Knowing how to reduce downtime can help you minimize productivity losses during slowdowns. We reached out to business leaders for tips on managing downtime.
Here are 8 of the top answers we received. We’re including answers from leaders in the manufacturing industry, where downtime can be especially expensive, as well as representatives from other business sectors. Take the tips that apply to your business model.
1. Monitor Efficiency to Identify Downtime Contributors
Proactive prevention can be an effective strategy for reducing downtime, said Gavin Johnson, managing director at EV Cable Shop, a supplier of electric vehicle charging cables. He said “facilities work like well-oiled machines, so when one section fails, it can have long-term consequences in other parts” of the operation.
To prevent this, he recommends monitoring efficiency throughout your facility to identify factors that are contributing to downtime in different departments. Managers then can communicate directly with operators to isolate and correct downtime contributors.
“A thorough examination of the facility’s efficiency will aid in identifying the source of downtime in certain departments and will provide a clearer picture of what needs to be done to rectify the situation,” Johnson said.
2. Schedule Maintenance During Slow Times
If your business has planned downtime, this provides an excellent opportunity to schedule maintenance, said Patrick Crane, chief executive officer of Love Sew, a provider of sewing equipment. “My main technique for reducing downtime is scheduling any necessary maintenance during the off-peak seasons for my business,” he said. “During such times, I can reallocate labor to help with the maintenance, ensuring that my employees are as productive as possible when business is slow.”
This strategy has the added benefit of reducing the likelihood of maintenance issues arising during busy times.
“Using this strategy also minimizes the potential for disruption when business activity is at its peak,” Crane said. This method can work especially well for businesses that run on a seasonal cycle.
3. Intercept Repair Issues in Real Time
In addition to planning preemptive maintenance, Crane gave us another tip on using automation to handle repair issues efficiently when they arise. He recommended using automated tools to detect and send out alerts immediately when a repair issue occurs.
”With these real-time alerts, we are able to diagnose the issues in good time, and find the appropriate solutions quickly,” said Crane. “In some instances, these automated tools are equipped to handle these emerging threats with minimal human intervention.” This greatly reduces the amount of disruption maintenance issues can cause. Crane credits this strategy with being instrumental in helping Love Sew minimize downtime.
4. Use a Computerized Maintenance Management System
Crane’s suggestion to leverage automation is in line with the advice of Sarah Jameson, marketing director of Green Building Elements, a news information hub for information about buildings, especially metal ones. Jameson draws attention to another important use of automation for maintenance, noting advances in computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) systems that store all the information companies need to manage maintenance efficiently.
Today’s CMMS systems can store data such as catalogs of machines and parts, maintenance schedules and repair costs. This information can be integrated with processes such as automated parts and work ordering for maximum efficiency.
“Managers have the opportunity to develop new ways to simplify work order scheduling with the influx of new software to complement CMMS applications,” Jameson said. “Any facility that is not using top-of-the-line software is missing out on an opportunity to boost productivity by utilizing the automated features of these applications.”
5. Take Advantage of Downtime to Complete Noncore Tasks
While avoiding downtime is ideal, slowdowns can serve a constructive purpose, said Harrison Tanner Baron, chief executive officer and founder of Growth Generators, a business that helps entrepreneurs grow their business through social media. Baron says, “When we have downtime, I ask my employees this: is there anything you haven’t done yet?”
Many employees can become hyperfocused on one core task which takes half the day at the expense of neglecting other responsibilities, Baron said. To discourage this, when there’s downtime, he encourages them to think about responsibilities that haven’t been completed.
“Some techniques I have suggested for my employees is to look at old emails, text messages, anything that can show whether or not they have completed all their responsibilities,” he said. This allows his employees to make the most of downtime by staying productive.
6. Use Downtime for Marketing
Another way to use downtime constructively is to take the opportunity for marketing, said Don Adams, general manager of Regional Foundation Repair, an online service that helps homeowners with foundation and construction issues. “We push the professionals in our network to market consultation services during downtime,” Adams said.
He said there are certain times of the year when homeowners don’t have the budget to make repairs, resulting in slowdowns. This creates an opportunity to offer homeowners consultations to prepare for the coming year. This helps homeowners plan their budget in light of which repairs are needed.
This constructive use of seasonal downtime helps increase revenue throughout the year. “Consulting as a construction specialist boosts clientele, generates leads and provides a steady income during downtime,” Adams said. This type of strategy can lend itself well to companies using a business model with seasonal fluctuations in business volume.
7. Offer Praise and Rewards for Productivity
Using incentives to motivate employees can encourage productive use of downtime, said Sep Niakan, managing broker of Condo Blackbook, a real estate website that provides a guide to condominiums in the Miami area. When employees become nonproductive during downtime, many managers instinctively mete out punishment. This approach is counterproductive, Niakan advised.
“In many cases, employees have no control over downtime,” Niakan said. “Thus, punishing them will not improve the situation.” Instead, he suggests managers set goals for employees to achieve during downtime, using praise and rewards to encourage workers to meet their goals.
In this positive environment, employees take initiative to keep productive during downtime, Niakan said. “Give workers access to backlog work orders, and they’ll most likely surprise you,” he said. “Small financial rewards, such as free lunches or gift cards to local companies, can be utilized to motivate employees to explore ways to reduce downtime on their own.”
8. Rent Out Space for Dual Use
Renting out your workspace can earn you money during downtime, said Howard Gordon, cofounder of CustomPlasticPart.com, which offers a cost calculator for ordering injection molding plastic parts. “I’ve invested in a small coffee shop which is operated by 2 young entrepreneurs,” Gordon said. “After 6 p.m. when the coffee shop closes, the coffee shop becomes a bar. We rent it out to a couple which operates it.”
The bar isn’t fancy, but it’s located in a good spot near several office buildings, and it offers reasonable prices. The revenue helps reduce the cost of rent, which is the shop’s main expense, Gordon says.
Variations on this type of strategy can work well for companies that rent or own buildings with predictable downtime cycles. For example, some theaters normally have low attendance during the middle of the workweek. They make use of the unused space by offering discount matinees as an incentive to increase attendance. If your real estate situation and business model lend themselves to this strategy, it can be a great way to increase your income during downtime.
Minimize Downtime to Maximize Productivity
As the answers we received illustrate, you can use a variety of strategies to reduce downtime and keep productive during slowdowns. Automation plays a key role in managing downtime, helping you:
- Identify contributing causes
- Optimize maintenance planning
- Intercept repair issues in real-time
- Keep track of everything that needs to be maintained
Other downtime management strategies focus on taking advantage of slowdowns to complete non-core tasks or generate leads. Rewarding productivity and renting out unused space are other approaches to making the most of slowdowns.
Some of these strategies apply especially to specific industries such as manufacturing, while others have more general utility. Select the methods which are most relevant to your business model and use them to minimize downtime in your workplace.