Office Productivity

Productivity in the workplace is affected by a number of different things.

Being aware of common barriers to productivity in the workplace, as well as engaging with advice on how to boost your productivity to above average levels, can be extremely beneficial to your business outcomes.

Here are five things that all businesses should be thinking about:

1. Motivating Staff

More motivated staff equate to a more productive company. Adequate remuneration is an important factor in job satisfaction (and staff retention).

However, there are a lot of other important contributors to job satisfaction, including an appropriate system of reward and recognition.

Ensuring that workplace complaints are heard and seriously considered is another significant factor in staff motivation. Additionally, increasing individual accountability for tasks will improve work ethic and increase people's sense of achievement.

2. Expanding Skill Sets

There are a lot of advantages to rotating employee tasks wherever possible. Your staff will develop a more diverse skill set, people will feel that they are making career progression and it will increase employee engagement.

Assigning one staff member as a trainer or mentor to others who will be learning skills from them is a great way to demonstrate your confidence in someone, while simultaneously giving you an opportunity to evaluate their leadership skills before a promotion.

3. Digital Organisation

With so many workplaces having become paperless it is now easy to feel that your office is an organised environment. However, digital clutter can be an issue when servers and hard drives become a disorganised mess.

If staff have difficulty locating documents or programs this can be a significant barrier to productivity. Additionally, it creates a sense of disorder that can impact their perception of management.

Organising the company's digital work place, and encouraging individual staff members to be similarly organised, can go a long way in improving your productivity.

4. Productivity Software

There are a lot of new productivity software products and apps that are designed specifically for the workplace. Some of these are even created for specific industries and/or roles.

Examples of helpful software products or apps include digital time trackers, to do lists, productivity monitors and project management software.

Remaining aware of new workplace productivity software, especially if it is an industry specific development, will ensure that you maintain your competitive edge.

If you do go ahead with purchasing productivity software, ensure that you provide staff with adequate training in using it.

5. Scheduling Communication

Returning phone calls and responding to emails is not just time consuming, it can also be extremely bad for employee productivity. Constant interruptions break people's concentration and can be very distracting.

By encouraging your staff to have specific times each day that they return phone calls and emails you can improve the productivity and concentration of your staff.

Collecting Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is a great source of learning for any business looking to improve their competitive edge.

Formalising your customer feedback can help you to assess your current products/services, give you valuable insights into the way customers perceive your brand, and even guide you in future product development.

Unfortunately, the task of gathering customer feedback can be onerous and confusing. It is extremely important that your collection methods will not irritate customers, as this may potentially damage your brand.

Furthermore, you want to make the prospect of responding as enticing as possible because every piece of feedback is valuable.

Here are some important things to consider when collecting customer feedback:

1. Clarify Your Objectives

You should always have a specific goal in mind when collecting customer feedback. For example, gauging customer's satisfaction with a particular product.

Blindly asking customers for their general opinions is likely to lead to confusion, both for you and your respondents. A specific goal will also ensure that your questionnaire is short, increasing the likelihood that people will complete it and also reducing the possibility of annoyance.

2. Use Your Staff

Before finalising the contents of your survey, ask your staff for their opinions on what you should include. Often your frontline staff will have valuable input into what they think would be the most useful feedback.

An added advantage of this is that it will increase your employees' sense of ownership in the company by showing them that you value their input.

3. Consider The Best Medium

If you want to host your customer feedback online then the sheer number of social media and survey software options available to you can be daunting.

When selecting an online feedback channel you should consider three things. First, determine the degree of functionality you require. There is no point paying for features you do not need. Second, assess the extent to which the software visually represents your branding (some of the inexpensive versions can look cheap). Finally, you should decide whether you want the feedback to be one directional (they provide you with responses) or an open dialogue.

4. Wording Your Questions

Wording your questions and/or statements can be tricky. If your questions are deliberately leading or loaded, they are likely to irritate or even offend your respondents. Take care to avoid double barrelled questions as this can lead to confusion.

It is also important to ensure that you have not accidently assumed a degree of knowledge that the respondent might not have. For example, 'Do you consider our new website to have improved functionality?' assumes the customer was familiar with the old website.

