The Science Behind Productivity
Optimum productivity is the seamless and harmonious operation of your team working together to achieve results, and it relies on a few things:
- A trained and competent team that has a system to follow
- Employees who care about meeting their goals
- Individuals having the right tools to do their job
- Effective systems in place for when problems occur
We will go through these sections in more detail later in the report, but first, I want to share some of the current science surrounding productivity.
A survey by Microsoft based on data from 38,000 people found that, on average, employees are unproductive at work for 17 hours of the working week – that’s almost three days.
So what causes these breaks in productivity?
Working schedules play a big part in how productive your team are.
A study by the U.S. army and further explored by Tony Schwartz in his New York Times best-selling book The Power of Full Engagement found that productivity increased significantly when people worked for 90 minutes, followed by 15-20 minute breaks.
Researchers discovered ninety minutes to be the ‘magic number’ as it matches our body’s natural rhythms that control rest and alertness.
You will have heard the term ‘in the zone’ when people refer to the trance-like state one can enter when immersed in a task. You will undoubtedly have encountered this yourself – when undertaking repetitive or enjoyable tasks, it sometimes feels as though you lose track of time and you are focused solely on the job at hand.
‘The zone’ is a recognised mental state, sometimes described as ‘Flow’, and there has been plenty of research carried out on its benefits.
Flow can be accessed through meditation, mindfulness and practise – your team can also reach it in their roles when they have the right attitude and the means to get there.
The benefits of achieving flow include:
- A heavy sense of concentration
- A sense of clarity
- Lack of obstacles
It has been proven that positive mental states can create productive conditions, but how does this relate to your engineering team?
When you create an environment that encourages productivity, you will see the efficiency of your team increase.
Now that we understand more about the science, let’s look at six ways to increase your team’s productivity and efficiency.
- Building Efficient Teams and Schedules
Let’s start with one of the most common reasons that stop people from working productively – a lack of an efficient schedule.
Schedules and plans are a logical first step though they can be a challenge for some people depending on how they mentally approach their work.
An essential requirement to achieve success is a growth mindset. Many managers and teams get stuck in a cycle of inefficiency due to a ‘fixed mindset’ and the inability to believe there is a way to ‘do it’ differently.
Fixed mindset: The belief that abilities, intelligence, and skills are fixed traits.
Growth mindset: Believing that you can develop talents and abilities through effort.
Get your team familiar with developing their skills and the idea that change is good. Engineering businesses in the mindset of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ are unlikely to increase productivity quickly.
Talk to your team to determine the parts of their roles that cause them to break from their working cycle.
- Do they regularly need to ask for help when undertaking a specific task?
- Are the task and process clear?
- Is there a way to build more autonomy into your team through coaching and training?
Despite all the training and coaching you can provide, the truth is that some employees will be naturally better at specific tasks than others.
Business growth is first and foremost about people, and understanding your employee’s motivations and drivers better will allow you to build improved productivity throughout your team.
- Training Your Team to Solve Problems
Another way to increase productivity is by training your team.
Every engineering organisation wants to believe that they have robust training programmes in place. Still, as a leader with many other things to juggle, your team’s training and development can often slip down your list of priorities.
The truth is that when employees get out of their productivity cycle, they have hit a wall. And this is often due to a lack of training, knowledge, or insight on what to do next.
What do you include in the training programme in your engineering organisation?
Instead of focusing only on industry skills and management training, there are many other subjects you can deliver training on to increase productivity in your team, such as:
- Cross-training and development (equipping employees with skills outside of their usual remit)
- Communication skills
- Time management
- Emotional intelligence
Not offering a range of training options for your team is not only short-sighted, but it is also risky. Research reported in the Huffington Post from The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) was collected from over 2500 firms. They found that the companies that offered comprehensive training benefit from a 24 per cent higher profit margin than those who spend less on training.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, can you afford to be losing nearly a quarter of your revenue to competitors who offer better team training?
If the answer is no, then it’s time to revisit your training and development offering. You might be surprised at how soon you start to notice a difference in productivity after a few training sessions with your team.
You can undertake training in-house or call in the help of an external expert. External training companies can support you with strategies and personal development based on a wider lens, while in-house training is better for building company-specific skills and knowledge.
Besides training, having the right tools in our A.I. driven world can give you tremendous leverage. Let’s explore this one next.
- Provide the ‘Right’ Equipment and Tools
Providing the right tools and equipment is particularly vital in our post-pandemic world, where remote working and seamless ‘online’ functionality is critical.
Forbes reported that by 2025, 70 per cent of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month. And despite fears that remote working would lead to a loss of productivity, the opposite appears to be true. According to a survey by Enterprise Technology Research (ETR), the productivity metric is rising, proving that remote work is effective.
The switch to remote working came as a surprise for many organisations, and the speed with which home working systems were set up was unprecedented. Over the coming years, leaders must ensure that remote employees are supported as much as their office-based counterparts.
When working away from the office and generally from home, the productivity problem is often associated with employees who lack proper working space or live in a house where distractions are unavoidable. As we get used to the idea of working from home, you can support your team as they adjust to remote working.
While you can’t do anything about noisy traffic or a lack of a designated home office, there are ways you can support your remote team to improve their productivity.
Provide them with the best hardware, systems, network and infrastructure, such as hooking them up to a more powerful internet provider, providing them with phone systems, ensure you are using the best file-sharing software.
