Originally published in Fast Company, September 2, 2014
Intense brainstorming sessions and far-away meetings feel productive in the moment, but they’re zapping your productive energy.
Workplace productivity is no laughing matter. So why are companies doing so many funny things when it comes to helping their teams be productive?
Whether it is out of habit, reluctance to try new technologies and processes, or ignorance of where they are falling short, workplaces continue to hinder the productivity of their employees.
Wanting to find out where the corporate world was falling short, I went on a journey through the world of workplace surveys, scientific studies, and published findings, and I discovered eight common workplace problems and how to stop them.
The Problem: The average office worker spends approximately four hours a week in internal meetings. 50% of those people consider these meetings to be the biggest cause of unproductive days. The average person doesn’t take much away from these meetings as 91% admit to daydreaming in meetings, 60% take notes just to appear busy, and almost 40% of people surveyed have admitted to occasionally falling asleep.
The Solution: Make your meetings more engaging for your employees by turning them into something more than a gab fest. Find a way to get everyone involved without speaking, by using collaboration software or a whiteboard and sticky notes. No more doodling on notebooks (or snoozing), as the whole team will be expected to contribute something. Extroverts won’t have an advantage over the more introverted members of your team, because everyone can be “heard” simultaneously through the use of sticky notes, images, videos, sketches, and documents.
The Problem: The average cost of an in-person meeting for five people, if four of those people are required to travel via air, is an estimated total of $5,000. Seventy-three percent of busy professionals feel that travel for meetings causes unnecessary stress in their family lives and 64% are concerned about the work they’re not getting done while they’re traveling. It’s shocking that these statistics are what they are, considering almost 90% of busy professionals think that technology will make workplace collaboration easier in the future.
The Solution: Reduce the need for travel for meetings by providing a solution that allows teams to collaborate remotely in a real-time, visual way. Conference calls on their own can be boring and tedious; people tend to talk over each other and information is often missed, not recorded or recorded in such a way that it is difficult to share. Online whiteboard solutions and collaboration applications offer a solution that makes sure everyone is heard and can access necessary information.
The Problem: The average office worker spends almost 30% of their work week reading and answering emails. Around a third of those emails are unnecessary communication between employees because of inefficiencies in office collaboration. Not only is email time consuming, but it’s also distracting to the point where our intelligence is hindered. During a study of office workers in the U.K. a psychiatrist discovered that the average worker’s IQ fell by 10 points when they were distracted by email messages while working. That’s the equivalent of missing an entire night of sleep.
The Solution: Having an internal collaboration application in place, with the ability to share documents, schedules, ideas, etc., will help reduce the burden caused by email. Instead of sending out an email that will throw your team off track, use a the application to collect and distribute information. No more digging through your inbox to find that document someone sent out last week and has since been buried by other email.
The Problem: You know there’s a problem with how workplaces communicate when 59% of middle managers surveyed miss valuable information on a regular basis simply because they can’t find it, and 96% of executives blame workplace failures on lack of collaboration or ineffective communications.
The Solution: Solve this problem by creating a space where collaboration is easy and engaging and information is easily located. A system like a whiteboard and sticky notes (a la Google Enterprises’ War Room) activates spatial memory, but studies have shown that the brain sees a virtual environment (like an online whiteboard) in the same way. Activating spatial memory makes it easier for people to remember the information discussed, as opposed to simply hearing or reading the information in a memo or email.
The Problem: Out of 50,000 workers surveyed, 11% were classified as highly committed and engaged in their jobs. This selection of employees is 87% less likely to leave an organization and performs 20% better than the other 89% of the workers who are classified as moderate or uncommitted. This disengagement is largely caused by a lack of emotional attachment to their work, largely due to a lack of internal communication and opportunities to contribute.
The Solution: Create a better sense of engagement among your employees by giving them a space to be heard and contribute, therefore increasing their value within the company. Better internal communication is high on the list of wants for employees who feel they could be better engaged in their work. People want to be valuable to the company they work for.
The Problem: When asked what the biggest barriers were between them and effective change, employees cited changing mindsets and attitudes, corporate culture, and an underestimated level of complexity as the top three, with shortage of resources coming in fourth. Companies that fail to harness the ideas of their own employees are more likely to not reach goals and objectives. Engaging processes need to be in place in order for people to actively contribute. Companies that always follow set change management procedures have an average project success rate of 52%, compared with the 36% success rate of companies that do not have processes in place.
The Solution: The same employees that pointed out these four shortfalls also stated that the things they needed to make change happen were management sponsorship, employee involvement, honest and timely communication, and a corporate culture that motivates and promotes change. Help your company reach these objectives by providing a platform that supports communication, honesty, and motivation to be productive.
The Problem: Many meetings suffer from a lack of preparation beforehand or lack of action afterward. It’s apparent that people put more effort into International meetings with 94% of them considered productive, compared with 64% for local meetings. The average time spent preparing for an international meeting is two and a half hours, when local meetings only get about half an hour of preparation. There may be more correlation than we think between preparation and the success of a meeting.
The Solution: Get the conversation going before you walk in to a meeting. Make sure everyone involved knows what the goals are, so that they can start preparing ahead of time and reduce the time needed for meetings with a “before, during, and after” mentality. Provide your team with a platform where they can access information at any time. The access to information afterwards will also help to keep projects on track, and will take care of the 60% who just take notes to appear busy.
The Problem: There is a lot of discussion in the scientific community about where and when we come up with our best ideas. It shouldn’t be too surprising that our brains are most open to new ideas when we are relaxed. This finding defeats the purpose of a traditional brainstorming session. Put a group of people in a room and tell them to come up with ideas, and you’re not going to get optimal results. Everyone is so busy worrying about coming up with ideas, that their brains are too stressed to come up with any.
The Solution: Solve this problem by turning brainstorming into a low pressure activity. When someone has a good idea, they shouldn’t need to hold on to it until the next brainstorming session or feel uneasy about sharing their ideas in a high-pressure meeting. Provide your team with a platform for ongoing discussion, voting, planning, organization, task assignment, and reporting.