Whether people are working from home, in offices, or in some sort of hybrid model, businesses are always looking to boost productivity—how many goods or services a worker can produce or provide on an hourly basis.
There's been a lot of movement already: U.S. workers are collectively 164% more productive at work than they were in 1948, according to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute.
But there are signs that there may be limits to what worked in past decades: In 2022, U.S. worker productivity dipped the most it has since the 1980s as inflation lowered real hourly wages by more than 3% year over year in the third quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
ClickUp analyzed leading research as well as nonpartisan studies from the last decade and compiled a list of methods that have the potential to assist workers in reaching peak productivity while working.
Raising the minimum wage—the U.S. average living wage was $24 an hour in 2022—has been a key method over the past 10 years for companies seeking to improve productivity rates.
While several states and Washington D.C. have increased their minimum wage in recent years, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009. Over roughly that same time, from 2007 to 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that workers' productivity increased by an average of 1.4% a year.
"Nationally, labor productivity grew slightly faster than compensation," the BLS reported. So while pay didn't always increase accordingly, workers were more productive. But companies, especially at a time of record corporate profits, have an opportunity to do better, by surprising workers with raises.
A 2018 report from Harvard Business Review said that "research … has found that when a company gives unexpected pay increases, workers often reciprocate [the gesture] by working harder than is required (even if they don't worry about getting fired)."
Part of the research includes a 2016 Management Science study that notes "unexpected gifts" generate a worker's reciprocity to their company and motivates them to stay at a good-paying job—as long as those higher-paying jobs keep paying more than their competitors.
Workers who feel energized and excited about their work—something often measured as employee engagement—are associated with higher performance, a more dedicated work ethic, and staying longer at the company, according to management consulting firm Qualtrics.
Gallup found an 18% increase in productivity in sales when employees were engaged at work or became involved and enthusiastic in their work and workplace. But the company's polling also found that just 33% of U.S. employees felt engaged at work in 2022.
One way to increase engagement—and, in turn, productivity—is to ask workers to track their own outputs. For knowledge workers in particular—people like software developers, writers, and researchers—tracking their own efforts can boost productivity by helping them "understand and reflect on how they spend their time," according to a 2019 academic study.
It has long been known that open offices hurt productivity by providing workers with lots of distractions and interruptions. An academic study published in 2020 found that workers in private offices performed 14% better than employees in open-plan offices on a cognitive task.
Indeed, the rise of remote work during the pandemic led to claims—and evidence—that workers were more productive, with less commute time, more control over their environments, and more time to focus on their own work without dealing with a room full of colleagues.
Of course, one way employers can keep productivity up is to continue to allow people to work from home. But if some workers have to be in the office at least some of the time, employers can still keep their output high by providing private offices and considering compensation for the time or costs spent commuting to work.
We've all been there. "This meeting could have been an email" is as much of a meme as it is a serious critique of time management. It is useful for team members to check in with each other about progress on shared efforts, and get updates on people's priorities, schedules, and availability.
To accomplish those goals without making everyone sit around a table or gather virtually on a Zoom call, researchers suggest setting up a work Slack channel with conversational prompts, set at the same time each day. In general, fewer meetings do lead to more productivity, according to Harvard Business Review research.
Another way to reduce the likelihood of meetings is to declare companywide days without meetings—not for supervisors, managers, high-level executives, or even with clients. A 2022 MIT Sloan Management Review study found that one meeting-free day a week increased productivity and helped them feel less stressed and less micromanaged.
Other benefits to no-meeting days include extended time for focusing on tasks and encouraging everyone to think more carefully about meetings so that when they do occur, they can be more "specific, efficient, and accountable," according to corporate management consultant Gordon Jenkins.
This story originally appeared on ClickUp and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.