Workplace Productivity

The Ultimate Guide To Workplace Productivity: 14 Research-Backed Best Practices For Employee Management, Office Design, And Meetings


The startup and business landscape is a cutthroat industry. The competition is extremely stiff, with 100 million businesses launched every year.

Offering a good product or service is no longer enough to stay afloat. To gain an edge, office managers and business owners need to ensure and enhance employee productivity.

After all, the employees are in charge of the crucial tasks and projects within a business - from facing the customer, developing and improving products, to creating monthly reports and more.

Productive employees equals to a profitable business.

And if you are looking to take your workforce’s performance to another level, you will want to read this entire guide. Let’s take a look at 14 productivity-boosting best practices for employee management, office design, and meetings - all backed by research!

Boost Employee Productivity By Up To 12% With A Simple Management Idea

Want a science-backed way to boost the productivity of your staff?

Here’s a simple technique:

Keep your employees happy!

A 2015 study by economists from the University of Warwick discovered something many of us know innately - humans are more collaborative, creative, and effective when they’re happy at work. The study saw happiness led to a 12% spike in workers’ productivity, while unhappy workers are 10% less effective than their satisfied counterparts.

Now, happiness equals productivity is a simple concept to understand. But putting the idea into motion begs the question:

“How exactly do I keep my employees happy?”

Wonder no more! The 5 steps which follow will show you exactly just that.

Encourage Employees To Take Breaks Often

Talking about breaks may seem out of place for a guide on boosting productivity - but it’s not.

A study published in the journal Cognition measured the ability to focus and attention span of 84 subjects.

The result saw participants who took quick breaks during a 50-minute computerized task showed no performance decline while the group which did the same task but without breaks suffers from significant decline.

The processing capability of the brain can only handle so much. Between emails to respond to, spreadsheets to fill, and reports to create, employees’ (and your’s too) mental energies can hit rock bottom in a short amount of time.

Fortunately, a few minutes of watercooler talk can go long way in recharging those depleted batteries. And if you want to stay productive all day, have more of those breaks and have them often.

DeskTime, a time-tracking and productivity app, took a closer look at the working habits of the most productive 10% of their users. Turns out, the group’s secret for getting important stuff done is to work smarter and take frequent time-offs.

Their formula? Work for 52 minutes at a time, take a 17-minute time-off, and repeat.

Note, however, that the work done during the 52-minutes period is with intense purpose. These sprints are free from internet cat videos, funny memes, and other distractions. Everything is dedicated to making progress in a task or project.

And the 17-minute break better be an authentic one, too. No peeking at emails or quickly checking Facebook. A real break is one where you walk around the office, chat with co-workers, or grab something healthy to eat.

Get Your Crew To Use Their Vacation Days

Should you worry if employees aren’t using their vacation days?

Yes! Study after study have shown that a long vacation from office responsibilities reboot one’s cognitive powers, which are necessary for solving big challenges and problems at the workplace. If your employees aren’t taking vacations, they’re unlikely to deliver their best work.

But some people just don’t like taking vacations even if the management encourages it.

In Canada, about 22% of employees postpone or cancel their vacation. US employees, on the other hand, left 3.2 paid time-off days unused in 2013, translating to 429 million unused days.

The reasons are plenty: from not having enough cash for an enjoyable getaway, giving the management the “I’m lazy” impression, to the possibility of work piling up to unmanageable levels.

But whatever the reason, they must take vacations.

So how do you encourage these people to let loose and take a time off of work?

First, set a good example. If you are encouraging people to take time-off but don’t go on one yourself, employees may think you don’t really approve or support long vacations.

And take note: most people don’t take vacations not because they don’t want to but because their workload makes it almost impossible.

Why not sit down and help them make it happen?

Plan how to cover their work while they are away and be willing to set back deadlines to help employees make the time.

Stop Micromanaging

Fact: micromanagement is a productivity-killer.

Sure, short-term micromanagement can be useful - maybe even necessary - when training new recruits or coaching underperforming staff.

However, dictating employees when and how they should work come with heavy costs in the long run - from low employee morale, dissatisfaction, to lackluster performance at work. Micromanagement creates a culture where workers have to “wait to be told” to take action, and worse, it can shoo talented employees away from a company.

But if you want to build a happy and high-performance office culture?

An analysis of three surveys from the Household Income And Labor Dynamics in Australia says giving employees a say on when, where, and how is key.

The best places to work clearly know this. Take Hubspot, for example.

