In January 2020, many of us were prepared for the fact that we would be asked to do more with less or the same, to prioritise ruthlessly and to get the most value we could from existing resources to achieve our goals and objectives. What happened next didn’t change that or slow it down. We caught up with Christi Stern, Account Manager in our Basel office, to talk productivity, resilience and the Zoombie apocalypse.
"During that time I worked with a lot of people with small children at home whose partners also work full time. They really had their hands full. A friend of mine had an important work call and had to lock herself in the bathroom to take it!”
What Christi describes will resonate with many working parents and recall a time in Switzerland that some people in other countries are still living. While the restrictions proved a challenge, when the worst was over, they also provided a point for deep reflection.
“It’s taken a while to process what happened and to really make sense of the new patterns. From speaking to colleagues in the Audience teams in all our locations as well as clients in Switzerland and other countries I think we’ve all got to a stage of better understanding what changed in our working days.”
The biggest long-term challenge is that remote working has made all our working days longer. At the beginning, there were numerous factors at play. We needed to keep working. We wanted and needed to stay in touch with our teams, colleagues and peers. Technology allowed easy access to group video calls and we quickly adapted to using new platforms. Time zones melted away, time we would have spent commuting – for many of us the only time to ourselves - became time spent on-screen or in front of a screen and some workers were even monitored by their companies to ensure they were being productive.
“All of those things are true, but I think the biggest single factor was that everyone knew we were available. The usual boundaries of office hours disappeared overnight because the whole world was in lockdown. There was nothing else to do, nowhere else to be and any existing commitments we had like sports, drinks with friends or after-school activities were cancelled. That meeting that we would never have taken at 7 a.m. or 9 p.m. was possible because everyone knew we were home. And when everyone knows you’re available, how do you say no?”
Saying no is a challenge many of us face. As home working is still recommended in many locations, the long working days continue. We’re all connected, all available, all the time.
As the hours extend, projects add up and it becomes more and more difficult to prioritise. We’re all taking on more and many of us are at engagement saturation point.
We say yes to everything because we don’t want to miss out, because we worry what will happen if we’re not present or because we genuinely need more information to do the additional tasks we’ve taken on on top of our standard roles. Even the few minutes you need to yourself to reset, recalibrate and think about how you’ll contribute to your next meeting is gone as we all connect back-to-back.
As connection has become easier, attendance has increased and remained constant while engagement has decreased. “We’ve become a workforce of Zoombies – virtually present but not really present or ‘in the moment’. There’s so much going on and so much to think about that it’s sometimes really difficult to focus on the task in hand especially when we’re hearing the same thing again and again.”
So what can we do to regain some balance and ensure we have the mental and physical well-being we need to be productive and to avoid burn out?
These are Christi’s top tips for resilience in the age of over-connection and constant availability.
Physical separation of work and life
Create a ‘contract’ with your family and clearly block non-working times in your calendar. During those times, put your computer and your phone in another room so you can be truly present for those you love. If you live alone, do something for yourself that takes you away from your screens and devices.
Don’t burn the candle at both ends without time in between
If you start early and finish late, take a longer lunch break, eat a proper meal and get outside for a short walk after your lunch. Breaking up your day like this with a routine you can follow will help restore some balance.
Ensure you have some time for yourself
Some alone time is absolutely essential for all of us. Take a walk, workout, watch TV, listen to the radio. Anything that is just for you is good and as little as five minutes can give you a much-needed wellbeing boost.
Embrace the joy of missing out
If you don’t or won’t make an active contribution to that meeting you’ve been invited to, decline it. If something happens that you really need to know about, someone will tell you. Enjoy being out of the loop.
Don’t commit yourself down to the last minute
Cut every 30-minute meeting to 25 and every 60-minute meeting to 50. It’s what you would have needed if you were in the office to get from one meeting to the next and helps you reset before the next meeting.
Respect the golden hours and block quiet time to work
Agree with your team which hours will be meeting hours and which will be reserved for work. If you all respect the rules, you’ll be connecting when you’ve made progress on your tasks instead of telling each other in another meeting what you still have to do after this meeting finishes.
Consider additional creative support for your virtual meetings
A tried and tested format where you’re comfortable using the technology is good for you but what about your audience? Same old same old doesn’t change just because your meeting is virtual. It’s the perfect excuse for our overloaded brains to tune out.
Some of these ideas will be easier to implement than others and you’ll need to experiment to find what works for you and your team. Be prepared to test and adjust until you find the winning formula. An improvement in your work-life balance leads to greater engagement, increased productivity and greater resilience. It should also help prevent you becoming a Zoombie. If there’s one thing you focus on in 2021, make it a commitment to prioritise how you work instead of how much.