The 5 Ingredients of a Productive Workplace

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What makes a productive workplace? What can you, as a leader, do to increase the productive output of your team? 

While some aspects of productivity are specific to the industry a business operates in, there are also productivity principles that are common to all modern workplaces. 

Below, you’ll learn about the key ingredients of a productive workplace and some practices you can implement to boost the productivity of your organization or team. 

1. Consistency 

People are at their most productive when they work in a predictable and consistent environment. Therefore, to ensure a productive workplace, leaders should stabilize as many aspects of a job as possible. The brain is in its comfort zone when it knows what to expect. Surprises are unavoidable on the job, whether it’s a glitch in a piece of equipment, a client responding unexpectedly, or any number of other everyday occurrences. That being said, employees will work more productively if there are systems in place to keep uncertainty to a minimum. 

Here are some practices you can implement to establish consistency:

#1: Develop routines or templates for recurring tasks. The brain doesn’t have to expend a lot of energy on something that’s become a habit. For example, if calling customers is a frequent part of the job, design a script that employees can use to introduce themselves and the product. This way, employees don’t have to use energy to come up with a greeting for each phone call. 

Keep in mind that routines and templates should reduce mental energy for mundane and repetitive tasks; however, tasks that are complex or creative naturally require a lot of energy and don’t need to be as heavily regulated. Stoic philosopher Ryan Holiday argues that limiting workers’ autonomy is micromanaging. In his book Ego Is The Enemy, he explains that a leader who aims to control every action of their team members creates either workers who are resentful or workers who are dependent on corrections—both of which will lead to reduced productivity.

#2: Show your face in meetings. Facial expressions and body language help people understand what we’re communicating more fully. Misinterpretations can prompt threat responses if taken negatively, and they happen much more easily over email or the phone than in person. 

#3: Share goals and accomplishments across departments. When you send regular newsletters, emails, or other announcements reporting on the work of all departments, employees can get a sense of the goals the company is working toward and how their roles contribute. This information can help employees prepare for potential changes. For example, if a company wants to gradually implement a new kind of software, sharing the schedule of when each department will be updated gives employees more time to adjust. 

#4: Create spaces where people can share their personal lives. One of the ways to reduce uncertainty at work is for employees to have an idea of who they work with. Providing a lounge area or a digital forum that allows people to interact casually increases the likelihood of employees forming positive relationships. 

2. Communication

Another indispensable ingredient for a productive workplace is communication. Without efficient communication, people get distracted more often as they are bombarded by messages in the midst of work, which is a huge drain on productivity.  

To ensure effective and efficient communication, Cal Newport (A World Without Email) recommends setting up the following communication protocols for the key aspects of work:

1) Protocols for Scheduling Meetings. Create protocols that dictate how meetings are scheduled, a process that can otherwise be cognitively draining and time-consuming. Newport recommends hiring a full-time or part-time human assistant if possible or otherwise using a digital scheduling service. This lets employees list their availability and allows others to book time slots with them.  

2) Protocols for Answering Questions. To better answer on-the-fly questions, have employees hold office hours: set times that they’re available during the day or week. Others can thus approach people with questions only when they’re available to answer them. Of course, this only works for questions that don’t require an immediate response. 

While from a productivity standpoint, reducing interruptions and cognitive switching is superior to a workday punctuated by unscheduled interruptions, from a mental health perspective, unscheduled interruptions can be beneficial. Some argue that interruptions offer the chance to have casual social interactions that create a sense of connection at work.

3) Protocols for Clients. Make it easy for your clients to follow progress on a project without having to send many emails—a portal or project page can facilitate this, writes Newport. Be clear in the contract with clients about how you’ll communicate with them. Finally, when necessary, implement crisis protocols—ways for the client to reach you in an emergency. 

4) Protocols for Email. Consider strictly limiting email length. This ensures that only the simple communication suited to the email format is handled that way and that any other communication happens in person. )

5) Protocols for Status Meetings. Decide on a brief standing meeting slot one or multiple times a week. Have everyone provide updates in this meeting. This gets the team on the same page, limits the amount of impromptu written communication that must happen, and frees up time for potential longer meetings that emerge from the status meeting. 

3. Psychological Safety

When it comes to workplace productivity, the “who” is not all that important. Instead, a team’s productivity is influenced by the norms that its members adopt. Norms are the unspoken and unwritten rules that we abide by. Studies have shown that certain norms are more likely to foster productive teamwork. In particular, creating a norm of psychological safety is crucial. 

If a team is psychologically safe, its members feel that they can speak their minds and share their ideas without fear of retribution. They feel that mistakes won’t be harshly criticized, and that dissenting views won’t be silenced.

Creating an atmosphere of psychological safety is usually the onus of a team’s leader. The leader must ensure that two conditions are in place:

  • All team members equally participate in discussions.
  • Team members are sensitive to the emotions of their colleagues and acknowledge these emotions appropriately.

