What does productivity mean to you?
Conceptually, productivity is easy to grasp. Trusty old Merriam-Webster defines it as "the quality or state of being productive."
In the workplace, this typically means yielding results — borrowing from the venerable dictionary's term for the term for productive — meeting business objectives and generally getting work done efficiently and on time. While these are all well and good, in ambitious startups and growing small businesses these aims often turn into wringing the most work out of each employee while they're in the office.
Oftentimes, work can stretch late into evenings, weekends and even vacations, time that is better spent with family, friends, hobbies and other facets of life that help create a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.
According to a 2017 study from Capterra, 40 percent of small and midsized (SMBs) were focused on increasing productivity. Unfortunately, that also means that a significant number of companies may be looking to get 100 percent utilization out of their workers, which can lead to a bunch of dissatisfied and overworked employees who may tempted by other job opportunities and company cultures.
So, how do SMBs balance the need to succeed with their employee's well-being? Productivity expert Eileen O'Loughlin, a senior project management analyst at Capterra, recently delved into some research from Gartner analyst Robert Handler, which found that there is "sweet spot" between being overworked and underutilized.
According to Handler, companies should strive for utilization rates between 70 percent and 80 percent. Cross that upper limit and employees become less effective at their jobs, creating a drag on productivity.
It makes sense. Humans naturally get tired and start to lose focus when they are going full-tilt for hours on end. Mistakes get made, and things tend to fall through the cracks, which ends up costing businesses both time and money to fix.
But how do you aim for 70 percent to 80 percent utilization in human beings?
Cut them some slack
As counterintuitive as it seems, the best way to improve productivity is to build some "slack" into the system. It also helps to quantify how work get done in your organization by using technology.
Andrew Conrad, a project management analyst at Capterra, suggests getting started by tracking an aspect of work that generally takes a back seat to getting results. "The single most important step for small business owners who are looking to increase productivity is to start tracking time and estimating level of effort," he said.
Oftentimes, completed milestones and projects don't account for the countless all-nighters and missed family moments that made them happen. Tracking effort in addition to time provides a fuller picture.
"This will allow you to set realistic expectations and implement sustainable workloads for your team," added Conrad. "Tracking completion time for common tasks helps you figure out how long those tasks should take in the future, identify high-performing contributors and set reasonable workloads for new hires."
Of course, don't neglect some tried-and-true business applications. "Time-tracking apps and project management software with a time-tracking feature can make the process much easier, helping you reduce bottlenecks and put your team in a position to succeed."
Once that software foundation is laid, there are other tactics SMBs can use to increase productivity without pushing their employees to their limits. O'Loughlin shares her tips here.