The inbound marketing company was named as one of Glassdoor’s “Best Places To Work” in 2015 and one of the best medium workplaces in tech in 2016. And their mantra for just about anything they do? Use good judgment.

The motto even extends to their vacation policy, allowing their employees take vacations when they see fit instead of waiting for the holiday season. The set-up has allowed over 800 Hubspot workers around the globe to see the world and do the work they love.

Be Transparent

If your employees don’t know how the company makes profits, its biggest competitors, or its advantage in the marketplace, you are disempowering them.

A study by George Mason University on motivating factors in the workplace found that feeling “in on things” is ranked one of the three biggest drivers of motivation for employees.

Not sharing information is the exact opposite, and the sad part, managers are inclined to do just that. The same survey saw employers rank transparency at the bottom of the list at number 10.

When the entire team is armed with a better understanding of critical issues, essential tasks for success, and challenges to overcome, the people in it work more collaboratively - and more productively as a result.

Monthly meetings are great for reviewing the previous weeks’ progress and planning ahead. But for sharing just-in-time information, there are better options. Social media, email, and private messaging are great channels real-time communication.

Minimize Employee Stress

Did you know that stress-related health care and missed working days cost US employers up to $300 billion every year?

If an employee is irritable, anxious, and feeling overwhelmed at work, he or she is suffering from stress. And you better pay close attention not just because stressed employees are costly but because you care.

Fortunately, the previous steps we’ve covered can go a long way in minimizing stress at the office. And other simple adjustments can help, too.

Smiling, for example, is a proven stress-reliever.

Having one on your face keeps you stress at bay, and more important, it can be infectious. When you approach employees with a smile, their face muscles are almost guaranteed to mimic you - and enjoy the de-stressing benefits of smiling.

Show that you genuinely care about what employees have to say by meeting them face-to-face and reflecting what they just said back to them.

Make yourself available to listen and understand their concerns. An immediate fix may not be possible. But by listening closely and engaging, they’re less likely to feel overwhelmed when things are getting hectic and stressful.

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Creating A Performance-Boosting Environment: 5 Office Design Ideas You Should Consider

In the previous section, we looked at 5 employee management best practices that can have significant and positive effects on a workforce’s overall productivity.

But while management plays a crucial role in employees’ performance, the environment in which they work also deserve a lot of attention.

You can have the best vacation policies, 100% transparency, and a well-rounded wellness program. But if their workspace is packed with air pollutants, lacking in natural light, and lifeless, a spike in employee performance and productivity will be hard to come by.

Don’t fret, however. This section of the guide will show you how to create a healthier office environment and how these can translate to better quality of work.

Improve Indoor Air Quality And Ventilation

Wouldn’t it be awesome if employees are 97% better at handling crisis situations, 183% better in strategy formation and brainstorming, and 172% more efficient in using available information?

Such leaps in performance and productivity may seem out of reach. But it turns they’re possible without a doubt - if your office’s indoor air quality is in good shape.

A double-blind study involving 3 US universities looked at people’s experience in green and non-green environments. The 24 participants in the study have diverse work histories - some are architects, others are programmers, and creative marketing professionals are in the mix, too.

For 6 days, the participants carried on with their work as usual. But the research team exposed them to several simulated building conditions - from conditions with high levels of VOC (volatile organic compounds) to green conditions with excellent ventilation.

The end of each day saw the participants take cognitive tests measuring crisis response, strategy, and information usage.

The result: participants working in green workspaces - with good ventilation and low levels of air pollutants - performed, on average, twice as better than workers in conventional (and polluted) working environments.

Use Natural Light As Much As You Can

Have you ever spent 7 or 8 daylight hours in a windowless room with fluorescent lights? Feels terrible, doesn’t it? Lack of exposure to natural light may not sound like big deal. But it is!

Yes, too much sunlight can cause cancer. But a lack of it can lead to Vitamin D deficiency, which, in turn, can lead to prostate and even breast cancer.

Moreover, less sunlight has been shown to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and women are 200% more likely to develop the condition.

Pretty scary, don’t you think?

So uncover those office windows during working hours and let the sun light everyone’s way. It’s healthy for everyone - and it can help employees put their best foot forward too.

A study by the researchers from the Northwestern University in Chicago observed 49 day-shift office workers, placed in two groups. A group of 27 worked in a windowless workspace, while the 22 employees worked in workplaces with windows.

