You roll out of bed, down a cup of coffee, and slide across to your at-home desk. An exhausting day pounds you: Zoom calls back-to-back, keeping up with emails, looking through a document. Your schedule is jam-packed again and, second day in a row, that important strategic plan gets pushed to post-5pm. And that thinking about the person on your team who’s struggling? Well, looks like that’ll happen when you wake with anxiety in the middle of the night again.
Familiar? You’re not alone.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen become worse for many during the pandemic. I spoke to one manager, Mark, who had lost his main thinking time – the daily commute – and was struggling with over-work and exhaustion as he juggled everything at home. He was showing worrying signs of pre-burnout, and we worked hard on getting some balance back into his life.
Helping individuals like Mark set new boundaries has been a key focus for us during the pandemic. But individuals can’t achieve this entirely on their own. Leaders need to address the structural reasons that this is happening in their organisations.
The shift to working from home has brought to the surface the profound problem at the root of increasing burnout rates: A focus on hours spent at the desk or staring at the computer rather than hours spent producing and engaging in quality, worthwhile work.
A Productivity Reality Check: The Data
On our platform we frequently see the regular working of long hours (often 12 hours +) being mistaken for productivity. When we use AI to measure people's actual productivity rather than number hours work, we uncover a very different story.
What our data reflects is that true productivity comes not from the quantity of hours put in, but the quality of our working time: How much we are able to focus in the time we put in. Moreover we must recognise that in order for qualities like innovation and problem-solving to grow and flourish, people need space and shifts in routine.
Complex and creative thought processes are nurtured not only by the doing of tasks, but by the space allowed to let ideas bubble away under the surface, weave through our thinking, and arise organically – and yes, that may be when we’re walking the dog or doing the ironing, as well as when we’re sat in front of a computer screen.
These shifts in emphasis are easy to state but take commitment to enact, both at a personal and organisational level. Individuals need self-awareness and the capacity to reflect on their boundaries, and organisations and their leaders need courage to confidence to move away from the status quo.
Through reflecting on these findings in our data and the work we’ve been doing with clients during the pandemic we came up with a plan for how organisations can do things differently. We’ve called it the New Productivity.
What is the New Productivity?
- The New Productivity is a movement from doing to being. It is a shift from a narrow task-based focus to an inclusive, expansive and trusting culture in which innovation and true productivity can thrive – with the added benefit that the mental health of your people will respond in kind.
- The New Productivity acknowledges that time spent away from the desk is vital in order to make time spent at the desk truly productive. Taking a walk or going for a swim in the middle of the day may be exactly what your body and mind need to return refreshed, motivated and with new ideas bubbling over.
- The New Productivity embraces relationships, communication and self-reflective time as work in of themselves, particularly for leaders: Spending an hour working on these individually or with your team will pay dividends in the long run.
- The New Productivity thrives in cultures of trust and accountability. Trust your people to do their best, to find their own rhythms. Hold each other accountable where things aren’t going right, and work on solutions together. Key to this: Walk away from surveillance. It serves only to encourage damaging hours of screen-staring, and has no place in innovative, productive teams.
How to unleash the New Productivity in your organisation:
- Personal boundaries: The New Productivity does not mean working all the time. Rather, it allows us to acknowledge that work thoughts may arise unexpectedly at the weekend or when exercising – this is how complex thought processes work.
This does not mean that work boundaries break down, but rather arises naturally from a healthy conception of boundaries that involves a clear start and end time to your working day, a break for lunch, and a lifestyle that allows you to take exercise, rest, sleep enough and nurture yourself and your relationships outside of work. Where work is getting in the way of that – for example, with consistent long hours or overwork – this needs to be addressed.
- Space and difference: Build variety into your day, your work and yes, your organisation. Leave the desk, talk to a friend, switch between different types of task when you can. Diversity in your teams in terms of gender, race, class and neurodivergence will ensure new ideas and openness permeate and encourage an innovative, emotionally-intelligent mindset. Embrace it.
- Organisational buy-in: No individual can do this alone. We all know that setting boundaries and taking needed time away from the screen is only possible where we feel able. As a leader, you can have a profound influence on how your team operate, and a lot of that will entail moving away from controlling micro-management, building strong relationships and nurturing a culture of trust and openness in which innovation and new ideas can flow. These cultures are often set from the top, and in our experience they are ‘modelled’ from the C-Suite down.
So how is your organisation looking? Now is the moment to establish the flexible working culture that will carry your organisation into a more genuinely productive, innovative working future.
If you need help to make change or have questions or ideas, then let's talk - you can contact us through the tab above.