Know when to STOP!!
Over this past year, many workers, at all kinds of organizational levels, have dealt with a range of changes to their work routines and schedules. Clients continually express that the opportunity to work from home has revealed new insights. These workers have developed a new awareness of their work habits. Many report their productivity has increased.
Just one of the many areas in which this new awareness has become relevant is related to productivity. Over and over and over I hear people talk about how much more they get done when working from home. I believe it. It is interesting to encounter corporate leaders that question this. Some become concerned that if people are working from home, they will not be working as hard. My thoughts on this; if you have a staff person you don’t think will execute when not being watched over, then the problem is not with the staff person, it is with you. That’s right, if you can’t trust the employee, then its more likely you have a leadership problem.
On your marks
If you have hired someone and don’t trust them, it may be that you have not built in the right accountability structure. Alternatively, when you were recruiting, perhaps you didn’t do a thorough enough job of topgrading to ensure the individual is motivated, trustworthy and will perform. If; all of a sudden; because the person is working from home, you are not confident the employee will perform, you’ve missed building the right system of performance accountability. This has nothing to do with the employee and everything to do with the leader(s).
Naturally, working independently, whether from home or elsewhere, is not necessarily a good fit for everyone or every job. Some individuals thrive more in an office team type of environment. However, many people really do perform their best when they have the flexibility to work from home and they are able to take more ownership of their time and have fewer distractions.
Calls to “return to the office” are happening. As a result, I am having a lot of conversations with clients around how to do this well: how to build in future flexibility and how to support individuals to have more choice as to where they work. One of the sub-topics within this is how to set boundaries and protect time in the office setting so as to reduce / eliminate interruptions. A reality of traditional office type settings is that there can be a lot of interruptions which create high switching costs. High switching costs and lower productivity. A double whammy!
Go! …..but stop too
I received a picture yesterday by text, from a client who has needed to set boundaries, in a small office setting where he otherwise is continually interrupted. This picture shows a stop sign posted. This signals to his office mates that it is independent work time and he is not to be interrupted save for emergencies. Several weeks ago, he (as Operations Manager) and the company owner both built daily and weekly schedules. These schedules include protected independent work time. These schedules are posted at the office. The accompanying stop sign reminds others to respect the need for focused independent work. It also encourages his office mates to build in their own independent work time.
I have had similar discussions with other clients over the years. I have seen the stop sign work in many instances. It doesn’t have to be a stop sign, it can be something else (see graphic examples below). The key is that the workplace culture needs to be one that makes it okay for individuals to focus. Such a workplace will incur significantly less switching costs throughout the day. Ultimately, the bottom line improves.
Cameron’s Call to Action for Increasing Productivity
- Undertake a thorough discussion with your team members about what; if any; a return to the office looks like post pandemic. Remembering and reflecting on how you (as a great leader) have grown throughout this past 16 months.
- Consider where there are opportunities to offer and support greater flexibility for your employees.
- Not confident in the ability of your employees’ to work more independently? Not comfortable including the possibility of working remotely some of the time post pandemic? Recognize you either don’t have the right people on your team or you haven’t built a culture of joint accountability. Address this gap!
- Consider where there may be value for you, or others on the team, to be able to protect parts of their day/week to focus on independent work. During this time you are not to be interrupted unless there is an emergency. Then watch your productivity increase.