Employee Productivity: The Ultimate Guide for Managers

What is employee productivity? How do great leaders measure their team’s goals? How can you help your team be more productive at work? Find all the answers in this comprehensive guide.

employee productivity nir eyal james clear cal newport

Now that almost 70% of the world is working from home and many managers had to transition into leading remotely for the first time, employee productivity has become an important topic of discussion.

The truth is, increasing employee productivity is not about making people on your team work longer hours. Employee productivity starts with you (the leader) and your team’s level of engagement at work. 

As a manager, you have the power and responsibility to check-in on your teammates and empower them with the tools and best practices they need to do their best work.

This guide will help you understand how to measure employee performance and boost employee productivity in the workplace.

  1. What is employee productivity?
  2. The importance of employee productivity
  3. How to measure employee productivity
  4. 9 ways to increase employee productivity in the workplace

Let’s start by defining what employee productivity really means. 

What is employee productivity?

Employee productivity can be defined as the amount of work (or output) produced by an employee in a specific period of time. As a manager, it’s important to understand how long it takes your teammates to complete specific tasks, and if there are any roadblocks or distractions along the way that you could help them overcome. 

James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) defines productivity as a measurement of the efficiency of a person completing a task. However, he argues that productivity is more than just getting things done:

“We often assume that productivity means getting more things done each day. Wrong. Productivity is getting important things done consistently,” says James Clear. “And no matter what you are working on, there are only a few things that are truly important. Being productive is about maintaining a steady, average speed on a few things, not maximum speed on everything.”

According to James Clear, most productivity strategies focus on short-term efficiency…

However, as the author and productivity expert argues, maximizing employee output starts with maximizing productivity for the long-term. Keep reading to learn what that means in practice!


The importance of employee productivity 

Why is employee productivity important? According to Andy Core, a motivational speaker and workplace expert, productivity in the workplace will often translate into good customer service, healthier work relationships, and motivated employees.

“Productivity in the workplace is an important aspect of every company and when top management understands this concept, success is just around the corner,” says Andy Core. 

As a manager, it’s important to keep an eye on employee engagement and how it affects overall productivity. If you notice that productivity is low… and some employees seem to be underperforming… it could be a symptom of disengagement, collaboration problems, or inefficient company processes.

Before jumping into the 9 ways to improve employee productivity, let’s take a look at three ways in which leaders at different organizations measure their teammate’s performance.

Employee Looking at Laptop Preparing for Meetings

How to measure employee productivity

1 Measure goals 🎯

Helping your direct reports set and reach their goals is an essential part of your role. According to Amy Gallo (contributing editor at Harvard Business Review), goal setting is particularly important as a mechanism for providing feedback.

“By establishing and monitoring targets, you can give your employees real-time input on their performance while motivating them to achieve more,” says Amy Gallo.

One key way to measure employee productivity is to set goals at the beginning of each quarter and monitor your team’s progress. If they are team goals, you can review them at your weekly team meeting

On the other hand, you can use one-on-one meetings to create an employee development plan and coach each individual on their professional development. 

“Don’t wait for review time or the end of a project to check-in. Review both long-term and short-term goals on a weekly basis,” says Gallo. “Even your high-performing employees need ongoing feedback and coaching.”

2 Measure quality of work

As the saying goes: quality trumps quantity. 

Sending more emails, fixing more bugs, or calling more people can seem like good measurements of employee productivity. However, sometimes it’s more important to focus on the quality of your teammates’ work. As Matt Straz, CEO of Namely, argues:

“Meeting deadlines is important and does reflect on individual performance, but if what’s being produced is of lower quality, meeting deadlines takes a back seat.”

When analyzing employee productivity, make sure to consider the quality of your team’s work. The truth is, sometimes, less can be more (as long as it means higher quality!). 

3 Measure the amount of work completed

Last, but not least, you can measure employee productivity by taking a look at the number of tasks completed by an employee in a specific time period.

If you’re using a task management system such as Trello, Asana, or Monday, you can see how many tasks each person has completed in a day.

Personally, I like to write my daily priorities in our team’s daily standup meeting agenda (in Fellow). This keeps me accountable to get the things on that list done, and lets my manager know the number of tasks that I’ve completed.

💡 Pro Tip: If you see that one of your teammates is doing a good job at completing all their tasks, make sure to send them an encouraging note saying how much you appreciate their hard work.


