Whether you’re finalizing tax year 2018 corporate and individual extensions, meeting with clients, or already gearing up for next year’s tax season, finding ways to manage your staff’s productivity is key to getting more done. However, working smarter doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and you don’t have to sacrifice client service to get more done.
Here’s a simple checklist any firm of any size can implement:
- Be positive. Your staff will mimic your mood. Moods are contagious, and one overtired staff member can set the tone for everyone else to suddenly be exhausted! Be upbeat and cheerful, and you will get back the positive energy you give.
- Complete projects. Make sure your staff know their assignments, and teach them to complete their engagements or projects before moving on to something else. I find that starting and stopping a project can add more than 25 percent time to a project, so a prioritized to-do list really helps. In addition, make sure you are accessible to answer any questions.
- Walk around. When you walk around your office, you will most always get questions from your staff. The mystery of why they hadn’t yet sought you out for the answer to their questions is as mysterious as the pyramids. Nevertheless, seek out questions to get your staff productive and moving along.
- Follow the two-minute rule. Encourage them to follow the two-minute rule: If it can be done in two minutes, do it right away. Otherwise, more time is spent tracking a task than accomplishing it.
- Establish time budgets. Give your staff a time limit to spend trying to figure things out on their own before asking for help. Staff members need to know how long they should try something on their own to work through a problem before seeking help. Staff usually either ask a question the second they don’t understand something, or never ask a question until it is too late and hours are wasted. Being mindful and purposeful about giving them a time limit will help limit overall productivity drains.
- Turn off email notifications or pop-ups. Instruct your staff to turn off email pop-ups. They are distracting and can cause lack of focus on the project at hand. Popping in to each email diverts focus from the task being completed. Check your email periodically or with each coffee break to avoid missing important notifications, but don’t read each email as it is received.
- Mandate meetings have time frames and agendas. This one applies to staff and clients! Don’t call an in-person meeting or online call without an agenda and a time table, include only necessary attendees, and table an issue or assign it for research if the solution is not available during the meeting. Delegate follow-up tasks and specify who has action items.
- Give a morning hello. Establish a routine in the office for the morning hello. The regular morning diatribe of hello and “how was your night/weekend” can drag on and greatly reduces the time spent working. Instead, ask a simple question such as, “How was your weekend?” and then give a response, “I can’t wait to hear more about that at break or at lunch.” This will be the gentle reminder that now is not the time for an in-depth conversation, but a later break is.
- Implement a cell phone policy. Some staff will be addicted to their phones, but if their phone is not used for communicating within the office or with clients, then have the staff put their phones on silent and kept off work areas. Everyone has family and friends who may have an emergency or need a quick answer to a text, but stick to a policy on personal cell use and model this behavior for your staff.
- Feed your staff. Provide healthy food and snacks to dissuade energy crashes. The “I’m hungry” and “What’s for lunch?” chorus starts to sing in our office before 10 a.m. When we made snack crackers, nuts and fruits plentiful, productivity hit a new high.
Every office is different, so at the end of the day, you’ll want to create your own set of ways to be more productive. The bottom line is to get back potential time lost by implementing some simple yet practical solutions.
Editor’s note: What are some of the ways you boost your staff’s productivity? Leave a comment below to share your ideas with other tax professionals.