Improving workplace productivity tops the list of business concerns in small to midsized companies, according to a 2017 research report. Telling employees to “worker harder” or “work faster” will do little to improve their productivity. Even if they do increase the quantity of their work, it might be at the expense of its quality.

A better approach is to free up more time for employees to do their jobs and give them the tools and knowledge they need to efficiently perform their work. Toward that end, here are four ways you can help improve productivity in your business:

1. Use Email Responsibly

Email is an important communication tool in most businesses. However, email overload can seriously hamper productivity. Employees send and receive an average of 122 business emails each day — and this number is expected to rise to 126 emails per day by the end of 2019. Adding to the problem is the fact that employees tend to look at each email shortly after it arrives. Although it might not take them long to scan or read an email, it disrupts their concentration, which further hurts their productivity. It takes employees an average of 64 seconds to recover from the interruption and return to their normal work rate.

Given the disruption that emails can cause, consider doing the following:

  • Avoid sending emails about matters that are not important to business operations, and encourage employees to do the same. For instance, while it might be nice that your company donated money to a local charity, this information is best shared through other communication channels and not via email.
  • Avoid sending emails to everyone in a contact group (a.k.a. distribution list) if only certain individuals in that group need the information. While it is easier to enter a contact group in an email message’s “To” field, take the time to enter the intended recipients’ names or addresses.
  • Discourage employees from using their work email account for personal emails. One way to do this is to implement an email policy.
  • Encourage employees to set aside a block of time once or twice a day to go through all their emails instead of reading each email as it comes in. When using this approach, it is a good idea to turn off email notifications to avoid the temptation of taking a quick peek at incoming messages.
  • Make sure your email solution is filtering out spam. Besides being a productivity sink, spam can present a security risk.

2. Keep Meetings to a Minimum

Sadly, the saying “A meeting is an event at which minutes are kept and hours are lost” often holds true. Meetings can eat away at employees’ workdays, often with nothing gained from attending them. A survey found that employees consider meetings the single biggest waste of time at work.

Reducing the frequency and duration of meetings can free up employees’ time. Here are some guidelines to follow when it comes to conducting meetings:

  • Do not hold a meeting unless you have to. This includes rethinking regularly scheduled meetings. For instance, if the issues discussed at a weekly meeting are not pressing, perhaps the meeting could be held only once or twice a month.
  • Invite only those people who really need to attend. You can send a memo or email to anyone else who simply needs to be kept in the loop.
  • Keep meetings short. If at all possible, keep them under an hour.
  • Have a limited agenda. That way, you won’t try to tackle too much in one meeting. Be sure to distribute the agenda to attendees in advance so they can be prepared for the meeting.

3. Invest in Technology

There are many technologies that can increase productivity in a workplace. For example, collaborative applications can help employees be more productive, especially in companies that have offices in multiple locations. Similarly, employees who travel a lot might benefit from having laptops or smartphones, as they will be able to work when they have some downtime (e.g., waiting for their flights to depart).

Besides providing employees with the technology they need, it is important to make sure it works well. Having to use an application that often freezes or a laptop with connectivity issues will hurt productivity and frustrate employees.

4. Invest in Your Staff

In addition to investing in technology, it is a good idea to invest in your staff. Giving employees opportunities to improve their existing skills or develop new ones will enable them to perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

Equally important, providing training and education can also help your business retain staff. Employees who feel they cannot advance professionally in their companies are more apt to search for employment elsewhere. Since existing employees know the nuances of their jobs, they will be more productive than new hires. Thus, retaining your current staff can help guard against a productivity decline. Plus, having to recruit and train new employees can cost far more than giving current employees additional training or schooling.