10 Ways to Improve Work Performance in Your Small Business

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Are you looking for some ways to improve work performance in your small business? Check out some of our tips to start increasing productivity.

One good entrepreneur with one good idea can build a good company. But great companies are built and sustained by great employees.

If you want to build a great company, the first thing you'll want to do is hire rock stars who will share your vision and help your company grow. However, creating a place where excellent work happens is about more than bringing in the right people. It's also about fostering a culture of amazing work performance.

So what can you do to make sure your team is set up to do their best possible work? Or, if you've already identified some areas of growth, how can you start turning around workplace performance? Let's jump into some steps you can take right now to improve the performance of your whole organization.

At a glance: Methods for improving worker performance and output

  • Minimize interruptions and distractions
  • Know where your employees' time goes
  • Make meetings short and efficient
  • Encourage regular check-ins between management and employees
  • Make time for breaks
  • Encourage socializing
  • Create and enforce a time-off policy
  • Simplify your processes
  • Be as flexible as possible about work hours
  • Ask employees for their suggestions

1. Minimize interruptions and distractions

Just about any book or article from a productivity or performance expert mentions the ability to focus as one of the first areas of improvement for employees.

As a manager or business owner, you can help employees improve their focus by decreasing interruptions and distractions in the workplace.

Giving employees more opportunities to focus involves creating an environment where focused work is possible.

This could mean:

  • Offering areas for quiet work, especially if your office is open-plan
  • Subsidizing or purchasing productivity apps for employees
  • Starting "power hours" where everyone in your office -- or on a team -- does heads-down work for an extended period of time.
  • Encouraging or allowing employees to turn off notifications from work tools

Pro tip: Even work tools that are meant to increase collaboration and communication can serve as distractions. When employees feel pressured to respond to work emails or chats, they can become more stressed and produce lower-quality work. Encourage and allow your employees to turn off notifications from work tools when they're trying to focus.

2. Know where your employees' time goes

If you'd like to make sure that focused work is happening, you can start tracking employee time or encouraging them to track their own time. Using time-tracking focused time clock software, for example, can help you track employee time by site, project, client, or a number of other parameters.

With these programs, employees can typically track time manually using a timer, or you can prompt the tool to track activity automatically with regular screenshots or URL tracking.

Once you start tracking time, these tools will often produce a report to summarize how your employees have spent the workweek.

Hubstaff schedule calendar view with each row and color for each employee

Activity reports, like this one from Hubstaff, can show you how your employees spent their time in a given workweek. Image source: Author

Using these reports, you can see how much of your team's time is taken up by personal sites like Facebook, and how much time they spend on work-related tasks.

You might also find that work tools like Slack or email take up a lot of time that could be spent more productively. But you won't know until you have the data in front of you.

Pro tip: Most employees understand that activity on their work computers isn't completely private. However, you should let your employees know that you're using this type of software to track activity, especially if your tool takes screenshots or tracks URLs.

I also encourage you to share any reports generated by these tools with your employees. When they can see where their own time is going, they can make more informed decisions about things to improve on at work on their own terms.

3. Make meetings short and efficient

Ask any employee what their biggest distractions at work are, and I guarantee meetings will come up as one of the top answers.

Don't get me wrong, meetings can -- and should -- be useful. They're often meant to get everyone in one room and on the same page about something work-related. However, most meetings just aren't run that well and end up wasting their attendees' time.

In fact, according to one study done by Doodle, 44% of respondents worldwide cited poorly run meetings as a detractor from doing productive work.

As a manager or business owner, you have the power to stop bad meetings from happening. Implementing small policies, like imposing time limits or requiring a written agenda, can go a long way in encouraging more thoughtful meetings.

Pro Tip: Train employees early to use best practices when it comes to running meetings. The sooner you squash bad habits, such as disorganized agendas or off-topic questions, the better.

4. Encourage regular check-ins between management and employees

While I just ranted about the ineffectiveness of meetings, one meeting that I can get behind -- as long as it's still run well -- is a regular meeting between managers and their direct reports.

This can give employees a chance to address issues or obstacles they might be experiencing. And for managers, these meetings are a regular chance to address team policies or performance issues before end-of-year reviews.

When done correctly, these types of meetings can:

  • Encourage trust and open communication between managers and employees
  • Help you catch and deal with performance issues early
  • Keep employees engaged through regular interactions with leadership.

Employees who trust their bosses are more likely to view their company as good and champion its products and services. According to Forbes, teams made up of engaged employees tend to be 21% more productive than their less-engaged colleagues.

In short, these quick meetings could take up just 20 minutes of your employees' weeks, and in return, you could have happier, more engaged teams that do better work.

Pro tip: Just like with regular meetings, make one-on-one meetings an early part of management training. Make sure both your managers and employees understand the importance and purpose of regular one-on-ones so they don't turn into another useless meeting.

