Most organizations have one thing in common: they’re interested in improving their results. They want to feed more children, make more money, or provide a better experience for their local citizens. But with limited resources, there’s a constant push for increasing efficiency in the workplace. When it comes to helping employees learn to make the most of their time, it often comes down to making improvements to your day-to-day culture.
Efficiency and culture are both long-term strategic concerns, and they go hand in hand. When your employees have the training they need for individual efficiency and the structure they need for group efficiency, you can create a culture that makes the most of your resources—both human and financial.
Here are three culture tips for increasing efficiency in the workplace:
1. Understand Personal Time Management
We live in an age of digital distraction. With the technological tools available today, employees can access more information than ever before. On the face of it, speeding up the transfer of information seems like a step toward greater efficiency. But there’s a tradeoff: this high-speed information comes with an increase in distracting digital notifications and an expectation for rapid response.
Since attention is the currency of the digital world, technology companies do their best to get as much of it as possible. A recent example from one person’s accidental Facebook hiatus illustrates the principle: over the ten days he went without logging into the social media platform, Facebook sent the author 17 emails trying to get his attention. These included photos of distant acquaintances, a meme that more than 600 people shared in a group, and other bits of trivial information that he would normally scroll right past if he were on his Facebook newsfeed.
Why do such unimportant pieces of information prove so effective at distracting us? With technology “saving” so much time, it’s easy to believe we’d have a quick second to keep up with minor tasks and personal interests while in the middle of more intensive projects. But even as technology gives time with one hand, it takes with the other in the form of minor distractions—and each of these micro-distractions has a larger time cost than the few seconds it takes to check social media or retweet a meme: one study from UC Irvine found that it took up to 20 minutes to return to work after a single distraction.
You might remember the excellent advice in this article about personal time management activities for employees, but here’s the bigger question: how do you encourage those kinds of time management practices in your organization? With access to smartphones, it’s harder to control online distractions. Companies are abandoning email monitoring and US courts have determined that limiting bathroom breaks to 90 seconds is illegal.
If you were as shocked to read about the 90-second bathroom break policy as we were, that’s a good sign; you have at least some notion of what makes for a tolerable work environment. It might be an extreme example, but it illustrates how some organizations prioritize fiscal efficiency over every other concern, including the employee experience.
If your employees are going to continue managing their time efficiently without you looking over your shoulder, they need to own the process. So instead of spending time and money trying to have leadership police media use, focus on educating your employees on effective time management. This can be as simple as developing a tutorial for sorting and filtering their work email or as fun and involved as setting up a company guild on this habit gamification app.
2. Develop Effective Collaboration
The principles of effective time management extend into team training. Teaching team members how to identify and prevent on-the-job distractions helps quite a bit, because after all, not all notifications come from Facebook. A coworker asking for a quick hand with something can interrupt a person’s workflow just as much as a text message can.
This is where understanding time management principles intersects with your culture. Do your employees expect instant responses? What happens to employees who don’t respond right away? What happens when the request is from someone in a leadership position? How do employees prioritize their day’s work?
Your employees learn how to answer these questions over time, whether you’ve thought to address them or not. People will find their way through the mix of official policies and individual interpretations and try to meet expectations. If leadership doesn’t fully communicate these expectations, then employees have little choice except to learn from experience, react accordingly, and hope for the best.
Instead of reacting, be proactive in helping your teams learn how to work more efficiently. We’ve had two values-related challenges here at BambooHR that helped put this principle in perspective:
First, employees were asked to participate in a “High Five” where they spent the first five minutes of each day listing out their tasks, prioritizing the top five, and reporting to an accountability partner. This daily practice helped employees focus on what was most important, rather than relying on what was at the top of their inboxes, and the process of laying out the day in advance made it clear whenever there were too many tasks to handle. This helped employees know if they needed to delegate tasks at the beginning of the day when there was still time to fit them into the daily planning session, rather than as afternoon interruptions.
Second, we had each team identify how their work affected a downstream team. For example, our product development department learned how their timeframe impacts scheduling and workflow for our marketing department, who in turn prepares materials for our sales department. Each team made goals for improving processes that affected these downstream teams and learned in turn from their upstream teams how to stay better informed about events that might affect their work.
These simple challenges helped our employees make more out of their days and develop a better understanding of how their roles connected with the bigger picture. It also helped develop ongoing conversations about our multi-team processes.
These conversations will be different for every organization depending on your mission, vision, and values. But the more employees understand the structure of your organization, the more they will realize that delays and changes aren’t meant to sabotage someone else’s efforts further along the chain of production. At Bamboo, we call this Assuming the Best, and it’s an important part of how our culture shapes our workplace efficiency.
3. Get Proactive with Performance
The previous two tips focus on proactive efforts that develop a culture of trust in your organization. If the first half of trust is understanding, the other half is accountability. Developing that accountability leads to the third proactive step toward increasing efficiency in the workplace: regular performance management.
Which is more efficient: providing in-depth feedback once a year, or recognizing and responding to issues regularly throughout the year? A once-yearly schedule may be efficient for compensation review, but the longer you wait to give recognition and feedback, the longer you let small daily inefficiencies continue.
Regular evaluation and communication on performance help resolve the issues that keep employees from implementing the principles of time management and collaboration. If an employee knows her work is being measured independently of others in her department, then she also knows there’s no reason to play office politics. Or if another employee knows he can seek support from his manager without jeopardizing his chances for promotion, then he also knows he doesn’t have to shift the blame when something goes wrong.
Once again, the conversation on how to increase efficiency in the workplace needs to center on the true driver of improvement: developing the capacity and skills of your employees. This helps put the time and resource costs of performance management in their proper perspective—as an investment in your employees, not an inefficient use of funds.
As you implement these three tips, you’ll do more than just get ahead in your efforts toward increasing efficiency in the workplace. You’ll develop a connected, effective culture that promotes great work from the bottom up and the top down.