How to own your time in the post COVID world
COVID and the workplace
Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of everyone worldwide over the past three years. Our personal relationships, the way we now view hygiene, the way mental health is approached, and so much more. And one of the areas that have changed most is workplace attendance. In the efforts to minimise risk, many companies opted for different working formulas – from letting their employees work from home to splitting workforces into different teams with alternating presence.
There has been an array of surveys and reports done on how people feel about their remote working situation. Although job status, income, and industry do all play a very large part in employee satisfaction, there seems to be no denying that hybrid working models and remote working has had some positive outcomes on individuals. A survey from CNBC reported that employees working remotely during the pandemic display higher satisfaction compared to their in-house peers. Another survey has made studies on how employees’ work efficiency has increased by having more time to work on their health and wellness.
Moreover, the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) found that labour productivity actually increased during the pandemic when many were home to comply with health policies. This finding has also been supported by private organisations and think tanks around the world.
Now at BoardPro, we ourselves wanted to know more about how organisations have dealt with the changes in working modes throughout COVID-19 and how our community handles their times with newfound ways of working. This survey contains a sample of some of those responses. All respondents come from different walks of the business world, from Board members to C-level executives, in both commercial and nonprofit entities.
Mode of working and productivity
There is no denying that COVID turned everyone’s work structures upside down, with companies adopting anything from a work-from-home policy, a hybrid work policy or putting in lace mask requirements. While some companies and senior executives publicly pushed back against the remote work concept, questioning its effect on productivity, we are now three years in and there is no denying that this trend is here to stay.
According to PwC’s CEO Panel Survey, which spoke with nearly 700 CEOs worldwide on various topics, such as trends in the workplace in mid-2020, two key themes appeared:
- The importance of digitisation: CEOs will make more aspects of their company operations virtual and digital, whether that is in sales or in the business’s product offering.
- A stronger focus on employees: A stronger emphasis will be placed on flexible and employee-oriented workspaces.
“[The crisis revealed] the underappreciated ability, especially for mature businesses, to adapt and operate flexibly,” explained a CEO within the automotive industry in America. “This was done brilliantly and was likely a capacity unbeknownst to most until it was necessary. We should all take away an enthusiasm to drive change in our businesses proactively versus waiting for an external catalyst.”
Another CEO in the entertainment and media space in India said, “[COVID-19] accelerated the need to revisit our business models and processes, fast-track alternate revenue opportunities, test and fine-tune our business continuity [and] reboot our culture and goals.”
Interestingly, when BoardPro asked its own community how their mode of working has changed since the pandemic, 100% of respondents said that their organisation adopted some form of hybrid structure. When asked which mode was the most productive and why, the majority of the respondents stated that it depended on the activity, with some mentioning the benefits of accessing.
“Addisons is a professional services firm and the choice of hybrid work allows people to meet and create spontaneous connections,” explained Addisons consultant Michiel Brodie.
“The big challenge with online meetings is one talks as they leave the room. Hybrid working is a good way of resolving for the online risk while maintaining work/home balances for people who are in an industry that has struggled with getting that right.”
Respondents also mentioned taking into consideration the individual and how they feel works best for them.
“I believe this is really down to the individual. Some people like the quiet of working from home, some like the vibe of the office. I have ADHD and benefit from being in the office due to 'body doubling', however I am soon going to be trialling an online version of this in my workplace as research shows it can be of benefit to anyone - not just neuro-diverse people.”
Remote working and personal time
Although there has been a cascading amount of data boasting the benefits of remote working, it is a slight double-edged sword. While it creates opportunities for many to manage their own time better – this self-discipline and individual routine creation can still be challenging. it has also led to people reporting experiencing increased loneliness and distractions.
Work-life balance is a term used to describe how a person splits their time between their professional and personal life. Striving for a good work-life balance allows people to allocate their time so that they are not prime to overworking and therefore are able to focus on aspects of their life, like family, friends, hobbies and social interactions. Having a disharmonised work-life balance can have a negative impact on a person’s life, health and happiness. Their levels of stress may heighten, and they may feel less in control of their life. One of the side effects of working from home was that although it seemingly felt like employees had more time to themselves due to their location, they also needed to set strict rules for themselves to maintain work-life balance.
BoardPro was curious to know how remote working had an effect on the personal time of those in the community. Many came to a consensus that although working remotely did reduce travel time; there were also benefits in the commute itself. “Many people would say it gives them more, but lots of people I talk to feel the schedule at home is often more intense. I personally enjoy the thinking time that comes with the commute. To maintain proper control of company records and information, working on public transport should be a ‘no’. So that commute is a great space to read and think,” says Michiel Brodie of Addison's Productivity Solutions.
