There’s no business in the world that would prefer to do everything the hard way.
Everyone would much rather do things more efficiently, increase their overall and individual productivity, improve their bottom line, and simply grow.
So if this is indeed everyone’s wish, how can we account for all the times businesses big and small fail to be as productive and efficient as they would ideally like to be?
The key lies in operation streamlining – a process that often takes a lot of time, requires some dedication and invariably, some investment, and that is never easy to execute. There is no silver bullet for productivity, efficiency, or success.
That being said, let’s look at some of the ways in which you can streamline your own business operations. Do bear in mind that some of this advice may simply not apply to your company, so before you jump into implementation, think about ROI. Which strategy would deliver the best results in your particular case?
Recognize when you need to outsource
While there are certain benefits to doing everything in-house – control over the process, control over the outcome, lower costs, growth opportunities – sometimes, this comes at a cost you should not be looking to pay.
Don’t think of outsourcing as it is at its worst. Think of it as it is at its best. Don’t consider it as hiring someone for a low fee to do something poorly. Consider it as hiring an expert in their field (a field you yourself don’t have expertise in), who will help you with a task you don’t usually tackle.
You will certainly need to invest some time in finding the right freelancer to work with. But once you find them, you can enjoy the benefits of their experience and insight, without having to pull someone in-house away from their usual work.
Not to mention, establishing good working relationships with freelancers means you can one day bring them on board as part of your staff, allowing you to expand your business’ scope.
Make sure you have backups
In a world where everything is digital, and when we are able to save digital copies of documents and files in the cloud with very little effort, we sometimes forget how important it is to have physical backups of our most important data.
Never underestimate the value of a hard copy, even in the case of something as seemingly simple as your calendar. Imagine if you were to get hacked and locked out of your calendar account. How are you then supposed to remember who you are meeting when, and which clients are expecting a return call?
Create a backup process for everything: from your most important documents and client files, down to the files that keep your business running (like calendars, rosters, etc.). Both a digital and a hard copy should be created as often as you figure out is best.
Assign this task to the appropriate people, and you will not have to suffer a disruption in operations if a system is to be attacked or fails.
Use one piece of software for keeping track of operations
The more apps you have at your disposal, the less organized you will be. If you need to check a calendar, then a sheet, then a project management app, and then finally use a chat app to get in touch with someone, you have already wasted precious time (and energy).
Try to cut down your organizational needs to the bare bones. What do you need? A chat app and a way to assign tasks? Are you also sharing files? Do you need the option for more than one team to collaborate on more than one task? Are you tracking time as well? Where do the vacation schedules go?
There are so many productivity and management apps out there you will certainly find one (or two, if you really can’t get away with one) that will cater to your needs. From Basecamp to Trello and Notion to Slack, you can certainly figure out a way to do things with a little bit less hassle.
This will also cut down on your expenses as well.
Accommodate different styles and personalities
Most managers and HRs will simply stick to one basic principle and apply it to all of their team members. For example, everyone will need to be at work between 8.30 and 9 AM, lunch breaks will be between 1 and 2 PM, and so on.
However, even though it might seem counterintuitive, working with the working styles and personalities of your employees will boost your productivity immensely, and it will also lead to better employee satisfaction, which will then again in turn boost productivity.
Say someone works best around noon, after having woken up around nine. If you force them to wake up earlier and come to work, they are simply not as productive. Why wouldn’t they start working at noon, if they themselves would want to?
Say someone works much better when surrounded by a group of people. Why do they have to sit in an office alone? What if someone needs to leave early one day a week? They can’t just because it’s unfair to everyone else? Why doesn’t everyone else get a similar perk?
Businesses mistakenly believe that when you give people what they want and need (unlimited time off, a chance to work from home, flexible working hours, etc.), they will slack off. Yet the opposite is true – these happy employees will perform better. And you will still be able to tell who is not getting their job done. Even better than had everyone been operating under the same principles, because now everyone has the chance to do their best on their own terms.
Invest in automation
It can be very difficult to determine what you can automate and what you can’t. As automation has taken the world of business by storm, many have reached for it yet failed to automate their own processes.
