As I’m sitting here writing this article, it’s cloudy and wet outside and has been all week, as we have a yellow weather warning for the East Midlands that will continue into the weekend. However, when it’s gorgeous outside and I’m either in the office or working from my dining table at home, the last thing I want to do is remain cooped up inside and so will procrastinate over the work at hand.
A study from Captivate found that during the summer, workplace productivity can reduce by as much as 20 percent. Additionally, attendance dips (by as much as 19 percent), project turnaround times increase (by 13 percent), and people are more distracted, with 45 percent reporting they grapple with distractions. Needless to say, that’s not good for productivity and your business overall.
The good news is that as a leader, there are ways to keep yourself — and your employees — at more than reasonable productivity levels throughout the long days of summer. Here are six ways to start.
1. Throw norms by the wayside for a while
Obviously, you don’t want to disrupt all of your systems and processes. But the summer is a perfect time to shake things up and experiment with various motivation techniques.
The most glaring place to start is with scheduling. Instead of forcing your team to come in five days a week, offer more flexible schedules. For example, on Mondays, they can work from home. Or you can give them Fridays off so they have a three-day weekend all summer. This is ideal when your team has to worry about childcare, commuting daily in abrasive heat, or using personal days for long weekends. This has been found to be a useful working practice in Nordic countries, where long winters make the short summers even more precious and so staff value the opportunity to have a flexible arrangement to make the most of the longer summer days and sunshine.
All available European research finds that summer Fridays and flexible hours can actually boost productivity because people feel this contributes to a healthy work-life balance. To make sure you or your team don’t fall behind, ask if they would stay an hour later Monday through Thursday so they can have days off.
Besides changing schedules around a bit, consider relaxing the dress code so your team is more comfortable. Other ideas would be offering unique incentives and rewards for exceeding goals or showing your gratitude.
2. Schedule summer-related activities
Unless it’s brutal outside, most of us want to enjoy the outdoors during the summer. Why not make that happen for your employees? Have you ever heard of ‘walking meetings’ so everyone gets out of that stuffy meeting room. Doing so doesn’t just improve teammates’ moods; it’s also beneficial for their health and can spark creativity.
You could also plan for a number of summer-related activities to make the workplace more fun when everyone would rather be elsewhere. Examples include having a barbecue or ice cream social. Another option is to go on a group outing to a lake or park, participate in team-building activities, or volunteer in the community.
3. Change priorities
You have a question or need verification from a colleague or manager before proceeding. Unfortunately, the person you need is out on leave. What are you going to do?
“This may be a time of fewer distractions because of people being out,” Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, explains; “Capitalize on that by focusing on projects that require strategic thought and planning so you’ll be ready to proceed with your Autumn proposals at a time when the pressure cooker environment returns. You’ll be glad you took advantage of any lulls.”
4. Make the most of the summer slowdown
The summer is a great time to brainstorm, innovate and drive new initiatives. Inspire your colleagues to complete the proactive tasks they don't have time for during busier times of the year.
Additionally, the summer is a great time to allow your team to work on new projects or tackle responsibilities they’ve been itching to take on. For example, if an employee has expressed interest in contributing content to your company blog and social channels, let her go ahead and give it a try.
It is also a great time to encourage your team to take advantage of training and learning development opportunities, like attending a workshop or seminar. While it may not sound the most exciting, summer is also perfect for cleaning up the office and laying the groundwork for upcoming projects.
It is still not that unusual in manufacturing for organisations in the UK to have a two week shut down. Often this also leads to a slow down towards this in the weeks beforehand. This is particularly the case if the majority of your customer base are European, where August in particular is virtually written off as they take their holidays. The French in particular view August to be a complete shutdown.
5. Encourage everyone to use their time off
Both you and your employees need time away from work. As Kayla Sloan, a financial productivity expert, explains, this is because it will increase productivity, counterintuitive as that may sound. The reason? It prevents burnout, boosts creativity and provides opportunities to learn more. It also motivates us to do more in less time.
Encourage your team to take proper uninterrupted time away from work this summer. The most effective way to do this is to lead by example and take one yourself. But don’t skimp on employee holiday time. To make sure everything runs smoothly, stagger vacations so there are always enough hands on deck.
6. Develop a work coverage plan
Even though holidays should be encouraged, the sad truth is that employees aren’t using their allocated holiday days. Mainly this is because they are afraid they’ll return to a mountain of work and believe there’s no one else capable of doing their job.
The best way to address this is by having a work coverage plan. This is simply a template that outlines the priorities for each employee. It should also cover the tasks that are time-sensitive, as well as relevant contact information for emergencies. The entire team can take turns picking up some of their co-workers’ responsibilities so they can relax on vacation.
Overall the key message is that instead of fighting the allure of summer, or pretending that it doesn’t happen, look for innovative ways to enjoy the season with your colleagues. Most importantly, use the summer to lighten everyone’s workloads a little and catch up on some much-deserved holiday time. When everyone returns, they’ll be refreshed to keep forging ahead.
It does always seem counterintuitive, but I have been unable to find a single piece of research that indicates it is untrue. Creating a better work life balance overall is really important (see our blog on ‘Blended Working’), but even more so as the days are longer and hopefully the weather is better.
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