5. Make time for breaks during work hours and employee shifts

Though it may seem counterintuitive, breaks can be restorative for employees and boost productivity and performance in the long run. Stepping away from a computer screen or assembly line or leaving a busy kitchen can help employees take a short break from stress. When they return, they'll be refreshed and better able to jump back into their work.

Pro tip: Saying that you allow breaks and actually enforcing regular breaks are two different things. Given the benefits of short breaks throughout the work day, it just makes sense to encourage your employees to step away, even if it's just for five minutes.

6. Encourage socializing

This tip is another counterintuitive one, but I promise it works. Allowing and encouraging your employees to socialize with one another -- both during and outside of work hours -- is a good thing.

Socializing can build trust between teammates, which is especially important if your employees often need to work together on projects. It can also increase engagement, which in turn could increase your retention rate and lead to better employee performance.

Pro tip: Encouraging socializing in the office doesn't mean sabotaging your efforts to minimize distractions. You can still discourage drop-in chats at employees' desks and loud conversations in open office spaces. But you can also designate a break room or a corner of the office as a place where employees can chat while they're away from their desks.

7. Create -- and enforce -- a clear time-off policy

On a larger scale, making sure that your employees can take extended time away from work -- aka well-deserved vacations or PTO -- can boost employee performance as well.

Studies have shown that employees coming back from vacation are more productive and less stressed than colleagues who haven't taken a day off in a while. However, if you don't have a time-off policy to speak of, the stress of taking a day off, potentially without pay, can outweigh the benefits of an extended work break.

Pro tip: Many time clock tools offer attendance and PTO tracking. Using one of these tools to keep track of when employees work can help you determine who's due for a vacation.

8. Simplify your processes

Nobody -- I repeat, nobody -- likes doing things the hard way. Take a good hard look at your processes and policies and ask yourself where you can simplify.

Bottlenecks, obstacles, and other unnecessary complications can do more than just slow down work. They can also cause employee frustration and decrease overall workplace morale.

Pro tip: Look for software and tools that can help automate various workplace processes, especially the time-consuming ones. Since we're already talking about time, let's use time clock software as an example.

Creating schedules is tedious and involves a lot of back and forth about employee availability. However, time clock software can streamline the schedule creation process for managers, while also making it easier for employees to request time off, trade shifts, or schedule vacation days.

9. Be as flexible as possible about work hours

Some jobs require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time. For these types of jobs, being strict about punctuality is unavoidable. However, for many office workers, the idea of a strict nine-to-five doesn't make a lot of sense anymore.

Allowing your employees to arrive at and leave the office on their own schedules can increase the feeling of employee autonomy. And employees who feel they have autonomy over their workdays tend to be happier, more productive, and more creative.

Pro tip: Implementing this policy involves focusing on the amount and quality of work produced rather than the times your employees clock in and out. If you're not willing to let your employees work whenever they want, that's okay.

You can always institute flexible "windows" instead, allowing employees to arrive between 7a.m. and 10a.m. and leave between 3p.m. and 6p.m., for example. This still gives employees autonomy while also allowing you to set expectations about how your workplace runs.

10. Ask your employees what they think would improve work performance

Going straight to the source is never a bad thing. If you're focused on employee performance, it makes sense to ask your team what impacts their performance on a day-to-day basis.

If you feel like your employees are comfortable speaking candidly about improvements that could be made, hold meetings where they're allowed to voice their opinions. However, you can also distribute an anonymous survey where employees can submit suggestions.

And heads up, this office survey shouldn't happen just once. If you really want to improve work performance for your entire office, you have to check in regularly to see what's working and what isn't.

Pro tip: According to The Ariel Group, a "Stop-Start-Keep" list is an effective tool for gathering feedback about factors that impact work performance. Using this list, employees can suggest things your office or team should stop doing, start doing, and keep doing to improve work performance.

Especially if you have regular check-ins on performance, these types of lists can give you a framework to see what you've tried, what's working, and what's failing.

Make your organization a place where employees want to do good work

Creating a business full of high-performing employees takes time and effort. You'll have your work cut out for you, especially if low workplace morale is a main factor in poor performance.

But by taking the time to create a workplace that fosters and encourages respect, trust, autonomy, and high employee engagement, you can improve your business's work performance in the long run.

If you'd like some immediate recommendations for tools that can help track employee productivity, check out the following top-rated systems:

  • TimeCamp -- This tool tracks computer usage and generates usage reports for you and your team members
  • ClockShark -- If you've got mobile employees, ClockShark's GPS tracking will help you see how long employees spent in transit or on different job sites. It also allows employees to report on job progress with pictures of sites.
  • Hubstaff -- This system offers an array of time tracking tools to help monitor work performance, including URL reports, manual time tracking with browser plug-ins, and GPS tracking.

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