This is mainly because automation also needs to be personalized. Automate whatever you can, not just what you think you need to. For example, if you find yourself constantly updating your product prices on Amazon to hold off the competition, consider investing in a piece of software that will automatically reprice your Amazon items even while you sleep. Not only will it save you time, but it will pay for itself through increased sales as well.
Everyone can benefit from an autoresponder, that is certainly true. Apps for scheduling calls and meetings are also very useful. However, the true beauty and success of automation lie in what you make of it.
Take a look at the tasks your business handles every day. What takes up the most time? What can be automated with a piece of software? What can be automated by a human mind? How can you redistribute tasks so that no one ends up doing all the boring stuff, while someone else is constantly tasked with being highly creative and inventive?
You will again need to evaluate your team here and figure out how they work best. If someone is perfectly happy and would like nothing better than to do the boring stuff, let them do it. But keep checking in on your new processes, just to make sure they’re being handled well and that they’re getting you the results you want.
If you are automating via software, make sure everyone knows how best to use it, and don’t give up when it doesn’t improve your output by 105% in the first week. There will be some natural resistance to the idea, so take it slowly and be patient with all parties involved.
Think about meetings
It is estimated that businesses spend 15% of their time in meetings, 37% of which are at the same time considered useless.
Just think of the things that could get done if these meetings didn’t exist.
However, let’s admit that certain meetings do need to happen, and that you can’t simply eliminate all meetings to boost your productivity.
Consider the value of a meeting. Is it an exchange of ideas, is it a debriefing, is it a weekly report on progress? Can some of these meetings be turned into a paper trail? Holding a meeting certainly helps you minimize the chance of someone not reading an email, but on the other hand, you can end up taking a lot of time talking. And meetings also tend to run over.
Try to shift what you can from meeting to email. Give every participant in the email a decent window to respond, but let them do it on their own time.
Things that need to be discussed in person should, of course, remain in meeting form. This is especially true of creative meetings, where ideas are born out of an exchange of words. That’s something you could never replicate via email.
Plan for breaks
The human mind works best when it has had a chance to take a break. When we sleep, our brain makes connections and retains the information we have been feeding it while awake. When we take a break from work, the brain has a chance to work on the issue in the background, while at the same time recharging and recovering.
Even if some of your employees claim to be perfectly happy spending all of their time at work at their desks, make it a point to enforce regular breaks. Also, make it another point not to take this break time out of their total working time. You don’t need to make people stay at work for an extra hour because you had them have a break.
Breaks are just as essential to the working process as the work itself – which is why they need to become an integral part of your daily operations.
How these breaks are spent is up for debate. You can leave people to socialize on their own, or you can have group events. Games, meals, and even watching TV can all be a great way to leave the desk and refresh a little.
Naturally, the structure of these breaks will mostly depend on the line of work you’re in. Think about the best ways to structure breaks – for example, you’ll probably have several smaller ones and one larger break for a meal.
Invest in education
Finally, let’s touch upon that obvious point: educating your staff is always a way to make them more productive and better at what they do.
However, this does not have to be the kind of education that comes to mind on the first go.
Yes, attending seminars and webinars that speak directly to the work someone is doing is always a great option. So are role-specific courses, for your managers, for your HRs, for your sales team.
There is also something to be said about non-work-specific education.
It has been proven that every new knowledge we attain helps our brain make more connections and helps it reach for these connections faster than before. In other words, whatever you learn will make an impact on your general knowledge.
A language course, a course in knitting, a course in art or history will all help your employees become better versions of themselves, thus becoming better at what they do. Plus, it might be fun to step out of work for a while and spend some time on a different class of tasks.
Always remember to ask your staff what they would like to do. There will be some who are not really up for anything, but don’t let the majority bully the minority into accepting their ways – so make sure you allow for more than one option. You don’t want to turn this educational exercise into yet another obligation.
Streamlining your business operations, as you can now see, will take a fair bit of time and effort, and it will require some serious involvement from all parties concerned. Don’t let this discourage you, however. All change and all growth need time and effort, so allow for it to happen naturally. Don’t rush the process. Trust it instead.