I recently took a trip back to my roots in Michigan to spend some quality time with family. After returning, I realized how much more productive I was after taking that break, changing environments, and reconnecting with loved ones. I was then asked to speak on a panel discussion for the Global Chamber of Commerce last week. The topic was about strategies that can help global teams be more productive. I thought about my own experience and what I have also been hearing from clients regarding the productivity of their teams.
Right now, with most people working from home there is a very blurry line between home life and work life. That blurry line is causing low productivity because the line is skewed toward too much work. Yes, too much work is causing low productivity. That sounds counterintuitive, right? Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
While there are many components involved in true work-life balance (or work-life integration), there are three that seem to come up almost daily in my coaching sessions. These three components are being grossly violated and causing low productivity. I will address them below and attempt to offer some possible solutions for leaders.
There are no longer formal start and stop times for work. Your team members perceive, incorrectly, that they must prove they are working, or you will think they are not. This leads to people rolling out of bed at 6 am, for example, and responding to emails so that you, their manager, can see that they are actually working. Those emails came in during the night because someone else was also trying to prove they were working.
There are now back-to-back Zoom meetings because it’s the only way to have a quick touch base. Pre-pandemic it was easy to stop by someone’s desk for that type of conversation. But, hey, it’s okay because a Zoom meeting proves that someone is working (I’m being sarcastic, of course). Teams are now working from 6 am until 10 pm, forgetting to eat, not showering, not taking a break, and afraid to leave their computer. If they try to block time for themselves, others book meetings over that time.
What can leaders do to help?
If you are leading a team you can model appropriate behavior, be an influence. Talk with the team and agree on time boundaries for when the workday will start and stop. If everyone were back in the office would you allow for a 7 am meeting? Determine what issues and what emails are truly urgent and designate a turnaround time to respond. Everything else can wait a reasonable amount of time, to be determined by the team. Encourage others not to schedule over blocked time. Reassure the team that you trust they are working. Do not create a perception that makes them feel the need to prove it.
Working from home is not productive if your people do not have the right equipment. There are now people working from their dining room table, their bedrooms, small closets, or sharing a table with their children. They are not seated in ergonomically correct work chairs, do not have proper lighting, and are not isolated from distractions.
What can leaders do to help?
Ask your people what they need and provide it, allow them to go to the office to get their equipment, or ship their equipment to them. Get them the tools to do their job!
Your team needs to move to be productive. They need breaks, sunshine, walking, new environments, healthy eating, and visual stimulation. Your people are now suffering from back, neck, and wrist pain, headaches, eye strain, and insomnia. This is not good and impacts productivity.
What can leaders do?
Show some empathy and inquire about your team’s health and wellbeing. Encourage a more balanced approach, acknowledge that you might be having the same problem, and brainstorm some solutions.
There is nothing easy right now about what your team is going through. They are struggling, as you most likely are too. Not everyone can initiate a major change of environment, scenery, or maybe not even reconnect with family. Acknowledge that each person’s situation is different and brainstorm with your team to find what works best for everyone.
Empathy and open communication can make a tremendous difference, break down barriers, and shift perceptions. Lastly, know that the current situation is temporary and leverage it to gather important lessons that you can apply to other crises.