For Young from Parallaxx, working from home with her condition was a challenge. She says, “Due to ADHD I can become hyper focused on tasks and can end up working a lot more hours as I can't pull myself away from the task. I have set up alarms and/or get someone to come stop me working to overcome this.” She mentions liking the fact that she can get some chores out of the way so that she can fully enjoy other more valuable times of her time, like weekends
Tips on managing your time
As discussed above, working from home does indeed have its benefits. However, people have also reported finding it more challenging to balance their time and make a clear-cut boundary between time and work and time at home. Melissa Smith, the Founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants mentioned that isolation and setting boundaries were one the hardest problems she had to face, saying....
“In my very comfortable environment, I don’t have to travel anywhere, so it is tempting to work all day and even on weekends. I find myself to be far less active because my surroundings are so familiar.”
CEO/founder, Association of Virtual Assistants
And Smith is not the only one experiencing problems setting boundaries, with research and surveys showing that remote work led to many struggling to set firm boundaries between their professional and personal lives. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report, which gathered data from 6,000 countries across eight countries between March to August 2020, the number of Microsoft Teams users who sent after-hours chats doubled. There was also a 69% increase in the number of chats per person after work hours, and there was a 55% increase in the number of meetings and calls per week.
With that, we asked their community members to share some tips on how they deal with managing their time.
For Pam Elgar, CEO of Make a Wish Foundation NZ, there is no one solution fits all, explaining that you have to be able to understand yourself and the way you work in order to properly organise and manage your time.
“Understand your own rhythm. I work most effectively in the morning, so meaty topics are tackled first thing when I am fresh. I use the hygiene activities as breaks to the meaty topics so that I can process whilst still taking action on small items.”
Donald Nordeng, CEO of BioGro NZ, on the other hand, explained that a clear-cut daily action plan with no distractions works for him. “Make sure you block out ninety minutes first thing in the morning. Sit for fifteen minutes and write about the things on your mind. Clear it out,” he says.
“Ask yourself what your three MVPs are for the day. Then after writing, do those things first. Do not check your email. Do not check Teams, or Slack, until these three things are done. Ideally, you have your tasks set up for the day and just do those only. Try not to let email and chat drive you”
Cheesehead and CEO, BioGro New Zealand
Another member of the BoardPro community, Otto Henfling, CEO of Growing Potential, stresses the importance of using a planner to plan the day. He says, “Use the diary, do not let meetings go overtime (unless absolutely necessary and then only on exception), take breaks every few hours. Diarise to do as well as meetings.”
BoardPro has also previously spoken with Mike Burke, managing director of PEPworldwide: NZ, on this matter. Burke has over 20 years of professional experience under his belt and has gained most of his understanding of businesses and most promising practices through experience.
Burke asserts that there needs to be a mentality and attitude shift in the way people view work in order for a harmonious work and life balance to exist. For example, drawing a clearer delineation between busyness with value-added,
“I call it the ‘busy’ badge of honour, and many people think that if I'm ‘busy,’ I’m valuable. And, it’s quite part of the mainstream now. If you ask someone, ‘How's work?’ the default answer is, ‘I'm really busy.’ But there needs to be a separation between busy and true value added.”
For quick and easy changes you can make today in order to manage your time better, Burke recommends defaulting to your calendar and to-do list when you have a spare moment during work rather than heading to your inbox. He also suggested batching items and meetings as well as having different channel tiers in terms of urgency within your team.
If you want to read more about Burke’s recommendations for productivity, click the link here.
The BoardPro community questionnaire
The BoardPro community hosts over 20,000 business leaders, senior executives and executive support staff, all in search of ways to streamline Board meetings as well as elevate management, operations, communication and everything in between. We conduct short questionnaires to shed light on the varying ways our members approach a theme, area or challenge within organisations they are involved in.
The mentioned survey participants in this study are as follows:
- Allstream Energy Solutions Limited managing director and CEO Abdulrazak Adeshola Yusuf
- Addisons consultant Michiel Brodie
- Board member of People in Places Limited Dr. Jennifer Simnett
- Board member Parallaxx Hannah Young
- CEO of Make a Wish Foundation NZ Pam Elgar
- CEO of BioGro NZ Limited Donald Nordeng
- CEO of Growing Potential Otto Henfling
This blog was revised on October 4, 2022 to remove the responses and mention of a community member.
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