The UK Is Falling Behind In Productivity: Here’s What You Can Do About It

Michael Venn

CEO & Founder

The UK has a productivity problem. Based on the latest ONS figures, UK workers are less productive per hour than their equivalents in Germany, France, the US and Italy – and some 15% less efficient than the G7 average. Indeed, since the 2008 financial crash, productivity in the UK has flatlined and is now 20% lower than would have been expected based on pre-crisis trends.

It’s a big issue – but, within your own business, there are things that you can do to fix this. And, by making your organisation more efficient and more productive, you’ll ultimately be able to do more with less.

Communication and organisation

An important first step is to look at how your organisation communicates. Staff will waste huge amounts of time if they have to wrestle with inefficient internal comms systems; if files are inaccessible; and if processes, workflows and chains of responsibility are unclear.

An important first step is for management to champion clear, focused communication – leading from the top. Next, it’s important to document processes and workflows, and to make sure that this information is accessible to staff. Cloud storage and collaborative document editing tools can be particularly useful for this – and they can also be invaluable for collaborative working on a more general basis.

Instant messaging chats can be also extremely useful for quickly conveying information as well as for leaving a written record that can then be referred back to – something that is useful even when your colleagues are just a few feet away. Obviously, this shouldn’t stop team members from talking to one another but it allows them to exchange details without having to break from the task at hand – or having to take the lift or make a five-minute walk across the office, if that’s what’s required.

Of course, platforms like Crugo, that integrate IM chat, calendaring and file storage, can be particularly powerful – packing the full range of functionality into a single, multi-functional package and meaning that your team doesn’t need to rely on multiple sets of tools. What’s more, by focusing on direct, actionable communication, platforms like these can largely wipe out the chore of dealing with emails.

Meetings

One of the most common bugbears of office life is having to attend an endless number of pointless meetings – and there’s a common view that meetings actively get in the way of work. It doesn’t have to be this way, however.

When scheduling a meeting, it’s important that one person (likely the most senior) takes overall responsibility for it. They should draw up an agenda for the meeting and ensure that this is distributed in advance. Doing this means that the meeting has a set path and set objectives – so digressions and tangential matters can be avoided and cut short. At the meeting’s conclusion, the organiser should then summarise action items as appropriate, and distribute a written summary, denoting specific deadlines wherever possible. This means that all parties should be clear on their targets and what is expected of them.

It’s also important to keep the number of attendees down as much as possible – only people who are directly responsible for the issue to be discussed should attend. They can then pass on details to their subordinates and summarise relevant points where useful. It’s not absolutely essential that everyone in a meeting should talk, but if they have nothing to contribute, then attending the meeting may not be a good use of their time.

If hosting a meeting in which some individuals are located remotely, it’s advisable to have a video call. It’s all too easy to become distracted when you know that you can’t be seen – but if your face is onscreen, then you’ll likely pay closer attention to the matter at hand, so a more meaningful discussion can be had and everyone can get better results out of it.

Taking work outside the office

We’re now living in what’s been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and developments like AI, the Internet of Things and 3D printing have the potential to radically transform how we work.

One aspect of this is that we now live in a truly interconnected, globalised world. At Crugo, we believe it’s better to bring your team together in a single location – however, the internet provides limitless opportunities to reach beyond this.

Whether a staff member needs to work remotely for a day or you have a stay-at-home Fridays policy, it’s easy to accommodate. Indeed, incorporating flexi-work policies and working around individual circumstances, allows the business to support its staff and to ultimately build a happier, more productive team. What’s more, if staff are on the road (whether meeting clients or attending trade shows), basing work and tools in the cloud ensures that they can stay looped in –minimising unnecessary downtime across the business and ensuring that new customers can be onboarded far more quickly.

Outsourcing

Equally, it’s simpler than ever before to outsource tasks and responsibilities outside the office. Whether you need to bring in expertise, arrange cover or simply delegate a chore, it’s now trivial to connect with workers around the world. This allows staff to pass on repetitive work and, where necessary, to bring in experts for more complex jobs. From our experience, outsourcing works best when handling discrete, thoroughly defined tasks that have clear, agreed objectives – minimising the chances of miscommunication or projects running off the rails.

When considering innovative practices and processes, outsourcing tasks significantly lowers costs, allowing you to run trial programmes at a fraction of the price of hiring a full-time employee. By freeing up staff to tackle their most challenging responsibilities, outsourcing can hence multiply the value that employees add to the business.

Tools

In the meantime, new tools are emerging that can take outsourcing one step further. Rather than delegating routine tasks to a remotely based freelancer, AI tools can automate them entirely, meaning that they are completed error free, almost instantly and at very little cost. If you’re transferring information from one database to another or transcribing audio, for example, you could automate the process today.

One tool that can assist on a day-to-day basis is x.ai which helps users to book meetings. You simply copy ‘Amy’ (your AI assistant) into emails and she will then book a meeting with the email’s recipient, selecting a time, date and venue that works for all parties, without you having to do any work at all.

In the future, you might well attend a meeting scheduled by an AI app, use a voice assistant to call up notes during the meeting and then read a summary of the conversation written by AI – all available instantly and at very little cost.

By accelerating turnaround time, these tools will make working practises far more efficient and, by helping to reduce confusion and miscommunication, can help to further boost productivity.

Mindset

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to boost productivity is to develop an inquisitive mindset. If misunderstandings occur, why is that the case; and if things seem to take longer than they should, where are things falling off the rails? It’s unhelpful to develop new company-wide rules every time that something goes wrong, but there’s a great deal of value to be found in digging into issues and identifying where there may be underlying problems (for example, following the system of the ‘5 Whys’). After all, if staff are frustrated, it’s useful to see things from their perspective and to try to understand the fundamental issues. Doing so will build a happier, more productive and more empowered workforce.