The test participants who worked in offices with sunlight got 46 minutes more sleep and even had time for exercise after work that the sunlight-starved group.

As a result, the former group had better ratings for quality of life and performance at work.

Feed Your Employees

Office workers struggle to stay on top of emails, meetings, and deadlines when the going gets tough - while food is often relegated to the sidelines.

Lunch breaks are taken while on desks or even completely forgotten. Employees snack on unhealthy fast-food instead of quality meals. And productivity plummets as a result.

So what is a wise office manager or business owner to do?

The answer: provide free food!

A survey involving 1,200 employees found that company-provided food brings a host of benefits: from employees feeling appreciated, creating face-to-face interactions, to making a company’s job offer much more appealing to applicants and candidates.

On the other hand, the study conclusion by a business-lunch service echo the results of the survey: offering free quality lunches to workers is a massive motivator and productivity booster, one that can deliver a 150% ROI.

Free food shoots two birds with one stone: it’s a great way to show appreciation for employees, but it also boosts productivity and preserves energy levels by reducing the time spent outside the workplace to get food.

Now, you probably don’t have the spending power of Google and Facebook, two companies famous for their awesome company-provided food and epic cafes. But don’t worry! More affordable options exist.

For starters, several workplace lunch services offer myriads of choices - from sandwiches and wraps, salads, to boxed lunches. And then there are vending machines that can cater to every employee’s preference - whether it’s a cup of black coffee, vegetable salad, or a mug full of fruit juice.

Consider Adopting Standing Desks

Standing desks and tables are now a trademark of a hip and modern office - and for good reason.

Did you know that sitting day-in and day-out can prove lethal?

Yes, prolonged sitting can increase the risk of death from any cause by up to 50%!

Moreover, employees sitting behind a desk for hours are likely to suffer from muscle degeneration, leg disorders, and organ damage. In light of these findings, more and more companies are moving towards standing desks to help workers stay in tip-top shape.

However, standing desks do more than just counteract the deadly effects of sitting. It also bumps up office productivity!

A study involving 167 employees of a Texas-based call center saw standing desks lead to 23% more successful calls. But even better, the number rose to 53% after a 6-month period.

Add More Life To The Office Using Plants

For a while, a clean, lean, and minimalist workplace was thought to be conducive to performance. But recent studies reveal that adding greenery to an office is much more effective in rousing the workforce to get important stuff done.

Researchers from Cardiff University monitored three workplaces in the UK and the Netherlands, and found that adding plants improved overall productivity by 15%.

Now, you might be wondering: “What’s so special about office plants?”

The scientists behind the said study have several theories. One has to do with the biology of plants. Previous studies found that foliage can take in air pollutants, filter away dust, and improve overall air quality.

And as shown in the first step of this section, cleaner office air can lead to significant performance gains.

Another theory says the addition of plants makes for a more pleasant working environment. Not to mention it conveys a positive message: that office managers and biz owners care for their employees, creating a bigger incentive to work harder for the business.

Whichever the case, however, one thing is clear. Philodendrons, pothos, anthuriums, and other common office plants don’t just take up valuable space.

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Stop Time-Wasting Meetings: Here Are 4 Steps To Make Them More Effective

Meetings and conference calls take up a lot of time.

In a 2014 time management study carried out by Bain & Company, the top management consulting firm discovered that an organization’s workforce spends on average 15% of all collective time in a meeting.

The same study found that senior executives spend almost two days meeting with two to three co-workers every week. One extreme example included in the Bain study saw a large company spend 300,000 working hours per year for one weekly meeting!

But are we really being productive during meetings?

The answer in a nutshell: no!

Intercall, the conference call company of choice for 85% of Fortune 100 companies, surveyed 530 US employees on how they spend their time during conference calls.

The result: 65% preferred to get real work done while 63% of the respondents admitted to checking and sending emails instead of listening. The rest of the respondents either checked their social media accounts, played video games, or shopped online.

Another study by collaboration tools developer Atlassian found that employees attend 62 meetings and waste 31 hours per month on average. Worse, over 90% of meeting goers admitted to daydreaming during the session while 39% chose to sleep!

Here’s the biggest problem with meetings and conference calls:

They spend a lot of time talking about what should be done and how instead of allowing employees to actually get stuff done. Not just unproductive, it also bores meeting attendees!

And by the time the meeting is over, a significant portion of the workday has been wasted, forcing employees to work overtime just to keep up with deadlines and objectives.

Does this mean you should ban meetings for good?

