Updated May 15, 2020

Are your back-office operations functioning as efficiently as they should be? Maybe you’re unsure. Or perhaps, you’ve got a good idea that they’re in need of improvement, but you’re not sure where to begin, so you put off addressing it. Or, worse yet, you convinced yourself that it’s not that bad. According to market research firm IDC, as reported in Entrepreneur companies lose 20-30% in revenue every year due to inefficiencies. There are some basic things that we do at our workplaces that cause inefficiencies. Here’s a look at some of the top causes of inefficiency and low productivity in your back-office — and steps you can take to address them.

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Too Much Email

A survey by Adobe found that the average white-collar worker spends six hours per day checking email — this totals to 30 hours per week checking email. Pointing out the obvious here, but all this email checking means less time actually getting work done.

An article in Harvard Business Review by Cal Newport explained that one of the negative impacts of email in the workplace is “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking. Humans are not wired to exist in a constant state of divided attention, and we need the ability to gain distance from work to reflect and recharge.”

Obviously, email still has a purpose and is not going away. But there are ways to reduce the amount of time your team spends checking email and help increase productivity. Here are some options to consider:

  • Think twice about hitting that reply all button. Also, give some thought on the recipients rather than Cc’ing everyone. Be selective about choosing recipients.
  • Consider using instant messaging tools like Skype or Cisco Jabber. This method allows for getting a quick response without filling up your inbox.
  • Designate periods to focus on actual work. During this time, mute email (and IM) notifications. It may help to block out this time on your calendar to ensure it happens and inform others not to interrupt.

Meeting Mania

In a 2018 survey by Salary.com, 47% of U.S. workers cited “too many meetings” as the top time-waster. According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, “the average employee spends approximately six hours per week in scheduled meetings,” and “senior managers attend nearly 23 hours of meetings every week.

Just like email, meetings are an essential part of the workplace. Meetings are an effective method to discuss and plan work, collaborate on projects, solve issues, communicate company updates, and many other things. However, meetings can also be the bane of an employee’s existence. Here are some ways to improve the effectiveness of meetings:

  • Set clear goals for each meeting, prepare and share an agenda, and ALWAYS end meetings with a summary of decisions and action items.
  • Leverage video conferencing tools such as WebEx or Zoom, allowing employees who work remotely or in the field to dial in versus commuting or traveling into the office.
  • Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack are a great way to tackle projects and communicate in place of a meeting.

Poorly Implemented Business Processes

Research from BPTrends (opens in a PDF) found 54% of organizations only occasionally document processes and keep them up to date. Frequently firms struggle with finding the right balance with their business processes. There’s either too many processes or too few processes. While the former fosters a burdensome environment and the latter creates a disorganized free-for-all, in either scenario, they both result in operational inefficiency. Here are several ideas to help improve your business processes:

  • Clearly document the elements of the process, including its goal, when does it start and end, the tasks required, and what departments/employees are included.
  • Set up periodic audits of your processes looking for areas in need of optimization, such as examining methods currently used and removing nonessential steps.
  • Consider automating processes or steps of a process with business process automation tools. Automating processes and workflows allows you to streamline the processes that run your business, offering greater efficiency, productivity, and, ultimately, cost savings.
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