connected, and keep projects flowing.

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2. Encourage Employees to Use Vacation Time

Just as cutting out a commute can help your employees reduce their daily stress levels, there are significant benefits to be gained when employees actually use their vacation days.

According to one study, less than half of all US employees use all of their vacation time in a given year. That should cause concern for both employees and managers. When employees fail to take advantage of their vacation days, they not only leave part of their compensation on the table, but they also damage their happiness and productivity at work. As research indicates, employees who believe their company encourages vacation are much happier with their jobs. As we know by now, happier employees are more productive.

3. Have Better Meetings

A well-known fact of corporate life is that the more critical an employee is to your organization’s success, the more meetings they will have to attend. In our recent “State of Meetings” report, my team at Doodle found that the average meeting lasts around an hour, and almost a quarter of US respondents and 30 percent of UK respondents report they attend more than five such meetings every week.

With top employees attending almost a full workday’s worth of meetings every week, it’s imperative your organization has strong rules around when and how meetings are arranged in order to minimize wasted time. In that same report, the busiest professionals were also the most likely to note that improper attendance (either key individuals missing or too many people attending) was a major problem in meetings. Worse still is that poorly organized meetings don’t just waste time — they also waste money: In 2018 in the US alone, unnecessary or poorly organized meetings cost companies $399 billion, according to our report.

To reduce wasted time in meetings, ensure:

  1. all meetings have a clear purpose and agenda;
  2. the appropriate people are included;
  3. the meeting is actually necessary for achieving current business goals;
  4. and the desired outcomes can’t be achieved in a less time-consuming way, such as a one-to-one chat or via email.

Finally, in a world where most people arrange their own meetings, it’s important to consider how much time it can take for employees to simply schedule a meeting that works for multiple attendees. Adopting tools that can help your employees organize meetings more effectively can significantly cut down on wasted time in this regard, allowing people to spend more time doing things that will add real value to your business.

Reducing Friction

As with so many challenges, the key to increasing productivity is to reduce friction so your top workers can get on with doing what they do best. You can take a variety of approaches to reducing this friction: providing technology and tools to help people be more efficient, rethinking organizational processes that lead to wasted time, and removing cultural roadblocks that lead to low uptake of initiatives such as vacation time use and remote work opportunities.

Improving productivity while maintaining a healthy organization might not be easy, but it is the only sustainable path for business success. As recruiting and retaining top talent becomes increasingly competitive, your company can stay ahead of the game not by treating your employees like a problem to be managed, but by giving them what they need.

Gabriele Ottino is the chief executive officer at Doodle.

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