How to Support Your Employees to Work Smarter, Not Harder

by Lauren Girardin on June 01, 2018

Most advice you’ll find about working smarter, not harder focuses on what an employee should do. But, optimizing their time and effort is not solely an employee’s responsibility, nor is it entirely within their control. Your agency plays an essential role.

Employees will not be able to quickly and efficiently do their jobs until your agency eliminates barriers that prevents employees from performing to their strengths. Bureaucracy, operational inefficiencies, culture issues, poor technology, and misguided management are all sources of barriers.

What barriers can you bust at your agency to help employees work smarter, not harder?

Hold shorter meetings

Stop holding hour-long meetings just because it’s the default event duration on your calendar software. To boost productivity and work smarter, establish new meeting norms at your agency. Begin by identifying the agenda, the decision maker, and who needs to attend. Then and only then decide how long the meeting needs to be. If your agency needs a default meeting length, make it 15 minutes or a half hour at most.

Focus employees on meaningful conversations

Meaningful conversations are ones that have a clear purpose. Change meeting norms to focus this valuable time on making decisions, offering each other help and ideas, and moving together toward specific outcomes. Even when work-focused conversations happen on the fly, everyone should know why they’re part of the conversation, and by its end, the value they can offer. Human resources can also coach managers to listen more than they talk, and engage employees by asking them questions.

Foster a culture of taking breaks

Employees who take frequent breaks are more creative, focused, and healthier and have the highest productivity. Encourage employees to work smarter by allowing them to take several breaks during the day. Human resources should keep an eye out for employees who don’t take breaks and determine the cause. It may be that their manager doesn’t take breaks either and has set an unhealthy example for their team.

Question inherited ways of working

Just because your agency has always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s any good. Better ideas come along, inefficiencies become evident, new skills are learned, and technology advances. Ask employees to look for opportunities to question and improve upon inherited systems and procedures. This could include automating a manual process, integrating a new technology solution, or streamlining an overly complex routine.

Move communications off of email

Emailing—or more specifically, over-emailing—is unproductive. According to research, 80% of email is a waste of time. The smarter way to use email is to think twice before hitting ‘send.’ If there isn’t a clear and specific reason to send the email, don’t. To be worth sending, each email should include one new action item, question, answer, or solution to a problem. Instead of emailing, pick up the phone, have a quick chat, or use a real-time messaging program like Slack.

Grant employees flexibility and autonomy

Employees who feel chained to their desk are more stressed and less productive. Some people are more effective in the morning and others late at night. Some need blocks of time free of distractions to do their best work. Some need schedule flexibility to manage their lives. Let employees choose to work when they’re able to be their most productive. Allow employees to telecommute, opt for a compressed workweek, or change their 9-to-5 to a 8-to-4 day.

Give employees continuous feedback

Continuous, real-time feedback is essential to helping employees improve their efficiency and productivity. When they receive continuous feedback, employees have a better grasp of what’s expected of them, how well they’re performing against those expectations, and the changes they need to make now to be more successful. Performance management software for government lets employees receive and quickly act on feedback so your entire agency works smarter, not harder together.

Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.