How to survive the holidays with your office productivity intact

Does Santa approve of your organization?
Does Santa approve of your organization?

It's that time of year again. The temperatures are dropping, holiday decorations are appearing, and your employees are daydreaming about gifts, vacation, and holiday feasts. In many industries, activity slows to nearly a halt as the holidays approach, meaning that this time of year has the potential to be particularly productive. Yet, distractions abound, and although employees are less busy with work, they may in fact be filling their time with online shopping and browsing for recipes.

So how can you motivate your team and keep the momentum moving forward? I won't sugar-coat the reality: it can be difficult to keep people on-task. With these tips, you can help your company remain productive while at the same time enjoying the delights of the season.

Reward behaviors you want to see

In college psychology classes, one of the first concepts that students learn is the concept of operant conditioning, which says that if you reward a behavior, it will increase. You can use this simple concept to increase productivity in your office, but the trick is to figure out the reward your team will find appealing. For example, I may consider fruitcake to be incredibly rewarding, but many others in the office may not agree.

A good place to start is by considering additional holiday vacation hours as a reward. Most employees, no matter how much they love their job, also want time off to spend with their friends and family. So, you might say that each time an employee meets the goals they've set for the week, they earn 2 extra hours of holiday vacation time. (In this scenario, you are rewarding your team weekly, which allows the positive behaviors to increase over time.)

If you can't afford extra days off, go straight to the source. Ask your team what would motivate them to work harder and commit to the reward. Then, outline what constitutes "productivity" and make the parameters crystal clear to your team, and make sure that you consistently deliver to those that produce. If what you're offering is more attractive than the temptation to surf the web, you can beat distraction before it begins.

Give them a break

Often employees can spend hours at a time sitting at their desks or standing in one spot, a quick recipe for boredom. And we know that at this time of year, boredom can easily lead to distraction. Recognize that slow days at the office are inevitable, and schedule frequent short breaks for your team to break up the day.

Research has shown that our bodies operate in 90-minute cycles and that forcibly working on a project for longer than 90 minutes can dramatically reduce productivity, so use this as a guideline for when to schedule breaks. If possible, encourage your team to take breaks together so that they can increase their social interactions, which is also good for morale. By acknowledging the realities of the average holiday-season work day, you can reduce the amount that distractions affect your team.

Spread the cheer

During the holidays, people love to give and receive. You can use this to your advantage by instituting an office holiday ritual that people can look forward to year after year. Consider the classic "Secret Santa" game, in which people draw names and then leave several anonymous gifts on each other's desks, culminating in a big reveal at the end of the year.

Or, if your team is keeping costs down, consider hosting a white elephant gift exchange party at the office. In this type of gift exchange, each person brings one wrapped gift (new or used, depending on the rules selected by the host) to the party. Everyone picks numbers out of a hat to determine who is the first to select a gift from the pile, and the first person gets to pick any present they want. The second person has the choice of either picking a different gift from the pile or taking the gift that the first person chose, leaving the first person to open another gift. This continues until all gifts have been chosen.

If you want to avoid the pressure of a gift exchange, consider an office potluck or even an ugly Christmas sweater-themed party. The point is to get your team together in a social situation that will give them something to look forward to, help them blow off steam, and strengthen social connections that will reflect in attitudes and behaviors in the office.

Games, not chores

No one wants to work on tedious projects, no matter what time of year, but unfortunately not every project can be delightful. How can you fix this problem? For the answer, look to the mobile app industry. They've made tedious tasks such as tracking daily food intake and counting steps fun by celebrating milestones much like a video game would, with badges or points. This is known as gamification. You can take this concept and apply it to your office.

Set up a white board that outlines milestones for employee projects, then as the milestones are reached celebrate by bestowing the employee with a "badge". This could be anything from an actual badge that the employee can pin to their clothes, to a quirky item for their desk that indicates their "level," or even illustrating their progress on the whiteboard against other employees in a sort of race. There are many ways to turn work into a game, use your imagination and instill excitement where there previously was none.

With extra time available during the holidays, you want to make sure that your team is making the best use of their time. Give these tips a try, and keep productivity where it belongs during the holiday season – with your team.

  • Margaret Lyons is the Customer Success Manager and Project Manager at InfoStreet at InfoStreet