How to Maintain Productivity when You’re Understaffed


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A lot of business owners have trouble maintaining productivity when staffing is low or non-existent. It’s easy for employees to become overwhelmed and unfocused, which leads to a poor customer experience.

However, it is possible to keep things running smoothly even when your staff is sick, out on time off, or if your business is growing faster than you can cope. 

You need to have a plan of action ready for such scenarios. And this post will share useful tips on how to manage when you’re understaffed. The goal is to ensure that your customer experience isn’t affected in a negative way.

Here are some ideas on what you can do.

1) Prioritize tasks based on your company’s most urgent needs

When you’re understaffed, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep things going as normal and to do everything at once.

However, this will lead to wasted time and tasks which aren’t done up to standard. It also means that your employees spend less time on the tasks that genuinely need their attention.

To prevent this from happening you need to prioritize the tasks at hand.

Start with the most urgent needs of your business and work down from there. Keep track of less important tasks that are being put off. You can tackle them later. Or you may find that you can discard them altogether. 

2) Let employees work their own hours.

Creating work flexibility is a good way to make sure that your employees don’t feel overwhelmed. 

It also allows them to pace themselves and work at their own speed, which ensures that they remain focused.

It’s hard enough to manage your own work but when you’re picking up additional tasks, you need to have more flexibility to be effective. 

You might find it useful to block out certain hours of the day (for instance between 9 AM and 1 PM) for employees to complete the most intensive tasks.

You can also encourage people to work remotely and provide them with the right remote working tools. Especially for employees who need to cover tasks that are not originally part of what they do. The key is to help your employees feel autonomy and control over their work lives.

Set up goals and expectations but give people the tools and authority to meet goals in their own way. This will boost morale and create a better experience for your customers.

3) Promote teamwork among your staff.

When you find yourself in a situation where you’re understaffed, it often means that the workload is not equally distributed.

Some employees will be overwhelmed with their responsibilities while others will find themselves idle, not knowing what to do. This creates a sense of frustration and helplessness among your staff and only contributes to poor customer service.

To combat this issue, you need to encourage teamwork and share information about what needs to be done to all teams. 

Enable employees to step in for each other when needed. This can be done on a rotational basis, where one person takes over responsibility from another, or it can be an informal arrangement where everyone pitches in with tasks that aren’t part of their responsibilities.

Make sure that you create channels for open communication. I find that using Slack and other chat messaging platforms works great to keep everyone in the loop.

And also, show appreciation for teamwork and wins. It’s motivating for your staff and encourages them to work as a team.

However, this tactic is only a temporary measure. Make sure that you hire more people or change the workload soon. 

4) Hire temporary employees

When you’re understaffed, outside help can be useful. This is where the option of hiring freelancers or assistants comes in handy.

For instance, you might want to use a virtual assistant to offer administrative support while your employees are working on time-sensitive tasks.

There are several freelancers who can help with particular areas of your business. If you need to, hire a writer to share blog posts for your website.

You can also hire someone familiar with social media marketing to manage and promote the content that you publish on your site.

Hiring temporary employees can ease things for your staff. But you need to create clear boundaries regarding the work different people do. And use security tools like password managers to protect your digital products and to keep your data secure. Another helpful tool you can use is a time tracker that screenshots the work that freelancers do. 

With the right tools and protocols, you’ll be able to get through a period where you’re understaffed better. 

5) Communicate with customers 

It’s a good idea to let your clients know when you might be a little delayed in getting back to them.

For instance, if this happens on a regular basis then you could add an announcement or disclaimer on your website that says something like “Please note that our office hours are from 9 AM to 5 PM.”

You can also add something like “We might be a little delayed due to increased volume of work and will reach you within 24 hours” in your email responses.

This makes your clients aware of the situation and they can choose whether or not they want to wait. Make sure that you do reach out to them as soon as possible so that there aren’t any serious delays.

It’s worthwhile to look at ways to automate different aspects of your business. 

For example, there are several tools that allow you to set up automated email campaigns. You can also automate manual tasks such as ordering supplies and client communication.

This way you don’t have to worry about these tasks when your staff members are busy with other work.

6) Remain flexible with suppliers and other vendors

When you’re understaffed, it can be difficult to manage suppliers because of the number of tasks that are involved. This includes things like planning the work schedule, coordinating with other teams, and ensuring timely delivery of goods.

Your lack of manpower might also impact vendor relationships because if something isn’t delivered on time, it doesn’t just impact you, it impacts others in the value chain.

To avoid these problems, you’ll need to be proactive and develop strategies that allow you to stay flexible with suppliers. Some of these strategies might include: 

  • Developing new relationships with multiple vendors so that there is a backup when one supplier doesn’t deliver on time.
  • Identifying alternate supplies in case a particular vendor has trouble delivering on time. 
  • Making sure that you reimburse your suppliers for any delays if they had nothing to do with it to create goodwill.

Keeping track of all the transactions and communicating regularly with suppliers ensures smooth operations in times of low staffing.


It’s not always easy to keep the customer experience positive when you’re understaffed. 

The steps mentioned here are helpful, but only for the short run. You need to consider hiring more employees and investing in the right tools to keep things running. 

It’s also worthwhile to look at ways in which automation can reduce the burden of staff members, helping them focus more on their primary responsibilities. 

However, having a system in place or a plan of action can transform how you deal with a challenging period in your business. Apply these tips to keep your business on track and to ensure that your customer experience doesn’t suffer. 

Syed Balkhi
Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. With over 10 years of experience, he’s the leading WordPress expert in the industry. You can learn more about Syed and his portfolio of companies by following him on his social media networks.


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