Actionable workplace productivity tips that boost employee motivation

Actionable workplace productivity tips that boost employee motivation

Productivity and Motivation

Employee motivation is an important subject, and you can find many articles and books that tell you how to improve it, along with Employee productivity tips with just as much literature. And while I find both issues interesting, their intersection is outright fascinating: being unproductive is a huge – and often ignored – employee demotivator.

Now, you may ask, if they don’t like being unproductive, who is stopping those employees from being productive? This may have made sense in past centuries when people worked in isolation and productivity simply meant working harder; but in today’s world, everything is interconnected and you need to work in a team, and that is definitely not up to the individual worker. People by their nature enjoy doing their job well, and they suffer – and lose their motivation – when they can’t do it; but to do the job well the entire workplace environment, the cultural norms and expectations that regulate what people do and how they affect each other, need to facilitate effectiveness; and they often don’t.

Transforming workplace culture is one of the hardest things a manager can tackle, and when they do (something I help them with on occasion) it takes many months. There are, however, specific actionable tips that can achieve immediate benefit.

The following are two major workplace demotivators and steps to combat them:

Email Overload Productivity Tips

The biggest productivity hit in knowledge work is email overload. A problem that is destroying the effectiveness, communications and peace of mind of office workers worldwide. The stress it causes takes a big hit on motivation – indeed on any positive feeling about work. There is much that you can do to improve your Inbox-processing speed, but in this post we’re talking teams, and for teams these are the top tips I want to share:

  • Get the discussion going – together. Devote a team meeting (or three) to discuss the email usage patterns in the group’s work and the processes they support, detail explicitly the related norms and expectations in the team, and identify what can be cut back or streamlined or otherwise changed to improve productivity and sanity in your workplace. Document and track your decisions!
  • Adopt, across the team, messaging etiquette guidelines. These should include how to write a message (descriptive subject line, focused body, and explicit action items), who to send it to (remember Reply All!), when to use email (as opposed to SMS, IM, phone or other collaboration platforms), and so on.
  • Define standard subject line cues for the team. These can be prefixes (Subject: ACTION: Please send me the QA report by 2PM), or hashtags (Subject: #ACTION Please send…). Select the tags you need, based on your team’s interaction and apply them consistently. Common tags are HOT (or 911), Action, FYI, NRN (No reply necessary), and EOM (End Of Message) at the end of messages that fit entirely in the subject line.
  • Take control of distribution lists. Make them updated and maintained, specify who may use the “all hands” list and for what situations, and – this is crucial – define who does not need to be copied on stuff (hint: scrutinize FYI copies to people’s managers).
  • Use To/CC correctly. It’s the team’s call, but the usual decision is:
    To = Reply/Action expected; CC = No reply expected.
    Oh, and avoid using BCC, except for mass mailings, where it prevents Reply All blunders.
    Having these norms in place can reduce the debilitating email overload considerably; defining them in a team meeting makes every team member committed to them – making them feel in control, owners of communication rather than passive victims. Powerful motivation indeed!

Ineffective Meetings Productivity Steps

If the worst productivity hit in knowledge work is email overload, a close second are meetings. These are supposed to be the lifeblood of the organization – the place where decisions are made, brains are stormed, problems are solved, and conversations pull teams together. Instead they’ve become a huge time sink – and a total waste of said time – because they’re entirely ineffective, lowering employee engagement further. In fact, their only benefit seems to be that participants use them to clean their inboxes – instead of paying attention and contributing to the meeting itself. And since many knowledge workers spend more than half their time in meetings, their commitment to an employer that subjects them to such waste of time necessarily suffers. Here, too, a complete solution requires dissecting and modifying company culture, and here, too, there are some actionable changes that can help until then.

  • Get the discussion going – together. Devote a team meeting (or three) to discuss the meeting processes in the group’s work… Déjà vu? Of course – here as with email, involving the entire team in analysis and solution-setting is critical as a source of commitment and motivation.
  • Question the need for every meeting. Why do you need it? And if you do, can it be held twice a month rather than weekly? Once a month? Never?… Then ask: do we really need all these attendees? Won’t fewer folks suffice, and even achieve a better discussion? I’ve seen organizations where managers’ calendars are triple-booked most of the time… because everyone invites everyone to meetings without such questioning.
  • Issue agendas – in time. Adopt the norm that every meeting must have an agenda sent well in advance, specifying subjects, presenters, expected outcomes, and who needs to attend what parts.
  • Issue meeting minutes – early. Minutes that go out an hour before the next meeting guarantee that no action items will be done in time, making the next meeting an exercise in futility and frustration.
  • Shorten meetings. At a minimum, make the default meeting duration in your organization 30 minutes, rather than 60. You’ll be surprised how rarely you need more time than that, if you set your mind to being efficient.

These tips require no rocket science… they’re fast, simple and effective. Try them put, and invent additional ones. You’ll discover the sweet joy and motivation of working in an environment that allows you to create value rather than waste your time…

Nathan Zeldes
Nathan Zeldes

Nathan Zeldes is a globally recognized thought leader in the search for improved knowledge worker productivity. After a 26 year career as a manager and principal engineer at Intel Corporation, he now helps organizations solve core problems at the intersection of information technology and human behavior.