Business Productivity

Work smarter: 3 practical ways to increase productivity for your small business

Imagine how productive your small business would be if all your employees could focus on the essential work, collaborate easily, and have a healthy work-life balance.

However, with more of your team working remotely, you might have to rethink what productivity looks like. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 85 percent of business leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are productive.[i]

The study notes, “leaders need to pivot from worrying about whether people are working enough to helping them focus on the work that’s most important.”

In other words, productivity isn’t about working longer hours. It’s about focused prioritization of important tasks. Start with these simple, practical steps to help move your business forward—along with suggestions for measuring success and technologies to help.

  1. Set clear, specific, and achievable goals

According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, 81 percent of employees want leaders to help them prioritize their workload, but only 31 percent say leaders give clear guidance[ii]

One way to ensure that people prioritize effectively is by setting and sharing clear organizational goals. Goals enable you to measure and communicate progress easily—and adjust your approach if something isn’t working. By regularly reviewing and adjusting your goals, you can adapt to changes in customer needs or business conditions.

Here are a few ways to make goal-setting an effective tool for your business.

  • Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Following these standards helps keep ideas grounded and actionable.
  • Involve your team in the goal-setting process: When staff help set the goals, they have a stake in achieving them. Plus, collaboration brings forward new and valuable ideas.
  • Set both short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals help motivate the team with fast results. Long-term goals set the strategic direction and help you achieve big things.

To evaluate your progress on this productivity booster, consider this question: how many of your employees are aware of your business’s critical short- and long-term goals?

Get started by creating a channel in Microsoft Teams specifically for discussions about organizational goals. Or, if you have multiple employees, you can create a separate team in Microsoft Teams that serves as a working group for tracking goals.

  1. Eliminate distractions

It takes the average worker 23 minutes to become refocused after a distraction.[iii] That’s why helping people stay focused can contribute significantly to productivity.

More broadly, distraction-free time to focus and recharge helps employees complete challenging work, think creatively, and generate innovative ideas. For example, research shows that breaks between tasks and meetings help reduce stress.[iv] Here are some ideas for reducing distractions.

  • Implement time-management strategies: Coach your team in effective time-management methods, such as the Pomodoro Technique: work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. After four work periods, take a longer break of 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Use technology to block distractions: Empower employees to use settings and software to reduce distractions while working. For example, they can use apps to manage social media sites or set up a “do not disturb” mode on their phones to silence certain notifications during work hours.
  • Encourage and model healthy work/life balance: By setting clear boundaries around work time and personal time, staff gain time to recharge and can be more productive when they’re at work.

To evaluate whether you have a focus-friendly business, ask how many of your employees set at least 30 minutes of focus time daily.

To help them meet that goal, encourage them to update their presence status in Microsoft Teams. By letting teammates know when they are available, busy, or need to not be disturbed, they can block out time to focus on meaningful work.  

  1. Stay organized

When asked how technology would support their business goals over the next two to three years, efficiency was the top reason given by small and medium-sized businesses.[v]

Technology is critical to efficiency. Many small businesses still rely on manual or paper-based processes and documents. Others have digitalized their work but keep it siloed on disconnected devices. This can get in the way of collaboration and creativity.

The cloud helps you keep everything in one place and work together more effectively. Here are a few ways to improve organization and make your small business run more smoothly.

  • Use cloud-based file storage: Modern cloud storage provides one place for employees to find what they need while helping you keep information secure and backed up.
  • Share notes in one location: Using a cloud-connected notetaking app such as Microsoft OneNote can bring everyone together in one place to share ideas and capture information.
  • Work together in one document: Instead of emailing document versions back and forth, encourage employees to work on the same document stored in the cloud. Automating version control will keep track of edits.

Want to get a sense of your progress on document organization? Consider this question: how easily can employees access essential files from all the devices they use for work?

To ensure files are centrally managed and backed up, try Microsoft OneDrive. You can pin and unpin shared libraries for quick access, switch between libraries for different teams with a consistent experience, and securely move and copy files between locations.

Real productivity means achievement, not just activity

In an era of hybrid work, it’s more important than ever to keep staff on the same page and enable greater focus on the most critical work. By setting organizational goals, staying organized, and eliminating distractions, you can help each employee contribute their best toward the success of your business. Start small and keep it simple—you’ll see progress quickly.

Visit Microsoft Small Business Solutions to discover tools for your small business, access free training and resources, and connect with a product expert.



[1] Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?, Microsoft, 2022

[1] Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?, Microsoft, 2022

[1] Protect time with Viva Insights, Microsoft, 2022

[1] Research Proves Your Brain Needs Breaks, Brainwaves reveal sustained concentration in video meetings leads to fatigue, Study conducted in 2020, Microsoft Human Factors Lab.

[1]  SMB Voice and Attitudes to Technology Study, Microsoft small and medium business (SMB) voice and attitudes to technology study, 2022, page 29.


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