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Why businesses need to boost productivity, and how they can do it

(Image credit: Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

Productivity in the UK has been a constant focus since it flatlined during the global recession beginning in 2008. Since then, businesses, economists, politicians and workers have closely navigated UK productivity’s bumpy journey with fascination, and part of this intrigue comes down to the sheer complexity of the state of productivity in the UK.

While 2016 saw productivity overcome years of decline, more recent reports have suggested this has slipped back again. The UK, too, is frequently cited as having low levels of productivity compared to the other G7 nations. In the context of a general election and the ongoing Brexit process and debate, there are few signs that the general interest in productivity will change any time soon. In fact, just this month the UK government announced that businesses will receive a £56 million boost to drive productivity across the UK in a bid to enhance leadership skills and better harness the benefits of new technology.

While investment is always welcome, the UK already has a leadership position in many areas of business productivity. The UK fintech sector, for example, is one of the largest in the world, growing at a pace of 61 per cent in terms of employment, reaching a record investment of £24bn and having the highest consumer adoption rate in the West. Innovators in this space such as Monzo have shown that combined with clearly understanding consumer needs, moving quickly and adapting with the right tools, the UK offers a fantastic environment in which businesses can thrive.

Although the UK has a number of these innovative, high productivity companies that are disrupting sectors and leading on a global scale, it also has a vast number of businesses which are performing just below average. It’s here where the answers to the UK’s productivity issues become clearer. How can the average business, and the workers within them - whether at a legacy enterprise organisation or a SME - adapt to today’s global, competitive market - are there any lessons to be gleaned from the success of leading innovators or elsewhere?

Incrementally increasing productivity across these UK businesses will have a knock on effect, and as momentum builds it will lead to a healthier economy and a happier workforce overall. Here are five tips for boosting UK workplace productivity:

Integration, integration, integration

The growth of software has been exponential since the first computers started being installed in workplaces around half a century ago. Today, businesses have an average of 1,000 different software applications used by different teams and departments across the organisation. Those specialist tools bring with them productivity gains on an individual level. However, at a large scale, the time spent loading and logging into different apps, searching for the right information, tracking down a file of phone number in the right place, can be vast. Businesses need to make sure their different software is speaking to each other. New communication tools can integrate with 1000s of common and specialist software, enabling teams to receive automatic updates from a whole suite of programmes in one place - and even action processes - without the need to swap between individual apps. 

An ethos of integration doesn’t only have to be digital - hardware such as digital signage can also be integrated with software, enabling for example, screens outside meeting rooms to automatically display bookings clearly, saving time spent searching for a space ahead of an important meeting.

Take a hike

Recent reports suggest that if every Briton walked just 22 minutes a day, the economy would be permanently £6.2bn better off. The health benefits would mean less time off work with illness and greater productivity when in the office, alongside longer lives overall. For those that feel they will struggle to get away from the office for even just 20 minutes, making the next meeting a ‘walk and talk’ will provide the exercise boost, while the activity and stimulation of a new environment may even make it a more productive and creative session.

Create a better coordinated and more transparent culture

The fundamental challenge common to all organisations is one of coordination - the creation and maintenance of alignment over time. Many workers will have experienced the frustration of a project getting derailed because an essential detail was kept under-wraps at the start. Having the full picture from the start is fundamental to a productive and happy workplace. Understandably, some information is too sensitive to be shared widely, but largely greater trust amongst colleagues and a more open culture of dialogue at the beginning of a project goes a long way to ensuring it will stay on track once things start moving. Transparency can come in many forms - whether through whole team meetings that bring together senior leadership and the wider team for a frank discussion, or via open digital communication channels that provide a holistic view of previous discussions, files shared, and problem solving for anyone added to them. While email has been the default coordinating point for communications and information for years, it simply doesn’t offer the flexibility and scalability which teams need to stay agile and productive.

Learn to combat stress

One in eight UK employees have taken time off for excessive workplace stress in the last year, a study of 140 companies in the UK found. While that represents a huge toll on businesses, much more importantly it shows the impact that being overworked can have on mental well being. While anyone struggling with workplace stress should speak with their employer, there are some steps everyone can take to relieve stress. Mindfulness activities - of which there are numerous apps for - can help people to compartmentalise work stress and better enjoy downtime. Swimming too, particularly in cold, open water, has been shown to improve resistance to stress while a 2016 paper suggested the monetary value of the health benefit of engaging with the marine environment to be £176m.

Embrace the bots

The backbone of any successful business is its workforce, and that won’t change any time soon. However, increasingly today the most productive businesses are enlisting non-human helpers to support their teams and get the best out of the organisation. These can be in the form of the advanced robotics found at the cutting edge of the manufacturing industry, or digital helpers that make employees lives that little bit easier, and free-up individuals to focus on more challenging and impactful work. One increasingly common use of bots is in the onboarding process. For enterprises in particular, which are hiring tens of thousands of new team members every year, the process of onboarding and upskilling can be a huge drain on resources. On a smaller scale, Capgemini Applied Innovation Exchange built their own custom Slack bot which could ask a series of simple questions and tailor the onboarding experience to each new employee’s needs while automatically granting them access to the right software tools they need and freeing up the rest of the team to focus on more challenging activities.

Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack