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Five ways companies can boost productivity

Firms should ‘slow down to speed up’ by initiating more training, praising teams, writing fewer e-mails and checking in frequently, workplace experts say.

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A lot of workplaces are not as productive as they could be. As a professional productivity coach, Doug Heidebrecht has seen offices where managers regularly send e-mails after hours, fail to train their staff and increase some employees' workloads while laying off others. And they are surprised when productivity and morale fall off.

But lately the tide is turning, especially in workplaces without adequate work-life boundaries. "There is a bit of a backlash right now," says Mr. Heidebrecht, principal at Toronto-based Managing Me. Though he concedes that "intensity is still winning," he's hearing from more managers looking to change things up.

He suggests organizations "slow down to speed up" by initiating more employee training, taking the time to praise teams, writing fewer e-mails and checking in frequently to ensure the corporate priorities of managers and staff are aligned.

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"The idea of taking more time to think is overlooked," says Mr. Heidebrecht, and "it really helps productivity and morale."

Making a workplace productive means debunking common myths about what makes a workplace productive, he says.

Myth No. 1: Sending e-mails at all hours means everyone is working on overdrive.

The reality, says Mr. Heidebrecht, is that this kind of activity burns employees out. "It's so easy to send stuff" via e-mail, he says, "and we tend to overuse it." The result is that, in effect, employees take their workplace home with them and are unable to disconnect and regroup.

Mr. Heidebrecht says managers need to decree that e-mails cannot be sent on weekends and at late hours – and they, too, need to adhere to the policy. The message has to come from the top.

Myth No. 2: Providing education to staffers on company time cuts into how much they accomplish.

"When you get busy, it's one of the easiest things to let slide," says Mr. Heidebrecht of employee education, but it's one of the most valuable. Training helps improve their efficiency, he says. Career development programs also allow them to explore new roles and duties and to grow as employees, bringing new skills to the workplace, boosting productivity and encouraging workers to remain loyal to their employers.

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Myth No. 3: Collaborative work spaces are a fad and they offer few benefits.

Karen Pelletier, lead for Canadian business operations and workplace solutions at the professional-services firm Accenture, says more clients are seeking diverse office environments. "It gives employees more choice," she says, "as everyone works in a very different way."

When employees are able to select where they work – whether in a pod, at a desk or in a lounge space – they feel supported and connected to their environment. This sense of empowerment breeds good will toward the employer, and "employees want to do their best work," says Ms. Pelletier.

Myth No. 4: Checking in with employees is needed only during performance reviews.

Frequent meetings with workers don't have to be long, nor do they have to be love-ins, says Mr. Heidebrecht. He suggests managers routinely praise employees and point out how their actions made something better. But they should also use this as an opportunity to find out what it isn't working.

That means encouraging employees to speak up. Giving staff a voice allows companies to determine which initiatives are failing and how to get them on track before productivity is derailed.

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Plus, two-way communication allows organizations to ensure their mandates are in sync with the managers charged with executing them.

Myth No. 5: Leaders should be somewhat aloof and mysterious.

"Be authentic," counsels Mr. Heidebrecht. Don't hide behind e-mails, and acknowledge your mistakes. Employees need to connect with their leaders.

"If they trust their leader, they will be more engaged," he says. This is especially true for millennial staffers; they want to feel like there's meaning in what they do, and an authentic leader will go far in making them feel engaged and productive.

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