Why is company efficiency so hard to achieve? With the technological boom of the last few decades you might think that running an operationally efficient business has never been easier. And yet so often, businesses still struggle with meeting deadlines and stripping out redundant workflows. If you’re an enterprise that’s wrestling with inefficiency, consider these 15 fundamental ways to improve.
Why Is Improving Company Efficiency So Challenging?
If there’s one thing every enterprise will spend a lot of time trying to figure out it’s how they can improve operational efficiency. You might be forgiven for thinking that efficiency is a natural by-product of a working environment something that occurs when you’re not looking, an innate process that just happens.
The reality, of course, is that efficiency and business are key performance indicators that require constant monitoring and tailored solutions. Moreover, breakdowns of efficiency are often so insidious and elusive that they reach critical levels before anyone has truly noticed, turning seemingly minor office hiccups into major incidents.
One example that’s close to our hearts is that of Ardmore Shipping, who realized that one of the core issues affecting their efficiency was the sheer volume of emails they were receiving.
“The sheer volume of emails they were receiving, the time spent managing them, and the risk of critical information slipping through the cracks were severely affecting team efficiency and business productivity. With an estimated 550 hours lost each week to chasing emails in their current system, they turned to SEDNA for a centrally-accessible and searchable database for all internal and external communications.”
Ardmore Shipping is not the first to be let down by traditional email platforms. And as mentioned previously, the insidious nature of this problem is that, ostensibly, they seem to work. All that time spent wading through threads or trying to track down an attachment feels like you’re being productive, when in fact, all you’re doing is frantically through mundane tasks while the real work keeps piling up.
And this is just one part of the puzzle. Attacks on operational efficiency can manifest in multiple and severe ways, affecting how employees feel about their role, how loyal your clients remain, and in the long run, your bottom line.
So the question you’re probably asking yourself is: Surely my business is efficient—surely these things don’t really apply to me? Well, why not take a look at our tips on how to improve business efficiency and see how many you’ve already put into place. You might be surprised.
1. Email Reimagined
We’re biased, we know, but very passionate about this one, so let’s get it out of the way first. As illustrated by Ardmore Shipping and many other companies SEDNA has helped, traditional email just isn’t built for modern businesses. With complex work and global offices, most companies end up in a tailspin of work getting lost in endless threads, employees feeling overwhelmed by email volume, and all context and clarity becoming scattered to the wind along the way. Here’s another example.
“Glencore Agriculture discovered that not only was their traditional email service unequal to handling their message volume, but also that disjointed internal systems were further slowing down team productivity. Glencore operators were reviewing an average of 1,300 incoming emails per day on top of drafting outgoing emails. Each person was dragging and dropping emails from their inbox to a predefined folder structure, an action that could take 5 to 10 seconds due to loading and processing times. All this added up to countless hours of wasted time each day.”
SEDNA, Glencore Agriculture…2020
We’re not here to suggest giving email the boot, but we are asking you to consider what email could really do for you if it was built for today’s complex and dispersed companies. SEDNA is email reimagined, an intelligent communication system that can act as your single workspace and source of vital information. Not only does it integrate with your existing platforms seamlessly, but it also negates the need for duplicate emails. Moreover, it automatically organizes and prioritizes your inbox, gives you the superior context and clarity around messages, speeds everything up, and can reduce email volume by up to 95% so that you can focus on the work that truly matters.
2. Streamline Your Tools
If you don’t have the support of an intelligent communications system with solutions-led features then you’re most likely working with multiple tools for different needs. While the boom of softwares and apps is a great thing, it often leaves us with the classic child-in-a-sweetshop dilemma, whereby we are dazzled by choice and become lost in the process. Some teams have to use certain project management software tools more than others, data ends up being transferred incorrectly from one location to the next, and you spend more time hunting for documents than completing a task. This is a frequent reality at many companies.
“An overload of productivity tools is killing worker productivity. That is the ironic conclusion researchers at Cornell University’s Ellis Idea Lab arrived at after a survey found workers wasting 59 minutes every working day trying to find information hidden within different apps and tools.”
Workplace inefficiencies lead to hours of wasted time every week, keeping workers busy without much actually getting done. To ensure business operations are running efficiently, business owners need to streamline their tools and platforms as much as possible, ensuring that their whole team uses one core set of tools to manage their workloads. What’s more, the more integrated these can be the greater your chances of increasing organizational efficiency.
3. Empower Your Work-From-Home Folk
While remote work has been around as long as technology has allowed, its mainstream adoption is still very new. Though many businesses have overcome the initial teething problems, the fact remains that the general issues of productivity and efficiency can become exacerbated when your teams are working across different locations and time zones.
“Understandably, therefore, more than 45% of remote workers point to a lack of communication being the biggest challenge to managing remote work.”
