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How to Simplify the Work Place

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Have you ever worked in an environment with lots of goals boards, target meetings, and other intrusive, time-killing activities? It’s common for companies to overload their employees with tasks that are all talk without giving ample time for action. It’s also common to have a workplace culture that involves a lot of idol talk about problems without real suggestions for solutions. These are counterproductive activities that should be kept in check. Read on for more.

These stats demonstrate the point best.

Of the 100 billion+ emails that are exchanged each day, only one in seven is critically important.

On average, employees spend more than a quarter of the workday reading and responding to emails.

The average person checks his cell phone more than 150 times a day.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report documented that 74% of HR and business leaders characterized their work environment as either “complex” or “highly complex.”

There is obviously a problem, but where does it come from and how do we fix it?

Why is complexity an issue?

Technology

The number one reason offices lean toward complexity is because of the increasing penetration of technology in the workplace.

Many of us remember the days before cell phones and even computers. If we were out of the office, we were mostly unreachable. If someone wanted to have written communication with us, we had to wait for the mail. Things took longer and progress was slower. With the onset of technology, meant to make us more productive and our work simpler, we kept up the intensity of our work and just added more to our plates.

Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, explained, “with mobile phones, email, text messages, global teams, conference calls, social media, and pretty soon even watches talking at us, there is so much stuff coming at us, we are constantly flooded and can’t get our work done, and we feel less productive than we were in the past.”

The ease of communication brought about by technology has created an expectation of constant availability. Employees always have their smartphones now, so phone calls and emails don’t have to stop at 5:00PM. Many never take a substantial break, and end up feeling like they’re “always at work.” And indeed, they are.

Globalization

The majority of companies work with clients, suppliers, etc. in places all over the world. While this is great for business, globalization adds complexity to every work flow. Some offices have several clocks on the wall, demonstrating the time of day for all the markets they are doing business with. This means that the work day never really ends. An important video conference in India can happen at 1:00 am in New York.

Administrative Compliance Demands

While there is a need for structure and rules, it’s a common mistake for companies to over-emphasize compliance by adding too many checkpoints and controls to their employees’ routines. Compliance can be better achieved through creating a culture of compliance. Nordstrom’s employee policy is simply “Have Good Judgement.” This creates an environment of trust and has better efficacy than compliance micro-management.

Overly Complex Business Processes

Research has shown that many companies’ business and HR processes are overly complex. For example, Adobe found that it took a whopping 1.8 million person-hours per year to complete its performance management process. The threat of legal action and the heavy burden of liability when dealing with employees causes rigorous structuring that can be difficult to maneuver and wastes a lot of time.

Negative impact of complexity

Everyone wants to feel successful and productive. Unless attention is paid to simplifying all processes in a company, employees can end up feeling disengaged and defeated. This decreases morale and in turn decreases overall productivity, ultimately costing the company money.

When managers make simplification a critical component of their business strategies, productivity does increase. SAP recently launched a major new strategy to simplify its business, and saw employee engagement rise by almost 30%.

So what can be done to simplify the workplace?

How to Simplify

There are several strategies a company can implement to simplify, and they do not have to be done in a specific order. Evaluate your organization and determine what is most needed and where the biggest differences could be made most quickly.

Make a list of priorities and figure out what is really important and what isn’t urgently needed. You will be surprised at the fat you can trim.

Do away with unnecessary rules, steps, and activities that waste time more than they benefit the company. Shedding even just a few superfluous tasks will decrease stress and enable employees to focus on more important duties.

Encourage and use honest and constructive feedback to identify and make changes in company clutter. Get input from everyone, if possible.

Simplify the structure of your company. Reduce levels and layers of management to prevent excessive supervision, micromanaging, and over-analysis.

Make meetings shorter if possible. Begin meetings on time, make sure everyone comes prepared, and stay on topic to ensure efficiency. Many modern companies call morning status meetings “standups” to emphasize that these updates should be very short and to the point. Learn more about improving meetings here.

Invest in simpler technology. Select software based on ease of use, and not just exciting new features. Check with employees to see what systems they struggle with and if additional training is required.

Human Resources is Key

The Human Resources department is responsible for noting employee frustration, poor morale, or overall difficulty completing tasks and working with leadership and employees to solve these issues. Keeping your ear to the ground and always being an advocate for employees AND the company will help you in making your work environment simpler and more productive.

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