4. Autonomy

Workers become more productive when they believe two things: that they have the authority to make decisions, and that their managers trust them and want them to succeed. One technique that managers can implement to create such a workplace culture is lean manufacturing. In lean manufacturing, the person closest to a problem is given the authority to make decisions on how to solve it. This is true of all workers, from janitors to executives. Everyone is given a small amount of control and responsibility. In short, all workers have the authority to make decisions, even if these decisions are relatively small. 

However, implementing lean manufacturing isn’t always simple. Even if every worker is given a small amount of control, they may not feel comfortable enough to use it. They may fear punishment if they make a bad choice or act against the wishes of their superiors. To help workers feel comfortable enough to implement the practices of lean manufacturing, managers should also try to create a commitment culture

Commitment Culture

As the name suggests, commitment culture is a company culture in which employers make clear their commitment to each employee’s growth and success. In return, each employee shows commitment to their employer. This mutual commitment breeds an atmosphere of trust: employers trust employees to work effectively and diligently, while employees trust that employers have their backs and won’t punish them needlessly. In such an atmosphere, lean manufacturing can flourish.

But how can you create a commitment culture? Implementing lean manufacturing can in itself help to lay the groundwork for such a culture. Giving each employee some degree of decision-making power shows that you value them and their expertise. It also demonstrates that you trust them to make good decisions.

TITLE: Smarter Faster Better
AUTHOR: Charles Duhigg
TIME: 41
READS: 113
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: smarter-faster-better-summary-charles-duhigg

5. Happiness

The last (but not least) ingredient of a productive workplace is employee happiness. Studies show that happy employees are more productive, and some companies have already caught onto this fact. For example, Google reportedly stocks video games in the break room and encourages engineers to bring their dogs to the office. 

Managers and executives are in the best position to promote happiness because:

  • They have the authority to influence company policies and culture.
  • They’re likely to interact with a large number of people throughout the office.
  • They already have the responsibility of setting an example for their employees.

With this in mind, there are a number of ways that company leaders can make their employees happier and, thus, more productive, including: 

  • Providing services such as health benefits, gym memberships, and on-site daycare. Coors reported a $6.15 return for every $1 spent on its corporate fitness program.
  • Frequently recognizing and encouraging employees’ good work. This can be as simple as a “well done” email or a brief recognition at the end of a meeting. Delivering that feedback with a sincere and warm tone increases the positive impact. One study revealed that teams who considered their managers to be encouraging performed 31% better than those with less encouraging managers. Even in environments like the military—which are often perceived to be deliberately harsh and intense—outcomes improve when commanding officers provide open and positive feedback to squad members.

Scientists have actually quantified the ideal ratio of positive and negative comments in interactions within groups to create a productive workplace. This ratio, which is referred to as the Losada Line, is 2.9013 positive-to-negative interactions. In other words, employees must hear about three positive comments to counteract one negative comment. Furthermore, a 6-to-1 ratio optimizes productivity and success. One mining company was experiencing substantial losses, but when it increased its ratio from 1.15 to 3.56 (about three-and-a-half positive comments for each negative one), production improved by more than 40 percent. 

TITLE: The Happiness Advantage
AUTHOR: Shawn Achor
TIME: 30
READS: 100.6
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-happiness-advantage-summary-shawn-achor

Final Words

Creating a productive workplace isn’t about pushing your employees to work longer hours or complete more tasks in less time. Instead, it’s about creating conditions where employees feel motivated to do more out of their own accord. 

If you enjoyed our article about the ingredients of a productive workplace, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

The Effective Executive

While many business books tell you how to manage other people, this 1966 classic by management expert Peter F. Drucker explains how to manage yourself to be effective. Effectiveness is key to individual and organizational success. Without it, other attributes, such as talent, intelligence, knowledge, and hard work, are useless.

Drucker says anyone can learn five practices for effectiveness: managing your time, focusing on just a few key tasks, making a unique contribution, maximizing your strengths, and making sound decisions. He explains how to implement these practices, which have remained relevant for over 50 years, even as technology and organizations have evolved. 

 The 80/20 Principle

If you’re resigned to working long hours for mediocre income, you need to read The 80/20 Principle. Entrepreneur Richard Koch reveals how you can work less, earn more, and multiply your happiness. How? Focus on the few things in your life that truly matter.

As Koch explains, 80% of results flow from 20% of inputs. According to this 80/20 Principle, only a fraction of the actions you take and the people you interact with contribute to your joy and success. Therefore, Koch says you must spend more time on what matters, and less time on what doesn’t—for example, by finding work you enjoy, spending less time on things you’re not good at, and avoiding people who drain your energy.

The 5 Ingredients of a Productive Workplace

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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