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There’s a lot out there on the subject of productivity from the productive powers of specific scents to biohacking for better writing. If productivity were a fruit, it would be a wrinkled-up raisin by now, sucked dry by so many people attempting to discover something new.

No matter how many productivity articles we read, we’re always thirsty for more. But what if the topic requires a shift in perspective?

Instead of Attempting to Solve for Productivity, What If We Figured out the Causes of Unproductivity?

  • What makes an employee unproductive?
  • What causes a person who gets work done without trouble to hit a brick wall suddenly?
  • How can managers help their unproductive people get back on track?

Earlier this year, TSheets by QuickBooks surveyed 500 employees across the U.S. But rather than asking people what makes them productive, they asked about the things that make them unproductive. And between the lines of what they found are a few productivity gems.

Here are 3 tips for managers looking to turn their office into a productivity powerhouse.

1. Send Workers Home

If you’ve considered offering workers the chance to work from home, do yourself a favour and put those plans in motion. According to the survey results, 67 per cent of employees said they’d get more work done if they could work remotely or from home. And no wonder!

Offices are rife with distraction: chatty co-workers, endless meetings, continuous interactions with people who don’t inspire enthusiasm or productivity. Then there’s the commute. Starting the morning with long lines of traffic or packed trains doesn’t effectively set a body up for a successful morning.

If you haven’t already, invite employees to work from home a day or two a week. Set the tone by doing it yourself and keeping up a presence via an online workspace or instant messaging platform.

You might be saying, “Yeah, but my employees already have permission to work from home. They prefer not to.” If that’s the case, consider why. Why might your people be inclined to sit in an uncomfortable office chair for eight hours, as opposed to burrowing down on their couch, beside the family dog?

Often, even when working from home is allowed, employees may choose to come in because there’s an unhealthy stigma attached to working from home. They might hear through the grapevine that someone doesn’t think they’re working, or that somebody else believes they’re abusing their work-from-home privileges.

But so long as everyone is clear on their metrics and hitting their numbers, there’s no reason for this kind of negativity. Stamp out catty guilt-trips and encourage working remotely. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Working From Home

2. Keep It Flexible

Have you ever experienced a day where the morning was a total write-off, but your afternoon was a hub of productivity or vice versa? Different people experience surges of productive energy at different times. For some — those crazy morning people — it’s the hours between 8 and 11 that get the juices flowing. For others, it’s later in the day.

So why is it we ask teams to be at their desks from 9 to 5? Even when the average employee is only productive for three hours a day?

Flexibility doesn’t just mean working from home. It also encompasses when you work. And according to survey respondents, 61 per cent of employees said they’d get more work done if they had more flexible hours. That means coming into the office early or late, taking a long lunch now and then, or even ditching the traditional eight-hour day in favour of four 10-hour days.

Naturally, there’s a whole slew of labour laws to take into consideration, depending on where you’re located, but imagine, for a moment, what a flexible schedule might look like for your team. Could you give employees a three-hour window for clocking in or out? Could you get rid of the 40-hour workweek entirely and opt for a results-only structure instead?

Giving people the flexibility to work when they’re most productive could be revolutionary — for your team and your company’s success.

3. Limit Unhealthy Interactions

We already mentioned chatty co-workers, but that’s because talkative co-workers are the most common distraction at work, according to survey respondents, and 56 per cent of people said they’d get more work done if their co-workers would stop interrupting them.

But interruptions from co-workers take a variety of forms. There’s the chatty co-worker, sure, but there’s also that guy who comes in when he’s sick. Every. Time. The coughing, sneezing, bacteria on every doorknob, community stapler, and coffee cup. Soon enough, the entire department is sick. No wonder 66 per cent of employees said they find sick co-workers to be a huge distraction.

As a manager, it’s essential to encourage a company culture where workers feel empowered to keep their germs at home, rather than struggle through the day at their desks. Again, your current workplace culture might be breeding feelings of guilt or stress, related to taking time off. Not sure if this is a factor in your office? Why not send out an anonymous survey, asking people how likely they are to stay home with a cold? Then ask what would have to happen for them to feel safe taking a day or two off.

And as for those chatty co-workers, why not give your employees a break from the noise? Invest in some noise-cancelling headphones with audio cables.

Psych Central found music helps workers reduce stress and anxiety, while also decreasing burnout and distractions. Plus, cupping the ears in a sound-proofing pillow may dissuade chatty co-workers from interrupting someone hard at work.

Maximize Your Team’s Productivity Potential

There are all kinds of reasons why someone might be unproductive—not enough sleep, not enough breaks, too much stress, or even more personal issues like low self-esteem or poor quality of life outside of work. As a manager, you can only do so much—your sphere of influence is only so big.

That said, most employees spend the majority of their waking hours at work, preparing for work, or winding down from work. Giving them the flexibility and tools to make that time as productive as possible may require a bit of creativity and thinking outside the box, but the return on investment is worth the effort. Plus, if it works, this may be the last productivity article you’ll ever have to read.  

Written By
Danielle Higley is a copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution. She has a BA in English literature and has spent her career writing and editing marketing materials for small businesses. She recently started an editorial consulting company.

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