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12 Unconventional Ways to Boost Employee Productivity

Sometimes, an out-of-the-box hack is the surest way to success.
12 Unconventional Ways to Boost Employee Productivity
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Let's say you've tried all the common productivity hacks at your startup, but you still haven’t boosted results to the level you're hoping for. Before giving up, get outside your comfort zone and explore the following unconventional techniques, some of which will hopefully, ultimately feel like they're not too "out there" after all. 

1. Go green.

This suggestion shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, there have been countless studies on the benefits of placing live plants in your office. For example, plants can improve employee satisfaction and boost productivity by up to 15 percent. Other research draws a connection between decreased sick days and increased productivity after plants have been introduced to the workplace.

When purchasing plants for your office, take into consideration the aesthetics and ease of care. Dead plants aren't inspiring. Ideally, your beauties should frame or fill a space, but not be high maintenance. Some suggestions would be:

  • Cast-iron plant
  • Snake plant
  • ZZ plant
  • Cactus
  • Bamboo
  • Aloe vera
  • Corn plant
  • Swiss cheese plant.

Related: How to Add Plants to an Office to Make Employees More Focused and Productive

2. Set a few unrealistic goals.

This suggestion probably sounds like it goes against logic. If you’re establishing goals that you and your team can’t achieve, then aren’t you just setting everyone up for failure? Many would say there's some truth to that possibility, but if you need to kick productivity into high gear, set what seems like a crazy and unrealistic goal, such as reaching all of this year’s sales in the next six months.

If this sounds intrusive or aggressive, try it with your team and watch the spark of creativity and focus burst into action. Ambitious goals will create a sense of urgency and motivate each person within your organization to take risks. Watch the fire ignite, and if the progress is significant, say as much, e.g.: "You peeps are rockstars. I'm taking you all to lunch."

3. Play games.

I know some say you're not supposed to play games at work, but it can also keep employees fresh and motivated, while bringing them together and increase morale. Scientists have even found that playing video games can combat workplace stress and help peers develop friendships. 

Best of all? Your team can play games during their breaks so it won’t interfere with their work. If video games aren’t an option, suggest your team go outside and play cornhole or other one-minute games. Maybe get some trivia going. At our office, we finally installed a small basketball hoop, and even one of our 60-plus-years-young colleagues joins in.

Related: 6 Brilliant Productivity Hacks

4. Inject some humor.

Adding a little humor to the office encourages people to be themselves. As a result, it breaks down hierarchies and encourages innovation. It can also increase productivity, boost morale, reduce stress and build trust.

The key here is not to offend anyone. Instead, you want to create a fun work environment where laughter is the norm. The best place to start is to become more approachable and smile often. You can also introduce fun initiatives like taking improv classes together, developing humorous ads or hiring a funny motivational speaker.

5. Allow employees to take naps.

Want to increase productivity, performance and retention, all while strengthening relationships? Then let your employees take 20-minute cat naps. You can do this by creating a so-called “nap room” in your office or investing in nap pods. Either way, don’t be afraid to let your team catch some z’s when they need them.

Our office once had a team member buy 12 pillowcases and 12 top sheets and leave them at the office. I take them home and launder them when they've been used (one must be aware of the "cootie factor"), and they are always used. 

If taking a nap isn’t an option, at least help your employees get a better night’s rest by not bombarding them with messages at all hours of the night. Perhaps even share tips with them on how to improve their sleep or allow for a mattress stipend.

Related: Why Leaders Should Welcome Employees Napping on the Job

6. The “two-hour solution.”

Author Roger Seip laid out the "two-hour solution" in his book, Train Your Brain for Success. This method requires spending, in Seip's words, "two hours each week for the purpose of mentally creating the next week of your life." You can help your team by affording them some uninterrupted, free time each week to evaluate how it's been going and how they can best schedule the coming days ahead.

7. Bring in the dogs (or cats).

Various studies and research have shown that a pet-friendly office can improve teamwork and job satisfaction. Benefits can include empoyees feeling more motivated and an overall boost in positive atmosphere and morale. Pets are also an excellent way for employees to get to know each other better. We have a dog named Zara that doubles as our office mascot. Anyone can take her to lunch or out shopping. If your company won't, or can’t, allow pets into your workplace, then at least encourage your team to look at some animal photos online. One study found that viewing cute animal pictures can increase attention to detail and overall performance.

Related: A Cheat Sheet for Productivity Hacks

8. Get rid of desks.

Research has found that sedentary lifestyles are linked to everything from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. To counter this, standing desks have become all the rage. Not only are they better for your health, but they’re also able to reduce anxiety and increase work performance. At the same time, standing all day can lead to more discomfort. So, what’s the solution? Maybe scrap desks altogether. Our office uses Varidesks that go up and down and tell us when we've sat too long. To me, standing all day would be a nightmare, and up-and-down desks have been a great alternative.

Not to mention, no less than Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Thomas Wolfe didn't rely on conventional desks. Christie would write wherever she could while sitting down. Wolfe stood up when writing and used objects, like his refrigerator, to lean against when needed. Others, such as Richard Wright, did all of his work from a bench in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park. And, as Truman Capote once told The Paris Review, "I can't think unless I'm lying down."

While you may not be able to get rid of desks completely, give your team some other alternatives, such as sitting on a bench, stool, exercise ball or kneeling desk. You could also consider investing in treadmill or bicycle desks, hammocks or the futuristic Altwork Station.

9. Try some aromatherapy.

As Entrepreneur contributor Lisa Evans once wrote for this very publication, “Aromatherapy probably isn't the first tool you think of to help boost your productivity and grow your business," but “smell is the strongest of the senses and is best able to influence brain activity.” As such, consider filling your workplace with scents like lemon, lavender, jasmine, rosemary, cinnamon and peppermint. These aromas can help calm people down while boosting energy and concentration. They also contain anti-viral, anti-bacterial,and anti-fungal properties, meaning they can strengthen immune systems.

10. Enliven the office with the sound of music.

Neuroscientists have found that playing a musical instrument is like giving your brain a complete workout, and thus musicians can solve problems more creatively and effectively and have higher-level executive functions for planning and strategizing. If you can’t have a jam session in your workplace, then at least allow your team to listen to music. If you don’t want to create a distraction, remind them to wear headphones.

Related: What and What Not to Avoid

11. Stop saying “good job” and “great job." 

Perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways to boost employee productivity is to recognize them for all of their hard work. However, this has to go beyond saying someone is simply “good” or “great” job. When offering praise, you want to be more specific so that they know exactly what they did that was so awesome.

Related: Thriving Cultures Are Built With Recognition and Praise

12. Let your team know it’s OK to procrastinate.

One of the most common productivity tips you’ve probably come across is starting your day with your most important task. Others call this “eating your frog.” Regardless of the terminology, the idea is to focus on your top priorities when you’re at peak productivity, which is usually in a.m. hours.

But sometimes you aren’t ready to devour that frog, no matter if you put the action at the top of your to-do-list or scheduled it into your calendar. And if you feel this way, you can bet your team is in the same boat. During times like these, cut everyone some slack. Encourage your team to straight-up procrastinate. Not by wasting time, but rather by working on something else, a strategy known as structured procrastination.

As productivity expert Walter Chen once put it, “You can take that feeling of, 'I’d rather do anything than this particular thing,' which sends you typically to sort the sock drawer or go on a Netflix spree, and use it as a force for productivity.”

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