Now that we’ve covered the definition of employee productivity and three ways to measure it, let’s look at 9 specific steps you can take to inspire your teammates to get their best work done. 

9 Ways to increase employee productivity in the workplace

  1. Improve workplace conditions
  2. Allow flexible schedules
  3. Optimize meetings
  4. Set clear deadlines and expectations
  5. Encourage self-care and time off 
  6. Coach employees on their priorities
  7. Learn time management skills 
  8. Avoid interruptions (and encourage deep work!)
  9. Boost morale by celebrating accomplishments

1 Improve workplace conditions

A study conducted by Eric Johnson (a researcher at Columbia University) and Daniel Goldstein (a researcher at the London Business School) revealed how much your environment can impact your behaviour. James Clear quotes this study in his book, Atomic Habits, to describe the concept of environment design. 

“Managers and leaders will often assume that they need to incentivize their employees, teammates, or students to take a particular action,” says James Clear. “Environment design paints a different picture. It proves that our choices and preferences can be crafted by the environment around us. Suddenly, it becomes apparent that we don’t need to be motivated or incentivized to take action — we simply need to be surrounded by the right cues.”

If you want to see an increase in team productivity, you need to make an effort to improve your teammates’ working environment. If you work at an office, it’s important to ensure that there are designated areas set up for deep and silent work, as well as areas where employees can take calls and collaborate (for instance, on brainstorming sessions). 

If your team has recently transitioned to remote work, you can check-in with everyone to make sure that they have the office tools and equipment they need to work from home. Some companies offer work-from-home office stipends to help employees with their home office setup. Talk to your leadership team or human resources department if you think this is something that your team could benefit from. 

2 Allow flexible schedules

Some of your teammates may need to drop off their kids at school in the morning, while others might not be able to take calls in the evening. Make sure to use your one-on-one meetings to ask each of your direct reports if their current work schedule is working for them.

In a recent announcement about going “Virtual First”, Dropbox explained that one of the best ways to increase employee productivity in the workplace is to embrace non-linear workdays:

“We’re setting core collaboration hours with overlap between time zones, and encouraging employees to design their own schedules beyond that,” said the Dropbox team. “As our workforce grows more distributed, this will help balance collaboration with needs for individual focus. We want to prioritize impact and results instead of hours worked.”

If you want to increase workforce productivity, start by setting core collaboration hours where everyone is expected to be online and encourage flexible working hours outside of those times.

3 Optimize meetings

How many times have you thought to yourself “this meeting could’ve been an email?”

According to Owl Lab’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report, 26% of people reported meeting more than usual after transitioning to remote work… and 80% agreed that there should be one day a week with no meetings at all. Many people are experiencing what they call “Zoom Fatigue”, as video calls force us to focus more intently in order to absorb information.

 One of the mos important things you can do to avoid Zoom Fatigue and increase employee productivity is defining a clear purpose for every meeting

Once you’ve articulated the purpose of your meetings and what the intended outcomes are, the second step to optimize your meetings is to build a culture where meetings don’t take place… unless there’s an agenda built ahead of time. As Nir Eyal (author of Indistractable and Hooked) tweeted recently: 

“One way to counter a workplace culture where people call too many meetings: Make them harder to call! Try this: Before a meeting can be called, the organizer must circulate an agenda and briefing document.”

Productive meetings start with an agenda

Meetings being booked without a purpose or going completely off-topic? Fellow’s collaborative approach transforms meetings into productive work sessions you’ll want to attend.

Meetings Feature Fellow

4 Set clear deadlines and expectations

Ambiguity is the enemy of productivity, so it’s very important that as a manager you are clear with your deadlines and meeting action items.

In an article for Forbes, Victor Lipman (author of The Type B Manager) argues that the best managers always set clear expectations: 

“A Towers Watson survey, for example, shows that half of managers don’t set effective employee goals. If individual goals aren’t clear and well-defined, how can employees hope to achieve them, and managers hope to reach them? Well, they may or they may not, but you’re inviting a hit-or-miss game,” says Lipman.

Similarly, Subhi Mahnot (founder of the TheBlogRelay), says that in order to develop a healthy environment, it is very important to set clear expectations in all the different segments of work:

“Not only just with the clients, it is equally important to set clear expectations with the team as well for what is expected from them in the project,” says Mahnot. “Performance measuring goals. Efforts required. Pro-activity and focus. Professionalism and discipline… Setting these expectations proactively in the team will lead to better relations and maximum performance with clients and your team members.”

