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How to improve workplace productivity

It is, by this point in time, beyond dispute that the COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible impact on the world of work as we once knew it.

While working from the office five days a week was the norm for millions of workers prior to the pandemic, this model was completely turned on its head when many businesses were left with no alternative but to shift towards full-time remote working amid the crisis.

Plenty of employers presumably expected this to be a temporary solution, with widespread fears that prolonged periods of remote working would be hugely detrimental to staff productivity. In practice, however, the ‘work from home’ experiment has been an unmitigated success. This is illustrated by a report by Catalyst titled: ‘Remote Work Options Can Boost Productivity and Curb Burnout’, which found that having access to remote working increases innovation by 63%, work engagement by 75%, and organisational commitment by 68%. 

Despite remote working not having been extremely harmful to productivity, as some claimed it would be, we should be under no illusions that staying focused on the task at hand can, on occasion, be just as difficult outside of the office as when working within it. So, to help workers ensure that their day is a constructive one, wherever they might be working from, we’ve put together some of our top tips for improving productivity.

Dress to impress, not to digress

Those who have worked from home at any point over the past two years will understand how tempting it can be to curl up on the sofa with your laptop in your comfiest clothes or favourite pair of pyjamas.

While working in your PJs for one or two days probably won’t cause your productivity to plummet, habits such as this can help to set a bad precedent when working from home for prolonged periods of time.

According to Charlotte Armitage, a media and business psychologist at YAFTA, ‘there is certainly an art to being able to remain focussed and productive in a space which is inextricably linked with comfort and relaxation’, and that ‘the key to ensuring a level of productivity in the home is to create a routine and structure that you force yourself to stick to’.

One of the easiest ways to establish a remote working routine, therefore, is to ensure that you dress into different clothes that are better suited to working in. As Charlotte says, ‘when the routine of getting changed into new clothes for working at home is practiced enough, psychologically you become conditioned to associate the changing of clothes with a change of mindset, psychological pace and focus, therefore preparing you for the working day ahead.’

Don’t be ashamed to take breaks

It should be no surprise to anyone that working full time can occasionally be a bit heavy – after all, humans weren’t created to spend eight hours a day staring at a screen. 

As suggested by a study titled: ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’, the natural variation in our cycle of alertness means that we can concentrate for no longer than 90 minutes before needing a 15-minute break. This is precisely why you shouldn’t feel ashamed to take regular breaks throughout the working day in order to make things a bit more manageable for yourself.

By setting yourself goals, such as completing a particular task within a certain timeframe, you can then justify rewarding yourself with a short break away from the screen, whether that’s to make a cup of coffee or go for a walk around the block. 

Not only can working in these shorter, more manageable ‘sprints’ ensure that your day is more focussed, it can also provide a much-needed boost for your mental and physical wellbeing while at work.

Lists, lists, lists

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’, and it is fair to say that this old adage is just as relevant today as it was back in the 18th century.

By applying Franklin’s words to a workplace scenario, it is clear to see how a lack of organisation and structure in your day can lead to a dip in productivity.

One of the simplest yet best ways to ensure that you stay on top of your tasks is making a to-do list of all the things you want to accomplish within a given day. This way, you can prioritise your activities according to how time sensitive they are, and feel like you are more in control of your schedule, thereby ensuring that tasks are completed both on time and to a high standard.

The more lists you compile, the more structured and productive your day will become as a result. 

Make your working environment somewhere you love 

According to research by Gettysburg College, the average person will spend one third of their life at work. Because of this, it is crucial that employers make working environments somewhere that employees love being to ensure that they remain happy and productive when doing their job. 

It is still far too common, however, that bosses try to cultivate an environment characterised by fear and high stress, apparently out of some warped belief that this will lead to more compliant, focussed workers.

The reality, of course, is that employees who feel happy at work are generally more productive, creative, and innovative than those who don’t. This is evidenced by a Harvard Business Review study that found that a lack of engagement – which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected – led to 37% higher staff absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors or defects.

The sooner all employers recognise that, by making workplaces fun, positive and collaborative environments to be in, the sooner all workers can move towards feeling happy, healthier, more valued, and consequently more productive, in their jobs. 

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