5. Thank Your Respondents

A common complaint about providing customer feedback is that it was time consuming and that people feel that their opinions were not valued.

Something as simple as a generic thank you email or notification that they have been entered into a prize draw can make all the difference to a customer who has just given up their valuable time to help you.

Additionally, providing respondents with details about action that will be taken as a result of their feedback is an excellent way to promote your company as being proactive in meeting customer needs.

Updating Your Insurance

Many businesses simply renew their existing insurance policies each year. This can be a costly mistake.

You may be paying unnecessarily high premiums based on out dated information, miss out on a better deal that has become available, or have failed to cover your business against new risks that have arrived with growth.

Here are some things for you to consider before you next update your insurance policy:

Using A Broker

Deciding whether or not to use an insurance broker is an important decision.

The more complex your business is the more likely you are to benefit from the expertise of a broker. A good broker is aware of which insurance companies excel in specific areas, and will be able to customise the best possible package of products to suit your needs.

It is also common for brokers to be influential in persuading an insurer to approve your policy. If you are a member of any professional associations it is a good idea to seek out any recommended brokers.

You may benefit from an associated discount and the broker will likely have a sound understanding of needs specific to your industry.

Recording Your Assets Accurately

Ensuring that the information you provide to your insurance company is completely up-to-date and includes all of your relevant information is extremely beneficial. Regularly cross-checking your list of assets with what you actually have will ensure that you are not paying unnecessarily high premiums to cover things you no longer own.

Consistently updating the value of assets that are depreciating will also help to bring down your premiums. For example, it is common for businesses to be paying to cover the value of a brand new car when its value is actually now significantly reduced.

Good Risk Management

It is well known that a robust risk management plan is the best way to protect your business. What many businesses overlook is that a good risk management plan can also significantly reduce your insurance premiums.

If you have updated or improved your risk management systems then you should let your insurance provider know, as it may change the risk category in which you are placed. Additionally, over time a good safety record will significantly reduce your premiums.

Harris Black's - Top 10 Business & Management Books

This month the Harris Black team have put their heads together to come up with the Harris Black's Top 10 Business & Management Books. Happy reading everyone!

  1. Eat That Frog - Brian Tracy - Purchase this Book
  2. The One Minute Managers – Spencer John and Ken Blanchard - Purchase this Book
  3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey - Purchase this Book
  4. Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less - S.J. Scott - Purchase this Book
  5. Purple Cow - Seth Godin - Purchase this Book
  6. Good to Great - Jim Collins - Purchase this Book
  7. Inspiring Courageous Leaders - Mandy Holloway - Purchase this Book
  8. How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie - Purchase this Book
  9. The E-Myth Manager – Michael E Gerber - Purchase this Book
  10. Conflict Management – Baden Eunson - Purchase this Book

Learning To Delegate

Learning to delegate tasks and responsibilities can be a challenging adjustment for many leaders and business owners.

While it is tempting to try to maintain control over all aspects of your business there comes a time when there are simply not enough hours in the day. Effective and well executed delegation can add considerable value to your business.

The most significant advantage is that once you have delegated some of your responsibilities to others you will be able to truly apply yourself to the more pressing or complex tasks that require your attention.

Additionally, you will be increasing the skill set of your staff members. This is not only beneficial for the business but also gives your employees a sense of pride and career progression.

Delegating a task to someone is also a fantastic opportunity to assess their potential for leadership or promotion. One of the most important aspects of learning to delegate is choosing the right person. You should consider their capacity to work independently, their interests and ambitions within the company, and whether or not the new responsibility will put a strain upon their current workload.

It is important to explain to the person the reasons why you have chosen them, as well as the value in the delegated task.

This will demonstrate your appreciation for their efforts. You need to make sure that you have set aside adequate time to train them to do the new task.

It is also important to avoid the temptation to watch over their shoulder and micro-manage. Instead, set them a time frame and when the task is completed give them your full and honest feedback.

Once they have completed the task several times, if you are satisfied with their performance, you should sit down with them and discuss how the task can be incorporated into their regular responsibilities. It may be necessary for you reduce their current workload.