While there are many tips and tools to remote work success, the most fundamental one is making sure that there are enough points of contact and context. With no office to ground your team members, the potential for silos and silence for your work-from-home team members are rife. This is why effective communication in the workplace is so important and perhaps even more so for your off-site employees. Frequent company-wide huddles, newsletters about the latest happenings and clear OKRs all keep team members in the loop. This means that rather than wasting time wondering what the focus should be, they can instead focus on the work that matters.
4. Trust Your Team Members
One of the most stifling aspects of a workplace is a lack of trust, and it always spells trouble. Management is a fine art, and it’s often easy to slide from being helpful to micromanaging down to finer details.
Often this leads to employees feeling that they have no autonomy despite being hired for their skillset, and this frustration can kill efficiency and productivity. After all, how can you do your best when projects are wrestled from you and entirely managed by someone else last-minute?
“A survey by staffing agency Accountemps reported 59% of employees saying they’ve worked for a micromanager. Of these, 68% claimed a resulting decrease in morale, while 58% reported it hurt their productivity – two negative impacts that can lead to an even larger problem: employee turnover”
Harvard Business School Online, 2020
While staying involved is essential in management, it’s also necessary to take a step back and allow employees to feel in control of their workload. With 1-2-1s, project management software tools, and detailed briefs, you can avoid being a micromanaging boss and boost team efficiency and productivity in the process.
5. Be Transparent During Trying Times
If you wanted to ensure a company’s efficiency and productivity slowed to a snail’s pace, you could do no better than being coy about problems the business might be facing.
“Research shows that 71% of employees agree it’s vitally important for their CEO to actively address business challenges and talk about sensitive topics.”
While it might seem like an act of kindness to sidestep problems to avoid needless worrying, the truth is your employees will be worried regardless, and business owners only fuel unease in the workplace by keeping quiet. For the most part, having only a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, with people sometimes making up what they don’t know rather than focusing on what they do best. So how do you fix office disquiet? As with most things, you need a culture of open communication, even when the news might not be the most positive. At the very least, it will ensure employees feel secure that you’re being as transparent with them as possible.
6. Make Meetings Meaningful
Meetings and face-to-face discussions are such a fundamental aspect of business operations that it’s easy to see how we’ve ended up inundated with them. Multiple studies have suggested that team members spend a massive portion of their working lives in meetings—more often than not multitasking so as to keep up with their tasks. And let’s face it, we’ve all been there, shoulder deep in projects, and called away to a meeting, only to have important work grind to a halt while our attention is forced elsewhere. For companies, there is a significant price to pay for such inefficiencies.
“A multi-national survey of 6,500 people in the US, UK, and Germany observed 19 million office meetings, before concluding that the cost of ineffective meetings was up to $399 billion in the US and $58 billion in the UK.”
Maintaining efficiency and boosting productivity requires business owners to ask the question: when should face to face meetings just be an email? Moreover, when meetings do happen are they running effectively? To ensure employees are focused, all meetings should have a clear agenda outlined and an action-based structure. A good rule of thumb is if you need a face to face meeting, use the S.M.A.R.T technique.
7. Automate Wherever Possible
We at SEDNA are big believers in automation. It’s one of the many things that makes our intelligent communication powerful—we do clever inbox organization, so you can focus on important work. Of course, automation doesn’t have to end at your inbox, and there are multiple things you can do to free your team of manual processes in order to maximize operational efficiency and productivity.
“Automation has the power to transform operations across a majority of industries. A case in point is a study by McKinsey that found 60% of occupations could automate 30% or more of their activities.”
One example of a great opportunity for automation is report running – whether it be analyzing the success of your social media campaigns or discovering how many clients you’ve onboarded this month, reporting can eat up time if you’re leaving team members to manage it manually. Thankfully, some of the best reporting tools of 20213 are easily accessible and full of time-saving features.
8. Promote Single-Tasking
The myth of multitasking is one that’s permeated businesses for so long that it seems unlikely to ever be fully dispelled. And yet, time and again research shows that multitasking isn’t really something humans can do, and in fact actively impedes our ability to be fully efficient and productive.
“The truth is that multitasking, or “parallel processing”, doesn’t exist, and never did. Our brains are simply not designed to do more than one task at a time. All it can do is switch back and forth between two or more tasks, an activity that creates mental overload and hampers efficiency.”
The answer then is single-tasking, and unsurprisingly, this theory promotes focusing on a single task until completion, rather than flitting about in an effort to do everything at once. While the premise sounds simple, it’s not always easy to focus on one task at a time when you’re used to juggling priorities. Encouraging employees to not feel obligated to answer messages automatically or jump on last-minute meetings can all help them practice single-tasking.
9. Introduce the Pomodoro Technique
Have you ever spent all day working only to realize you’ve got nothing done? The truth is teams the world over have these realizations frequently, and it’s easy to see how that happens. With overwhelming workloads and endless projects to manage, doing anything but attempting to work without pause from dawn to dusk seems unproductive. Of course, the simple truth is we aren’t robots. We aren’t built to concentrate unrelentingly from 9-5. More importantly, it’s all too easy to become unmotivated and lost throughout the working day without a structured allocation of time. With the Pomodoro technique (an excellent tool for single-tasking, by the way!), employees should be encouraged to work for 25 minutes solidly and then have a break.
