Boost productivity by trimming work hours

Organizations have always been trying to boost productivity in all ways possible. Since studies show that putting in the extra hours doesn’t give the desired result – the message is don’t work more, work smarter.

However contradictory it might sound, you can actually boost productivity by reducing work hours. And not only that, by doing so you’re also going to make your employees more engaged, balanced and happy. Almost too good to be true. To pull it off, though, you’ll need a new working framework, digital assistants and smart communications that ensure more productive workdays.

How do we spend a day at work?

There are plenty of studies confirming that office workers are only productive a few hours a day and that if you reduce their work hours productivity will surge. Findings which at first sight don’t seem to make much sense. But according to a study conducted by Vouchercloud in 2017, the average British office worker is only productive two hours and 53 minutes per day. The rest of their work hours are spent on various forms of procrastination like surfing the Web, reading the news, planning holidays, checking social media and private emails, drinking coffee and chatting with colleagues. What’s more, a whopping 19% of their work time is spent looking for a new job!

However, the findings of the report are really not all that weird when you come to think about it. We’re simply not made to sit on our backsides for eight hours focusing on a single task. Without any breaks. Our bodies and minds require regular pauses, enabling us to concentrate and be creative when we really need to. Yet only in short sharp bursts. Distractions such as leisure surfing, commenting on Insta pics and drinking coffee are necessary breaks. But when less than one-third of an organisation’s total work hours are devoted to tasks that the employees are being paid to carry out, then it’s high time to think about re-shaping the working framework.

The need for breaks is much greater when work hours are longer. If you’re only going to work until lunch, the morning coffee break won’t seem quite so imperative. Indeed, you might be happy working four hours on end, without even stretching your legs. Sound familiar?

Trimmed work hours can do the trick

It’s not a new theory that shorter work hours will lead to increased productivity. In the early 1920’s, Henry Ford discovered that productivity plunged when his workers put in more than 40 hours a week. Lesson learned, in 1926 he consequently introduced the five-day work week in his factories, with a regulated work time of 40 hours per week and with no change in wages. Many companies followed his example. A few years later, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that as a result of technological advances we would today be working no more than 15 hours a week. Instead we’re still trapped inside Henry Ford’s 40-hour-week. Perhaps it’s time we move on, following Keynes’ vision?

The New Zealand estate planning services company Perpetual Guardian trialled a four-day work week over a period of two months for all of their 240 employees. The results were overwhelming. Both productivity and profits climbed significantly and employee engagement rose by 40%. Employees’ trust in management was also boosted as a result of this initiative. Stress levels plummeted and the balance between work, play and family improved significantly for all concerned. As a consequence, the four-day working week was installed permanently.

Swedish SEO company Brath, with its 20 employees, implemented six-hour work days from the first day the company was formed. The owners just don’t think anyone can be productive and creative eight hours a day. They also believe that the concept of a 30-hour work week attracts and retains the very best talents. So far their strategy has delivered on its promise and the company’s revenue has doubled each year.

Microsoft has also recently trialled four-day work weeks for their 2,280 employees in Japan. Productivity, measured by sales per employee, jumped a huge 40% during the trial period.

Obviously you can’t take away one whole work day and then expect your employees themselves to solve the puzzle of how to do in four days what they previously did in five. They’re going to need guidance, support and tools. In this blog post we provide you with some basic tips on how to create a smart structure for more productive work days.

Plan, organise and prioritise

The first and most important step towards becoming more productive is to establish sound routines and support for planning. Routines take time to root, but the process can be facilitated with simple How To instructions and company policies. For instance, you can publish videos and checklists on your intranet explaining how to best plan a work day or a project. An intranet built on Omnia, Office 365 and other applications, such as Planner and Trello, offer a multitude of smart functions which simplify the planning of days, projects and tasks.

Trello and Planner are seamlessly integrated in Omnia and provide intuitive tools which make it easy to organise projects, assign and prioritise tasks, share files, receive notifications and discuss everything going on in your organisation. Applications like these help you ensure that the right tasks are executed in due time and that nothing of importance is neglected. Your personal agenda can also be planned with apps such as Microsoft’s To Do which is synchronised with the task manager in Outlook. Your whole life can in fact be planned in detail with an app like this. You can integrate e-mails, calendar activities and files in the To Do lists and share lists and reminders with others.

In order to curtail your employees’ leisure surfing on the Web and social media throughout the work day, you can encourage them to schedule tasks of a personal character at a certain time. This will help them carry out both work and private tasks with greater focus and efficiency. It is much harder to drift off into pleasure surfing whenever you feel like it, if your employer has officially sanctioned that 10-15 minutes may be spent on private activities at a specific time every work day.

Closer collaboration through digitalisation

There are many ways of improving internal collaboration and you are probably familiar with most of them. Hopefully, however, you’ll still find the following tips useful.

At Perpetual Guardian, and other workplaces with strategic work time reduction initiatives, new rules for how to conduct meetings and managing emails have been introduced. For instance, Perpetual Guardian meetings longer than 30 minutes are extremely rare. The efficiency of their meetings is maximised by means of a highly disciplined agenda, strict respect for the scheduled start and end times, and demands on all participants to come well prepared. Some organisations even encourage their employees to have walking or standing meetings. This will not only boost efficiency but also stimulate employees’ creativity and improve their health. If you have ever watched any of the American TV series about the White House, like Designated Survivor, House of Cards or The West Wing, you’ll be well acquainted with the concept of walking meetings.

Another way of improving internal collaboration is of course by taking advantage of the full potential of the digital workplace. By making online meetings default and using cloud applications like Microsoft Teams, Skype or Google Hangouts, you’ll not only be enhancing your meeting efficiency. You’ll also find that you’re having more result-oriented meetings which are much easier to follow up on since files, notes, discussions and other meeting materials will still linger in the cloud long after the meetings have ended. The meeting participants can then browse a meeting’s workspace and review or edit the latest version of a certain document or refresh their memory of what was said and decided at the meeting. They can also add new information that will automatically reach the other participants, check the meeting’s To Do-list and give feedback on other participants’ input.

Should online meetings become default in your organisation, your employees will automatically be allowed more freedom to choose where and when to work. In other words: more flexibility. This will make their lives easier to orchestrate and their work more inspiring which, the statistics tell us unequivocally, will lead to increased efficiency and productivity. For optimal flexibility, however, you will need to have in place a mobile friendly intranet, with full functionality.

Don’t miss the next blog post on productivity!

This blog post is the first in a new series on productivity-boosting internal communications. Our next article will discuss other ways of improving efficiency and productivity, such as the use of self-service functions, just-in-time coaching and intuitive knowledge searches. Watch this space!