5 Encourage self-care and time off

In a recent conversation about remote work with Darren Murph (Head of Remote at Gitlab) and Mark Bergen (Head of Revenue at Shopify Plus), both leaders emphasized the importance of defining a work-life balance when working from home: 

“As a leader, you have to model work-life balance. I am fairly intentional about this. I take time off. I’m pretty loud about it,” said Mark Bergen. “I think it’s good for people to see well, if you took time off, then it should be okay. Whatever you model, your people will tend to follow.”

Encouraging employees to take care of their mental health and taking time off is an important part of increasing overall productivity. As Leena Mansour (Director Of Engineering at TunnelBear) wrote in an article for LeadDev:

“You’ll find that some people on your team are still hesitant to take that day off, though. As leaders, I believe that part of your job is to encourage people to acknowledge their mental health, and take any time off if they need it. You don’t need to wait for them to tell you they’re not doing well. If you’re tuned in enough, you can probably tell when your teammate is experiencing burnout or isn’t feeling their best.” 

6 Coach employees on their priorities

Equally important as setting clear goals and expectations is following up on those goals and encouraging employees to bring up their challenges and roadblocks with you. We recommend using your one-on-one meetings to coach employees on the projects and priorities that they should be paying more attention to. 

As part of your one-on-one meeting template, make sure to ask employees what projects and priorities are taking most of their time. As Nir Eyal (author of Indistractable) taught us during a fireside chat about managing distractions at work, schedule syncing between managers and direct reports can be a powerful tool to boost employee productivity: 

7 Learn time management skills 

If you’re worried about your team’s productivity levels, it might be a good idea to teach them a couple of time management techniques. They might be trying to juggle a lot of projects, but not spending enough time planning how to tackle them effectively. Here are two time management techniques we recommend:

“Whether it’s taking care of yourself, your relationships or your work, make time for those things in your day,” says Nir Eyal. “Whatever it might be, when you have that time on your calendar plan, that’s traction, and everything else is a distraction.”

Time Blocking

8 Avoid interruptions (and encourage deep work!)

We live in an age of ever-increasing demands for our attention. In fact, a study by Udemy shows that 3 out of 4 workers admit they feel distracted at work, with 16 percent asserting that they’re almost always distracted.

Instead of adding more distractions and interruptions to your teammates’ day, teach them about the importance of focus and deep work. 

What is the meaning of deep work? According to Cal Newport, it is any professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. 

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive,” says Cal Newport.

One of our favourite ways to encourage deep work is asking people to add talking points to a meeting agenda in Fellow instead of interrupting others by messaging them throughout the day.

For instance, if I had a question for my manager (and I could wait until our one-on-one meeting to get the answer), I would add it as a talking point in my meeting agenda, instead of messaging her on Slack. Similarly, you can add questions and talking points in your team meeting agendas, instead of interrupting everyone on your team on an ongoing basis.

9 Boost morale by celebrating accomplishments

Last but not least, remember to celebrate your teammates for their accomplishments. If you want to increase employee productivity, you need to create spaces where employees feel recognized for their contributions. If they are constantly celebrated and rewarded, they will be more likely to continue doing their best work.

Some ways to celebrate your teammates’ work include:

“High-performing teams share nearly six times more positive feedback than average teams,” says management professor Christine Porath. “Consider which of your team members’ positive contributions you currently take for granted. Make a list, and start calling out team members for their strengths when you see them in action.”

Summary

Employee productivity can be defined as the amount of work (or output) produced by an employee in a specific period of time.  As a manager, you have the power and responsibility to help your teammates do their best work. Three ways to measure employee productivity include:

Finally, if you’re looking for ways to improve productivity in the workplace, remember to apply the following 9 best practices:

  1. Improve workplace conditions
  2. Allow flexible schedules
  3. Optimize meetings
  4. Set clear deadlines and expectations
  5. Encourage self-care and time off 
  6. Coach employees on their priorities
  7. Learn time management skills 
  8. Avoid interruptions (and encourage deep work!)
  9. Boost morale by celebrating accomplishments

Refer back to this guide whenever you need a reminder of these best practices… and don’t forget to share with a friend or a colleague who could benefit these tips to become a better manager!

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