Make It

Don’t let the dog days of summer zap your office productivity

Businessman on the beach
Sharie Kennedy | Getty Images

While the office air-conditioner is probably keeping everything a crisp 65 degrees, you can't ignore the sun streaming through the windows making you long for days spent by the beach or the pool rather than your desktop. Add coworker vacation time, clients being out of town, summer Fridays and frequent "unplanned" absences, and productivity inevitably takes a major hit.

This annual "summer slump" also takes a toll on earnings. Nearly three-quarters of employers reported higher rates of unplanned absences on Mondays, Fridays, before public holidays, or before sporting or national events during the summer, according to a survey in the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The average productivity loss for such unplanned absences was nearly 37 percent. The average cost of all employee paid time off (that's vacation and sick days) was more than 20 percent of total payroll for the year!

Considering these statistics, the onus is on the management team to ensure that their staff remains focused and spends their time efficiently. Here are four tips that can help set the team on the right track:

1) Encourage employees to learn a new skill. It's easy for employees, from entry level to senior managers, to watch the clock during quieter summer days as they yearn to be outside. Rather than wasting this downtime, encourage employees to seize the day and learn a new skill or enhance performance in areas that may need improvement.

However, leading by example is key, so managers should consider establishing an official companywide training initiative (i.e. a "master class" in Excel or a "Delegating 101") so that employees can collaborate with one another.

2) Schedule a brainstorming session. As many as 93 percent of American workers spend 25 percent or less of their work day brainstorming creative ideas or working on new business leads, according to a recent survey we did in conjunction with research firm YouGov.

Without creativity, a company could find itself stuck in a rut, so make the most of these slow summer days while clients and customers are also on vacation and set up a brainstorming session.

3) Give employees more responsibility. Summer downtime is also an excellent opportunity to boost employees' confidence by entrusting them with more responsibility. Increasing employee accountability is a surefire way to motivate employees to produce their best work.

4) Do an inventory of your staffing situation. If a business is losing profit as a result of the summer slowdown, perhaps it's time to take a closer look at the funds reserved for hiring full-time employees.

Modern office environments are starting to employ more freelancers or virtual assistants (a self-employed person who provides administrative assistance while working remotely or from a home office) without expending an enormous amount of resources. Some entrepreneurs are finding that it makes more sense to have a core team and then entrust the rest to on-demand skilled workers in the areas where help is required, versus employing multiple people who are not individually efficient. However, virtual assistants should be considered a supplement to the central team, not a substitute.

At the end of the summer, people will return from vacation, Friday hours will revert back to 9-5 and productivity should return to a steadier rate. But hopefully, if you play your cards right in the last week of summer, productivity won't take too big of a hit.

Commentary by Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder and CEO of virtual-assistant service Time etc. Follow him on Twitter @blashbrooke.

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