“The Pomodoro method is designed to maximize efficiency by breaking down workloads into 25-minute chunks of interruption-free, heads-down work – a process also known as timeboxing. Each 25-minute segment is then followed by a 5-minute break.”
After every fourth cycle of this routine, the break should be extended to twenty minutes. Why not take a look at how to use the Pomodoro method to boost productivity. After all, it’s free and has gained a huge following of advocates.
10. Optimize Business Processes
Business processes are fundamental to a company’s success and yet despite their importance, many businesses fail to spot ones that no longer serve them. If your business operations seem to be clunky with deadlines being missed and clients frequently voicing frustration, it might be time to start auditing. The effective steps to auditing include deciding what processes to audit and which metrics to measure them with. Also, keeping detailed records of the findings is just as important in measuring how well your processes work.
“For auditing to be efficient and thorough, documenting each process and who on the team is responsible for it is critical. However, 52% of businesses surveyed in a BPTrends study reported they only occasionally model or document business processes.”
If you’ve yet to keep up-to-date records of your processes, consider how document management problems might also be affecting your bottom line.
11. Introduce Changes the Right Way
The question of how to roll out new digital tools to your team is a key one because without buy-in from your employees, the money and effort spent attempting to bring about efficiency can instead cause a blockage.
“Without the backing of C-level executives and department leaders for proposed efficiency-enhancing initiatives, it’s hard to get employees on board and harder still to know who’s in charge when leadership questions arise.”
SEDNA, Technology Change, 2019
Often, new tools are viewed as a magic wand that will improve business efficiency simply by being present. The reality, of course, is that the success of tools is often down to your work environment and communication. To make the most of all the benefits tools can bring (automation, limiting risk, process management and more) it’s essential that your business also has a culture of open communication and feedback. Moreover, it’s vital to see the introduction of a new tool (or process for that matter) as a company-wide venture, not simply for the IT department to roll out and manage.
12. Don’t Underestimate the Role of HR
A great HR team can make all the difference when it comes to how efficient employees are in their roles.
“With the right tools, HR teams can rapidly change a company for the better. After all, employees who are engaged and happy do better work and contribute more for the growth of a company.”
From managing onboarding so that new employees grasp your processes quickly, to understanding how employees feel in terms of morale, a great HR team is a critical component of your company. The very best HR teams dedicate time to understanding the company landscape, be it through Pulse Surveys or informal meetings, but also in communicating values and news to the wider team. Engaged employees are consistently more effective in their work, and so it’s always worth investing in an experienced HR team to maximize company efficiency.
13. Offer Training and Development
Focusing on employee training and development is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Not only does it give employees one of the most coveted job benefits (thus boosting morale), but it also directly helps your team members fulfill their roles more effectively.
“The impact of training and development in the workplace is reflected in the individual employee’s productivity. Research on employee training shows that every trained worker brings an additional 21% profit to their company.”
Whether it’s gaining technical certifications or becoming a better manager, setting goals and upskilling your team is a pivotal part of your business’s success.
14. Give and Receive Feedback
It’s often impossible to know things aren’t running efficiently without being told, and all too often, this need for feedback is either overlooked entirely or mishandled. Feedback is always at its most valued when it’s a two-way street, not only for managers to help their team members identify bumps in the road but also for employees to provide insight on the success or failure of processes and projects.
“Employees often feel that feedback is something that “happens” to them. Even when well-intended, feedback can tend to feel like criticism or even condemnation – a fact backed up by evidence. Research shows that feedback improves performance only one-third of the time, and actually makes matters worse another one-third of the time.”
Keeping feedback constructive as well as allowing for anonymous feedback from employees are vital to boosting business productivity and increasing efficiency in the workplace.
15. Encourage Effective Project Management
We know but project management is both the backbone and bane of many businesses. Whether it’s a problem of too many tools, as we touched on before, or simply a lack of processes in place, poorly handled projects can be gargantuan time-wasters with a heavy financial cost.
“There is statistical proof to show that mature project management processes make an organization more likely to deliver on time and under budget. Despite that, only 46% of organizations make project management a cultural priority.”
So, what’s the solution? The first priority is ensuring you have the correct project management tool, rather than relying on email and endless spreadsheets. The second important element, of course, is implementing a thorough process. Each project should be briefed, documented, measured, and executed clearly to allow newcomers to a project to catch up quickly and easily. If your projects keep running amok, why not invest some time into educating your team on managing a project from start to finish for maximum efficiency?
For an all-in-one solution to improve company efficiency, why not take a look at how SEDNA’s intelligent communication system can help? Turn email on its head and save your company time and money while greatly reducing the risk of mistakes.