At one time or another, everyone has heard the adage “work smarter, not harder.” But what exactly does that mean?

It seems that even with today’s technological advancements, people are working more hours and are more stressed out. This puts pressure on their personal lives and throws any type of work-life balance formula out of whack.

For instance, the U.S. comes in at number 30 out of 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) when it comes to establishing a healthy work-life balance, according to a recent study. Supporting this, 11.4 percent of Americans work 50 or more hours per week, while they spend 14.4 hours for leisure and personal care daily, according to the survey. It is no wonder they are so stressed out.

Create a flexible work environment

One major area where employees are finding relief, and resulting in more productivity, is the ability to have flexible hours and regularly work remotely or from home. In this “always on, always connected” culture, workers are more productive than ever, but they are also more stressed.

Being able to work remotely helps alleviate some of this stress, especially for those who have children, or those who are caring for an aging parent, which is becoming more commonplace as Boomers retire. These people are going through major life transitions and need flexibility.

In fact, according to a 2017 research study by Cardiff University, 39 percent of people who mostly work from home often work additional hours to complete their tasks, compared with 24 percent of those in fixed workplaces. Organizations that don’t offer a flexible working environment run the risk of not attracting a highly productive employee or not retaining some of their already good employees, especially in today’s booming job market.

Establish trust

That said, however, parameters need to be put in place and any remote employee needs the tools and support to be productive and succeed. Communication is essential and setting boundaries and expectations beforehand are critical. A trust needs to be established between the employer and employee to make sure there is accountability.

Employees need to be empowered with the resources and technologies to be successful—whether they work in the office or not. Also, there are some jobs that simply cannot be accomplished remotely and employees need to be present, specifically in the service industry.

Support employees’ health and well-being

Another area where companies can make their workplaces more productive is by embracing more healthy and fun bonding experiences for their employees. A happy and healthy employee is a more productive employee.

Food, activities and other small gatherings help create a positive working environment. Instead of alcohol-filled happy hours, companies are opting to organize exercise or yoga classes. Friday bagel breakfasts and pizza lunches are being replaced with more healthy choices and variety.  Creating a healthier culture fosters positivity and that overflows into the work environment.

Create opportunities to give back

Although food is always a good bonding mechanism to show appreciation for employees and keep them energized, participating in community service activities is effective at a different level. Working side-by-side in a charitable endeavor creates a strong bond between individuals. Many organizations are offering activities to foster a sense of community among workers and encourage more team building and selflessness.

A study last year from Deloitte showed that employers who promote volunteering boost moral and even brand perception. The study found that 89 percent of employees believe companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment and 70 percent believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost staff morale than company-sponsored happy hours.

The bottom line

There is no argument that today’s workers are under increasing pressure to perform. However, there are simple steps companies can take to make their environment healthier and supportive, and therefore create more balanced and productive employees.