There will likely have been teething problems while your team adjusts to working from home. Are you continually working to eradicate these issues?
Offer non-standard working hours to remote employees. Some people prefer to be at their desks from 9-5, while a different schedule can increase others’ productivity.
One colleague shared how he and his wife managed to homeschool and work remotely across the week. Luckily for them, their organisation understood that one week Tom would work 8-2 and then 8 to 10 and Charlotte, his wife, a different time frame. Both got the work completed, which was fundamentally what both of their companies wanted.
Planning for the Future
Think about the long-term – and potentially, your new vision. What do your goals now look like?
- What is your overall vision?
- How many in your organisation do you expect to be working from home in five years?
- There will be known and unknown variables in your plan – can you test them now? Such as recruiting and onboarding employees from different geographical locations as virtual-only and seeing how well this works in reality?
It is possible to increase your remote team’s productivity, but be aware that you will need to continually assess the changes you make.
We’ve looked at remote employee productivity, but what about your non-virtual team? Let’s look at how to increase their productivity within the workplace.
- Creating a Productive Environment
While a significant proportion of people are now working from home, many remain in the physical workplace, in engineering roles that they cannot carry out virtually.
There are a few ways you can make changes to your team’s working environment, which will improve productivity.
In most workplaces, mobile phones are tolerated, although excessive use does erode productivity. We are used to using our phones for so many functions, and it can become easy to forget how much time you can waste simply checking your messages or replying to a personal email.
Many organisations now have a Social Media Policy that includes smartphone usage. Setting a directive that phones can only be accessed at break times is a reasonable request.
Keep it Quiet
All workplaces are different, and some engineering teams thrive on the ability to collaborate. But think about how an environment where loud conversations and a bustling environment could be affecting those who need a more subdued atmosphere to concentrate.
Plan Meetings Productively
Additionally, think about how to plan your meetings more efficiently. A small team might regularly discuss company goals, but do these meetings often descend into a few key employees talking about irrelevant subjects?
The Physical Working Environment
The physical environment of the workplace can have a significant impact on employee productivity. The optimum working temperature is between 20-21 Celsius, but it is still a common problem that many workplaces are too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. Today it isn’t good enough to say ‘that’s the way it is’ – you must create an environment where employees are happy to come to work due to the comfortable atmosphere.
Also, think about the colours and lighting in your office. Natural light is vital, and dark décor that needs updating can be mentally draining, affecting productivity. It might not be as easy as moving offices, but investing in updating conditions will improve employee productivity.
Decorating, providing better lighting that mimics natural light and removing or replacing noisy or broken equipment are instant mood-boosters.
- Review Regularly
As an engineering leader, finding the time to take care of your responsibilities while ensuring that productivity remains high is not always an easy task.
As your organisation adapts to the post-Covid market, you must check in with what’s happening in your team, especially if some employees are now working from home.
It can be a delicate balance between giving employees too much or not enough work – both can impact productivity.
Review your team’s output regularly and revisit the individual goals for each of your team members.
Well-defined goals and a workforce who are confident and competent is the key to efficiency. Don’t wait a year (or longer) to have reviews with your employees – regular check-ins not only alert you to any problems individuals may be facing, but they maintain trust and respect between both you and your team.
- Promote Stress Reductions
And finally, at the start of this guide, I discussed the science of productivity. When studying productivity and efficiency, the right mindset is a theme that occurs time and again. Without this, employees fail to find their flow and be their most productive selves.
You can have incredibly skilled employees, but if they lack the motivation to achieve success, this results in low productivity. Reducing stress and promoting a tranquil working environment will unlock hidden potential in your engineering team.
Encourage employees to keep their workspaces tidy – this can have an instant positive effect on mood and productivity, and lead by example. Not only does a clear desk allow ideas and work to flow better, but you also reduce the time spent looking for documents or misplaced items.
Clear direction plays a big part in reducing uncertainty and increasing productivity. Ensure that you are always transparent and concise with your communication, written and verbal. Employees need to know what you expect from them – confusion is the thief of productivity.
Encourage your employees to take time out during the day, and where possible, offer health incentive schemes to keep them in a healthy body and mind.
Having contingencies in place for when problems occur is key to improving productivity. When employees aren’t able to access help, this can stunt productivity. Your managers may need to be more present or hands-on to increase their awareness of where employees regularly struggle and where productivity breaks down.
The strategies outlined here will help reduce your team’s stressors to continue to be their most productive selves. But there comes a time in every organisation’s history when they must grow, and a slow down in productivity can often be due to the need to recruit.
Recruiting to Improve Productivity
Getting your team to be more productive is about creating an environment where your team can and want to operate at an optimum; it is a fact that many managers can forget, and human beings want to be successful.
When you implement the strategies we have outlined here, you will see your team’s productivity increase. It won’t always be on an upward trajectory – your job as a leader is to iron out challenges to allow your employees to regularly access the state of flow.
If you are looking to improve productivity, this could be because of a staffing issue.
The decision to create a new role comes on the back of several logical signs.
- You are continually losing valuable time undertaking nonessential tasks yourself
- You are aware that customer service and your customer experience is suffering
- Your employees are overloaded with tasks, and clients delivery times are slipping
Are you currently looking for ways to improve productivity? If you would like to find out how our expert recruitment services can help find you the talent you need to expand your team, get in touch with us today.
We have been recruiting in the engineering sector for 25 years and can offer help and support to enable you to improve productivity.