No. Meetings and conferences do have their purpose. They can help open the lines of communication in the organization, encourage everyone to contribute their “say” about an important decision, and facilitate collaboration.

However, preparation and an action-driven purpose are necessary if a meeting is to truly add value and empower employees.

Don’t call for meetings “just because,” mistaking activity for productivity. Here are 4 guidelines to adhere so your meetings don’t turn to glorified time-wasters.

Plan And Prepare Thoroughly

Knowing when to call for a meeting is a skill that can save valuable working hours. Before calling for an assembly at the conference room, here are three questions to ask:

  1. What’s the purpose of the meeting? If you can’t answer the question in one sentence, don’t call for a meeting. It’s likely that the meeting will jump from one topic to another, and things won’t get any clearer when the session is over.
  2. Are we making a key decision? If you need to make a decision but need to get the consensus of concerned parties, go ahead and call for an assembly. On the other hand, if the decision-making task rests solely on your shoulders, it’s best to go at it alone.
  3. Is it an emergency? Calling for a meeting when an internal or external crisis strikes the organization is often a good idea. Examples of crisis include a security breach, a heated argument between staff members, a serious online complaint gone viral, or a sudden and unexpected dip in sales.

When you’re certain you need to call for a meeting, take the time to prepare.

For Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, this means writing six-page memos called narratives and basing the meeting’s agenda on these in-depth documents.

The author of these narratives are forced to write down their agendas and ideas in complete paragraphs and sentences, adding greater clarity and making it easy for attendees to understand what the meeting is all about.

"Full sentences are harder to write...They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking,” says Bezos in an article by

Moreover, meetings with Amazon’s senior executives always start by quietly reading and absorbing the information from the six-page memo for 30 minutes. This goes a long way in ensuring that the meeting flows smoothly, free from interruptions and clarification questions.

To quote Bezos: “If you have a traditional ppt presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole 6 page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on page 4 that question is answered.”

Set A Time Limit And Keep The Meeting Short

The Parkinson’s Law states: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

If you don’t set a time limit for your meeting, you run the risk of rambling for hours and robbing the attendees of their productivity. And that’s why top CEOs and executives set a firm time limit for their meetings and conferences.

But how long should a meeting last?

For former Google Vice President and current Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, setting a large block of time and slicing it down to 10-minute meetings works best.

Buffer CEO Kevan Lee recommends 15 minutes as the ideal starting point for any meeting.

“For one, it’s easy to schedule in an Outlook calendar or Google calendar,” says Lee. Furthermore, a time limit of 15 to 18 minutes is long enough to be serious but short enough to keep everyone’s attention.

Help Attendees Visualize

Put the whiteboard to good use!

PowerPoint used to be cutting-edge and visually engaging. Nowadays, however, PowerPoint presentations are guaranteed to put employees to sleep.

So instead, make sure to use the whiteboard to write down major points and specific issues as the discussion takes place. Or you can follow the example set by large corporations such as IBM and bring in scribes to illustrate talking points and connections in presentations.

“A wall of visual notes lets multiple ideas present themselves to you at the same time,” says Dan Porter, co-founder of London-based scribe company Scriberia.

He adds, “If they're inhabiting the same visual space, it seems more likely that interesting connections will be made and existing ideas will come together to form new ones.”

Don’t Serve Food

Serving snacks during a meeting is often a bad idea as it invites interruption.

Attendees will have to shift their attention from the presentation to the croissants, granola bars, or whatever food you’re serving. And when one attendee is disengaged, it can quickly snowball and others may follow suit.

Plus, serving food can invite small talk or side conversations (about the food), which any presenter is sure to find offensive.

Does that mean you should let meeting goers starve?

Of course not! But if you have to serve food, serve it in a separate room and do so only when the meeting is over or during breaks.

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The quest for better workplace productivity rages on. And we’ve covered a lot in this guide in respect to that - 14 best practices to be precise.

Armed with the information with this guide, we hope you now have a better idea for managing employees, designing your workspace, and conducting meetings in the most productive and empowering way possible.

But perhaps you’re thinking where to start?

Our recommendation is to go initially with small changes and see how office workers respond to it. Start by smiling more often or adding plants to your office’s landscape.

If providing free food and beverages to employees sound like a good starting point, however, you can start by calling us. Our line of modern vending machines may be just what you need!

Want To Learn More? We are happy to organise a coffee tasting for your business, as well as machine demonstrations

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