A guide to improving business efficiency

A Changing Workplace

Finding the most efficient ways to work is an elusive challenge. As a business grows and technology continues to change, the processes and tools used within a workplace must also evolve.

In the past, these changes have tended to be incremental tweaks and improvements.

Since the arrival of digital communications, tools and processes, these changes have been radical and the benefits transformative - completely rewriting the way businesses are run...

It’s the failure of so many businesses to properly harness these changes which creates a situation in which more than a quarter of employees’ time is being lost to outdated and unnecessary administrative tasks.

This equates to 76 working days wasted during an average 48-week year.

This eye-opening stat was one of the key findings to emerge from a global study, commissioned by Webexpenses, which surveyed more than 5,000 office-based employees about their average working day.

What the data highlights, is just how much workplace inefficiency is entirely avoidable. It’s caused by a continued reliance on outdated paper-based processes and manual working methods that have no place in modern business.

This guide identifies six simple and achievable ways that any business can use digital processes, software and tools and to significantly improve the management and administration of a business.

Six Ways to Streamline Your Processes

1. Follow the paper trail

An effective way to start identifying areas of a business where efficiency improvements can be made, is to simply follow the paper trail. Any working processes that involve paper documents and the need to physically create, share and store paperwork, is an area that can be greatly improved.

The availability of cloud-based ways of managing information means that there’s no longer any need to rely on paper-based processes. Documents can be made instantly available without the need to physically post or distribute paperwork.

An example of this is the management of employee expenses. This an administrate area where a paper-based approach is still commonplace. The global study found that it takes an employee an average of 26 minutes to submit a claim using this method.

By switching to a digital process, claims can be created in a matter of minutes. A smartphone app is used to instantly convert a paper receipt into a digital form, creating a completely paperless process.

2. Automate trivial processes

The real efficiency gains delivered by technology come from automation of administrative tasks, jobs that have previously been managed manually. Traditionally, a large chunk of an office worker’s time has been spent having to input, process and transfer large amounts of data.

It’s the kind of mundane, slow and inefficient work where mistakes and errors are easily made. With digital tools, so many of these manual tasks can be replaced by fast, automated ways of managing information.

The most obvious example of this has been the shift accounting software and digital processes to automate tasks and remove so much of the administrative burden from finance teams.

3. Make it mobile

There’s no longer a need for a business to be restricted to a traditional office-based approach. Technology provides the flexibility to work in ways that are mutually beneficial to employers and employees.

Cloud-based services and tools allow employees to communicate with colleagues and to access work-related data and carry out administrative tasks from wherever they have an online connection.

Flexible hours and remote working are two powerful tools to help improve the efficiency and adaptability of a workforce. It’s also a forward-looking approach that helps to boost a company’s image and appeal to prospective candidates.

4. Empower your employees

Linked to more flexible ways of working, is the potential benefit that comes from delegating responsibilities. An individual employee now has the power to handle the kind of administrative tasks that were previously unthinkable.

An example of this is the changing way that business travel is being managed. This is a task that was once typically handled by an external agency or a dedicated internal department.

The ability to easily book accommodation and transport online means that more companies are allowing business travellers to manage their own arrangements. While having to work within certain policy limits, they are able to book and manage their own schedule.

Dedicated services are now available to simplify this process, helping employees to navigate through the multitude of different travel and accommodation options. It also allows search findings to be filtered to remove anything that falls outside of a company’s travel policy.

5. Rethink communications

Email and face-to-face meetings are the two traditional ways that businesses communicate internally. But the global research found considerable frustration caused by the inefficiency of these methods.

The biggest complaint was the time it takes for employees to manage a daily flood of messages arriving into their work inbox. It was also found that 28 minutes was lost in the average working day to meetings that workers found unnecessary and unproductive.

Despite the continued reliance on these two methods, there is now a much greater variety of different ways for a business to communicate. While face-to-face interactions remain important, workplace conversations can also be handled online with video, audio and text chats.

More businesses are exploring the use of social media-style tools to provide alternative ways for colleagues to interact. Services such as Slack allows the creation of different groups and forums, providing more control over how employees are able to communicate.

6. Create targets and goals

A major benefit of digital tools is the access they provide to accurate data on the performance of a business. The automated tracking of data allows the efficiency of various processes to be monitored in ways that aren’t possible with a paper-based approach.

The information can be used to set achievable targets and goals for employees, helping to accurately and fairly appraise performance. Combined with reporting tools, it also helps managers to identify patterns and trends over time.

Areas of inefficiency can be spotted early and tackled before they are allowed to become a long term drain on a company’s time and resources. Managers can get accurate feedback on the positive and negative consequences of any changes they make to a working process.

Summary: Adapting to Change

With the availability of simple and effective tools to streamline operations, why do so many businesses continue to rely on outdated methods? Why do companies persist with processes that contribute to more than a third of their workers’ time being wasted?

The main challenge posed by inefficiency is that it’s much harder to quantify than business elements that are clearly linked to specific financial losses. The consequences of inefficiency are more subtle, tending to remain hidden while affecting every area of operations.

As a consequence, such a fundamental aspect of business management - the day-to-day tools and processes used - has tended to lack adequate investment. More than a third (40%) of respondents in the global survey classed their company’s technology as being ‘woefully outdated’.

The flipside of this problem is that there are so many businesses that have the ability to dramatically increase their performance and efficiency with a relatively small investment in smarter technology and tools.