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Communication, collaboration and the right tools for the job: Learn the habits of the UK’s most productive businesses

It is often claimed that the UK is in the grip of a productivity crisis. However, improving productivity is not simply about increasing the demands upon workers – it is about setting them up for success and empowering them to do their jobs as effectively as possible. But what actually makes organisations and their employees more productive than others?

It is often claimed that the UK is in the grip of a productivity crisis. A recent report by the think tank Centre for Cities highlighted how the country’s productivity growth has stalled since the 2008 financial crisis, and has been particularly held back by London. According to the report, between 2007 and 2019, the UK capital grew by just  0.2% per year, compared to 0.6% growth in Brussels, 0.9% in Paris and 1.4% in New York.

Given this concerning lack of growth, as well as the looming risks of an economic recession, businesses are likely feeling the pressure to squeeze as much productivity as they possibly can out of their employees. However, improving productivity is not simply about increasing the demands upon workers – it is about setting them up for success and empowering them to do their jobs as effectively as possible. But what practical steps should companies take to extract more output from the same levels of input?

To find out, we commissioned a report, conducted by Sapio Research, into what makes some organisations and their employees more productive than others. The study, which surveyed more than 2,000 individuals across the UK, ranked UK businesses across a number of productivity indicators, and revealed significant differences between the most and least productive companies. By discovering these differences, we can share the lessons and habits of the UK’s most productive organisations with the wider business community.

Tools, training and communication

The research found that one of the most important things businesses can do to improve productivity is ensure their staff receive adequate training. Providing continuous learning and professional development throughout an employee’s career has the potential to dramatically increase productivity and help workers adapt to achieve the company’s goals. Productivity often stalls when workers do not have the proper training or tools to carry out the tasks at hand. Our study found that 84% of people who work in highly productive organisations believe they are given the correct training to do their roles effectively.

Alongside continuous learning, the right tools must be invested in so people can complete their work effectively and efficiently utilise their time. According to the study, 88% of workers in high-productivity businesses said their employer equipped them with the right technology and resources, dropping to 48% in low-productivity organisations.

The survey also highlighted the role of communication in tackling the productivity crisis. The survey found that 91% of highly productive businesses have open communication channels, compared to just 8% in low productivity enterprises. Using open public channels can foster greater cross-departmental collaboration, knowledge sharing, and transparency. And if businesses can eliminate communication barriers and foster a culture of asynchronous communication, they can cut down time spent in meetings and empower employees to collaborate efficiently with teammates in different time zones and locations. In today’s workforce, open communication, empathy, and honesty between managers and their teams have never been more crucial.

Happier employees are more productive

Another element that businesses often underestimate is the impact of employee wellbeing and company culture on productivity. For instance, 94% of workers of the UK’s most productive companies said they experienced high levels of team cohesion, compared to only 13% in low-productivity businesses. This underlines the importance of a strong and inclusive culture.  Similarly, highly productive businesses enable their employees to complete tasks in the required time, rather than rely on staying in the office late and working overtime, which can negatively affect their wellbeing. Our study found that almost half (46%) of employees at the most productive businesses rarely work overtime, but this figure drops to 13% at less productive organisations. In today’s market, employees are drawn to companies where they feel empowered to do their jobs efficiently – without feeling overworked.

Our study also supported the argument that happier workers are more productive. For instance, 44% of workers in the UK’s best-performing organisations believe their high productivity levels improve job satisfaction, while 42% feel it improves their work-life balance, and 40% believe it makes them feel more motivated. Meanwhile, workers in low-productivity organisations are less likely to experience these benefits: only 29% believe that their productivity levels improve their job satisfaction, while less than a third (32%) felt more motivated. As a result, these less productive organisations are likely to suffer from lower rates of retention.

Ensuring employee wellbeing and motivation are critical to retaining talented, hard-working employees. Maintaining a low turnover rate helps to keep businesses operating smoothly, while also saving time and money that would otherwise be spent trying to recruit and train new hires.

The right tech for the job

A few other ways employers can protect employee productivity include eliminating cross-functional silos which are inefficient, as well as carefully curating the number of digital tools required to complete tasks. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees today spend a quarter of their time toggling between apps, just trying to find the information they need to do their job.

So what are the final takeaways from this research? The employers most likely to attract top talent will be those who prioritise transparency, knowledge sharing, and consolidation of tools and apps. Companies also need to review their tech stack to ensure employees are not losing time that could be spent collaborating with colleagues across teams and departments. In the year ahead, companies will face several challenges, but productivity and efficiency should not be among them.

By Natasha Wallace, International People Operations Partner at ClickUp

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