Workplace productivity is changing. Here’s what research says.

Young woman at home. She is attending an online meeting. Woman with wireless headphones is presenting ideas to her team.

Want to be more efficient? These 6 workplace productivity tips can help.

The concept of workplace productivity has changed drastically in the last three and a half years. Once-routine parts of office life like elevator rides and water cooler chitchat have given way to Zoom screens and hybrid schedules. Character traits like flexibility and adaptability have become critical for employees and employers. New technologies like project management apps and AI chatbots have redefined the definition of efficiency and resiliency. 

Work-life balance and well-being have also taken center stage as more companies acknowledge that high productivity levels and employee happiness go hand in hand. In many cases, rest and relaxation can actually facilitate more focused work—while putting in too many hours can lead to serious burnout. 

New research also indicates that the measurement of workplace productivity itself is tough. Workers in different types of jobs and industries can accomplish different things in different settings. A 2021 American Community Survey found that while only 3% of butchers and metal workers could work remotely, 64% of software developers and 55% of financial analysts could. Once commute times, sick days, and overtime rules are factored in, can we really say who’s getting more done?

The results on remote work are promising. A 2022 report about research output before and during the COVID-19 pandemic found that the financial industry enjoyed productivity gains of nearly 25 percent while call center and data entry employees were 10 percent less productive. Some economists believe that employers should set the terms for successful remote work, while others believe hybrid employees should be responsible for working harder. 

Whoever takes the lead, the question is relevant: offices are at half their pre-pandemic occupancy levels, according to a 2022 study of 2,600 buildings and 41,000 businesses across North America. An ongoing monthly survey conducted by researchers for the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that more than 25 percent of total American workdays are completed at home. That number has barely budged since October 2021, when everyone thought the five-day in-office workweek would be back in no time.

Instead, the effects of remote work might stick—just as the definition of workplace productivity changes. It’s no longer thought of as an inborn trait but rather a combination of inherent tendencies and learned behaviors that can be nurtured and developed over time. Some individuals may be naturally inclined toward organization and time management, while others are good at working fast or thinking slowly.  

Productivity is heavily influenced by different factors: mindset, habits, environment, and tools. Technology can provide a big assist, especially when it fits in with existing workflows and is familiar to your employees. CMIT Solutions has compiled a few key strategies for improving workplace productivity, boosting efficiency, and empowering employees to do their best work: 

  • Turn off (or at least turn down) your notifications. The ding of an email, the swoosh of a text message, the buzz of a news alert—these sounds inundate us all day. The first and most obvious step toward increased productivity involves turning these notifications off, or at least muting some of them. Start going silent for short blocks of time to see if it sharpens your focus. If it works, increase the amount of distraction-free time to find a deeper groove.
  • Outline daily and weekly goals. No matter when (or where) you start working each morning, try to develop a habit of writing a quick list of three to five things you need to finish before the day is done. Keep it brief, since new must-do tasks will pop up, but expand upon it for a weekly list of bigger-picture goals. These two lists will complement and feed off of each other, shifting as priorities and workloads change. At the end of each day, assess how you did with the daily list, move outstanding items to the next day’s to-do, and reflect on any progress achieving weekly goals as well. This kind of focused but flexible outline can provide structure and flow with you between in-office shifts and at-home hours.
  • Set a specific time to deal with email. It differs by role and industry, but most of us spend an inordinate amount of time reading, responding to, and organizing email messages. Some productivity research says that more than 25% of the workday is spent on emails — and that the average human checks their inbox every five minutes. Changing that habit is tough, but scheduling out specific hours to deal with email can help. Consider doing it first thing in the morning, after lunch, or at the end of the day, then keep your inbox minimized while working on other tasks, particularly bigger projects. When you do check in, respond to important messages first and flag others if they need follow-up. Try to keep your emails concise, too—productivity experts say that if it takes more than a paragraph or two to explain something, the discussion might be more efficiently facilitated by a quick phone call or face-to-face meeting.
  • Bookmark open browser tabs. For years, we’ve thought of the bookmark bar as a lifesaver—and the number of open tabs in your browser as a barometer of productivity. Instead of leaving multiple tabs open for days or even weeks at a time and swearing that you’ll eventually get to them, try to bookmark open tabs in a “To Read Tomorrow” or “To Read at Home” folder at the end of every day. Then, close and quit your browser. This will eliminate distractions, speed up computing speeds, and mitigate cybersecurity risks since every webpage that is left open on your computer will continuously deliver ads or store cookies in your browser history. Many automated browser plug-ins can streamline this task, converting open tabs into to-do lists or setting time limits on open pages.
  • Sync your files. Remember when we used to save files on portable thumb drives and email ourselves the latest versions of documents? Hopefully those days are over—and if they’re not, there’s an app that can help with that. Cloud-based file sync and share is secure and convenient, allowing you to access any document, anytime, anywhere. You can even collaborate on it together in real-time with colleagues in different locations. Once apps like those are installed, it also requires an extra step to make sure they’re accessible on smartphones, laptops, tablets, and desktops so you can continue to work in the office, at home, or on the road. Any good file collaboration system should also connect directly with data backups that are executed regularly, remotely, and redundantly.
  • Take a break! Our brains function better when we alternate between chunks of engaged and relaxed time. In 2021, scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that short bursts of wakeful rest helped people learn new skills more quickly through “memory strengthening.” Another study conducted at the University of Illinois found that those who worked non-stop on a task for 50 minutes progressively declined in performance after 30 minutes, while those who switched tasks every 10 minutes (with a brief break in between) remained sharper throughout the full 50-minute duration. Consider a version of the Pomodoro technique, which calls for working 25 minutes straight without interruption, followed by a 5-minute break spent doing whatever you want. 

Productivity is a multi-faceted concept that combines inherent traits, learned skills, and smart technology. With the right mix of tools and advice, any business in any industry can leverage it. CMIT Solutions has spent the last 25 years helping companies streamline their work and make day-to-day operations more efficient. 

If you’re looking for help with productivity software, cybersecurity protection, data backup, or employee education, CMIT Solutions can help. We transform technology headaches into competitive advantages while protecting businesses across North America.

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