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In fact, doing what they are currently doing, only faster, is unlikely to make them much more productive. It may even cause more problems because they are probably not approaching their work in the most effective way. They will be finding this unrewarding and frustrating, so don’t worry about reactions when you introduce ideas to improve productivity - your staff will almost certainly respond positively.
Use the Task and Finish method to get jobs done. Encourage staff to find a quiet area away from the phone and email, and to stay there until the task is done. You can use this technique to run mini-projects as well. Assemble a team for a day, tell them the results you want and let them focus on doing just this one task.
Switching off everyone’s email and phone for a period isn’t really practical for smaller businesses, who need to be available for their customers.
But you can structure your staff roles so that instead of everyone being constantly interrupted by calls and mail, they take turns at covering incoming mail and phone requests, whilst others carry out offline tasks.
After all, when you give inexperienced staff the task of managing their own mail, you are asking them to make constant decisions as to the criticality of what’s coming in. It may be far more productive (and less risky) to get an experienced member of staff to “triage” - that is to direct emails and tasks to more junior staff members.
There’s a famous internet abbreviation: TL; DR. It means “Too Long; Didn’t Read”. When someone sends you a great long chain of complicated and wordy emails, you may not feel able to reply “TL; DR”, much as you might like to. But if you’re a business owner, you have a right to delegate in the context of an internal email.
So delegate reading the email chain by replying to the sender along the lines of “Could you summarise any issues I need to know about?” Because that’s what you pay them to do isn’t it?
Much of the mail that clogs up people’s inboxes is not actually addressed to them. The dreaded “cc” is used for everything, from proving to the boss that Fred was still at work at 7pm, to trying to impress colleagues with how important he really is.
You can ask staff not to cc people, but to set up common folders, with agreed topic titles that everyone can access if they need to. Delete all emails you don’t actually need to do the job, or if you’re not sure about getting rid of them, file them in the folder system. However, if you can write a fast response, do it straight away - it will take you longer to try and fish the email out later.
Difficult logistical, policy, risk management or business decisions are rarely best dealt with by email - it is quicker to meet. However teleconferencing is more cost-effective than bringing dispersed staff together in a physical space. Make sure your staff know how to do this, and are aware of the benefit it brings the business.
Make sure everyone knows what’s important to the business, and how they can contribute. This enables your staff to allocate their attention more effectively and ensures that everyone is travelling in the same direction.
Got a question you can't answer? Our Start-up Business Advice line agents will answer a whole range of business questions through our dedicated, unlimited use helpline.