You should also ensure that they feel sufficiently rewarded. While increased remuneration in the form of a salary increase or bonus may be unfeasible, taking them to lunch or sending an office wide acknowledgment of thanks can go a long way.

Craig James Economic Update

Harris Black and NewLeaf hosted a successful seminar with key note speaker Craig James from Commsec. Thank you to those clients who took time out of their busy schedules to attend.

Craig delivered a concise and up-to-date dissection of the current economic situation which he believes has a positive outlook - in Craig's own words "things aren't that bad".

To recap, here is a snapshot of Craig's short-term forecasts:

Managing Social Media Risks

While the excitement surrounding social media has deservedly taken the marketing world by storm, it is important to remember that this new communication platform brings with it a range of new risks to businesses.

Damage to your brand or reputation is a potential risk posed by social media. This may come from your own activity, the activity of your employees on their personal social media sites or from negative customer feedback.

These risks can never be fully eliminated. However, there are steps you can take to prepare and protect your business.

Reminder – Employer Superannuation Obligations

From the 1st of July 2014 employers are required to pay 9.5% (up from 9.25%) super guarantee for their employees.

Some other key tips to remember when dealing with employee super are:

  1. You must allow your employee's to choose their own superfund. Use the ATO Standard Choice Form and don't attempt to influence your employee's choice of superannuation fund.
  2. Make sure you are paying super on all the employee's income. For superannuation purposes contributions are set as a percentage (9.5% from 1 July 2014) of regular "Ordinary Times Earnings". This includes the employee's regular wage plus any shift loadings, commissions, paid leave and some allowances.
  3. Remember that some contractor may be considered employee for superannuation purposes and you may be required to pay their superannuation guarantee. For further information on whether a worker is an employee or contractors read here.  

It is important to have a comprehensive social media policy that all of your employees are familiar with. Your policy should cover use of personal social media sites during office hours, a code of conduct for employees who have identified their employer on social media, guidelines for discussing competitive information and rules regarding using company handsets to access social media sites (as this can potentially pose a data breach).

It is also advisable to prepare to deal with an unhappy customer on a social media site. With any luck you'll never have to put your plan into action but it always pays to be prepared.

While dealing with an unhappy, sometimes even unreasonable, customer in such a public space can be difficult, situations like these are a great opportunity to demonstrate your company's attentiveness, transparency and commitment to customer service.

ATO Debt Collection Approach Under Review

The Inspector-General of Taxation, Mr Ali Noroozi, has announced that he will review the ATO's approach to debt collection. To facilitate his review, Mr Noroozi has called for interested parties to submit comments. Public consultation closes on 18 July 2014.

"Despite the ATO's debt assistance programs, its approach to collecting taxes has been a persistent source of taxpayer complaint", Mr Noroozi said. He noted that the ATO's approach to collecting debts accounted for 23% of all ATO-related complaints received by the Commonwealth Ombudsman in 2012–2013.

Furthermore, Mr Noroozi said some stakeholders believe that the ATO has recently taken a firmer approach to debt collection despite continuing economic pressures, while others are of the view that the ATO allows debts to accumulate for too long before taking action.

New ATO Approach To Identifying SMSF Risks

Trustees of self managed superannuation funds (SMSFs) need to be aware of how the ATO gathers information about them in order for the ATO to assess whether their SMSF poses a tax compliance risk, and how the ATO may respond if it perceives a risk.

The ATO has recently announced that it will take a new risk-based approach to how it treats auditor contravention reports (ACRs). This approach will be based on the overall risk posed by the SMSF. Using new risk models, the ATO will analyse multiple indicators of possible non-compliance, including regulatory and income tax matters, information from the SMSF annual return, ACRs and other data such as trustee and member records. The ATO will then use this information to determine appropriate actions to take regarding each SMSF.

The ATO has also reminded SMSF trustees that from 1 July 2014 it will have more flexibility in how it deals with SMSFs that breach the super law – including new powers to issue penalties. The ATO says that SMSF trustees should therefore rectify any contraventions of the law as soon as possible, or have plans in place by 1 July 2014 to do so.

TIP: While the new SMSF trustee penalties start from 1 July 2014, the ATO has noted that contraventions of the law (such as loans to members or relatives) that exist on 1 July 2014 will come under the new penalty regime.

