Work Smarter and Save Time With a Few Simple Changes
In the later episodes of Star Trek Discovery, incredibly complex scenarios were resolved by science-ing the crap out of it. However, in the real world, throwing complicated solutions at complicated problems just gives us more of a headache. Inner loop or outer loop? Metaverse or asynchronous? OKRs or SMART? Or, at a more basic level, camera on or off?
Today’s workplace tools are actually well considered for today’s more complicated working environments. We can tap into a wider audience to solve complex problems. We can fully empower distributed teams so that they can make more autonomous decisions quickly. We can have full visibility of what we’re doing and who we’re talking with to take more effective actions.
Except we don’t.
Technology on Top of Technology
It can be hard to get our heads around these complex issues when faced with complicated layers of technology. It is not uncommon (who am I kidding, it’s standard practice!) to simply add new bits of technology, growing an ever-bigger list of tools that are 'essential' for modern working.
We’re only making it harder on ourselves, when in fact, we can make it much easier. Because the thing is: it’s not about the technology. It's about us, and how we take control over it.
More and more, I’m seeing medium and large organizations struggle to know which tool to use when. But the questions are bigger than where to do our work. It’s also where to find people and how we interact with them. Which notifications are important and which aren’t, how to find alternatives to meetings to enable more efficient coordination of work, how to communicate effectively when it isn't urgent and how best to get attention when it is.
The pandemic moved us deeper into the tools. But we haven’t moved with the technology — or the technology has moved ahead of us. Either way, we're currently wasting a huge amount of time due to our using many different tools to achieve the same thing.
Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Live meetings, channel conversations, chat, email, visual planning boards, enterprise social networks, co-creation in documents and wikis. All of these offer a way to collaborate, and typically we are active in most — if not all of them.
No wonder we’re struggling to know which notifications to respond to and which can be ignored (for now). No wonder the working day has grown longer.
Imagine, if we could be more productive in less time. In fact, if we could save a whole day every week. Sound impossible?
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Doing More With Less in 4-Day Week Trials
It isn't — and it’s surprisingly simple. A range of industries in the U.S., UK and Ireland — not just knowledge workers but shift workers and front-line workers — piloted a four-day week on a five-day week salary. Notably, resignations dropped and mental well-being improved. And productivity increased.
What the findings showed was that much of the reason behind the four-day week’s success was making simple changes to the way we work. Changes that we can all apply to simplify our working week to gain more control of how we work.
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What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
Firstly, a reduction in meetings frees up time. Reducing meetings doesn’t have to mean replacing them — it means in some instances adopting asynchronous practices, such as running status update meetings as a thread in Teams or Slack. And where a live meeting is needed, make it better. Focusing live meetings on solving problems rather than broadcasting or sharing routine matters means the meetings we hold are more focused on conversations. A strong agenda is also important, not only to make sure the meeting is well run, but also so that those who can’t attend are not entirely left out. In fact, at GitLab, meetings are required to have such a comprehensive agenda that in many cases the intended meeting is no longer needed as the agenda is more than sufficient to both convey the intentions and to generate outcomes.
Secondly, consolidating internal communications into one place. For example, Microsoft Teams channels reduces email burden and also increases the visibility of work. This allows easier handovers of tasks, quicker problem solving and more efficient communications — it’s easier to understand the context in a thread rather than via an email or 12.
Having time to focus goes without saying. It allows us to actually get work done in a shorter time period. Specifically blocking out focus time for chunks of the day where we feel productive allows more control. It is important, though, to protect these times rather than fill them with meetings. Focus time can also include getting away from the computer or workplace, not just on a designated break.
Finally, reducing distractions allows more time to focus on one task rather than constantly switching. Simplifying where teams collaborate into just one or two places can help to avoid distractions from too many tools. In fact, Microsoft have found that 86% of survey respondents wanted a single, centralised platform or portal where teams can collaborate in multiple ways.
Reducing chat-style communications also helps to manage distractions, as these can be incredibly noisy with their instant messaging nature. However, they are also very popular, with Microsoft users processing a minimum of 32 chat messages on average a day according to Microsoft 365 benchmarking. If less urgent messages can be moved to other asynchronous modes, this offers more time for focused work.
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How Does This Work in Practice?
If it sounds complicated, it really isn’t. It’s not a technology issue. We just need to take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions and agree on a few common practices.
- How do we communicate when it’s urgent?
- What meetings can we drop/replace with asynchronous formats?
- Where do we interact for internal team conversations?
- What tools can we drop?
- What are our expectations about being on/available and being off — either as focus time or outside of working hours?
Having as much information and knowledge as readily available as possible saves us time in unnecessary meetings and avoids time wasted scrabbling around for answers at the last minute. Working in the same place saves us time from changing apps, from trying to remember where things are and from being distracted by less urgent notifications. Blocking out focus time means we can actually get stuff done.
And the last super ingredient? Trust. Trust from management that we are able to figure out how best to manage our workday without always pulling us into a meeting, or expecting us to be at the computer for nine hours. And trust in our workplace where we can be honest and share openly — what we’re working on, who we’re talking to, when things are due. It’s not a control thing. It’s a collaboration thing. It’s a taking control of my day thing.
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About the Author
From environmental science beginnings to project management, knowledge management and innovation management, I’ve always appreciated how mature collaboration is critical to success of any project. Advising global investment banking and professional services sectors, I’ve worked on some wonderful knowledge and collaboration projects. My biggest challenge was being asked to help a global engineering firm be ‘more innovative.’ The experiences of all of this motivated me to co-establish Innosis, helping organizations focus collaboration towards innovation and continuous reinvention.