Individual Working Overseas Not A Tax Resident

An individual has been successful before the AAT in arguing that he was not a "resident" of Australia for tax purposes for the 2009 and 2010 income years. This was despite being an Australian citizen, maintaining an Australian bank account for his salary, and retaining his house in Queensland.

During the years in question, the taxpayer had signed up with a company to work on a project in Saudi Arabia. The project was expected to last three years and the taxpayer had an expectation that upon completion of the project, he would move on to another project located in Saudi Arabia.
In making various findings of fact, the AAT largely accepted the taxpayer's evidence. It said that the taxpayer's presence in Saudi Arabia "was hardly casual or passing". The AAT accepted that the taxpayer had formed an intention to make Saudi Arabia his home for the duration of the project and beyond.

TIP: This case demonstrates that proving tax residency requires a detailed examination of various facts, and the weighing up of those facts, to come to a conclusion that an individual is (or is not) a tax resident. It also demonstrates the importance of having corroborating evidence to prove the taxpayer's case.

New Integrity Rule Targeting Dividend Washing

The government has proposed to amend the law to introduce an integrity rule that will curtail taxpayers' ability to obtain a tax benefit from "dividend washing".

Broadly, "dividend washing" is a scheme that allows a taxpayer to obtain multiple franking credits in respect of a single economic interest by selling the interest after an entitlement to a franked dividend has accrued and then immediately purchasing an equivalent interest with a further entitlement to a corresponding franked dividend. The amendments, once formally enacted, are proposed to apply with effect from 1 July 2013.

Administrator Of Deceased Estate Breached Duty

The Supreme Court of Queensland has ruled that an administrator of a deceased estate breached her fiduciary duty by applying for her deceased son's superannuation benefits to be paid to her personally, rather than on behalf of his estate.

The Court had granted the woman Letters of Administration over her son's estate after he died, aged 40, intestate and without a spouse or children. However, she applied to her deceased son's superannuation funds for any death benefits to be paid to her personally.

The deceased's father (the woman's ex-husband) submitted that she had allowed a conflict of interest to occur by seeking the superannuation death benefits for herself personally. In finding against the woman, the Court ordered that she transfer all of the superannuation death benefits in dispute (approximately $450,000) to the son's estate, where it would be shared equally with her former spouse under the rules of intestacy.

Tax Debt Release On Serious Hardship Grounds Refused

In a recent case, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) refused an individual's application to be released from his tax debt of $58,000 on the grounds of serious hardship.

The AAT noted that no explanation was offered for the taxpayer's failure to meet his tax liabilities as they arose. The AAT said that instead of paying what it considered to be manageable tax assessments, the taxpayer "largely ignored his tax liabilities over the last five or six years, and has allowed the amounts due to accumulate with interest".

TIP: The Tax Commissioner has a discretion to release individuals from eligible tax debts. However, even if the Commissioner is satisfied that serious hardship would result from payment of the tax debt, he is not obliged to exercise the discretion in the taxpayer's favour.

Broadly, serious hardship is said to exist when payment of a tax debt would leave an individual unable to provide basic living necessities for themselves and their dependants. Ultimately, it is a question of fact whether payment of an eligible tax liability would result in serious hardship – and the onus is on the taxpayer to prove their case before a tribunal.

GST Credits For Property Development Project Managers Denied

Two taxpayers have been denied GST input tax credits they had claimed in respect of purported acquisitions made in relation to property developments. The Commissioner had refused the taxpayers' claims for input tax credits on the basis that neither taxpayer carried on an enterprise.

The AAT heard from the taxpayers that they were "principal contractors" in relation to the property developments. However, the AAT said that exactly what the "principal contractors" did in respect of the properties remained the subject of "quite profound mystery".

It said that an entity is not a "project manager" simply because someone says it is. Further, the AAT said that to carry on an enterprise, an entity must "do" something, and that in this case, the AAT was unable to identify the activity that the taxpayers were doing in respect of the properties.

TIP: This case demonstrates the need for multiple parties, and in particular related parties, who are involved in large property development projects to clearly articulate and document the role of each party and the agreements they have with each other, particularly if one party intends to seek GST input tax credits.

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