There is no doubt that the way we work has changed for good. In order to avoid burnout for themselves and their employees, leaders must pivot traditional strategies and do what is best for the company as a whole. For a lot of employees, time spent sitting at a desk is no longer an accurate measure of productivity. Different ideologies suggest whether work from home is more or less effective than being in the office. The conversation is now mainstream and companies are reevaluating.
Working from home or hybrid work is not really a new concept. I’ve worked remotely for nearly two decades at Argo, an international underwriter of specialty insurance and reinsurance products. We figured out that a hybrid environment worked best for our team before the term became a buzzword. Our global workforce presented a unique challenge that we resolved before the advent of social media, Zoom, or any of the remote work tools that are so mainstream today. We quickly found ways to maximize efficiency and get work done despite the distance.
Ask Yourself, Could This Meeting Be An Email?
Argo had twenty different offices in twenty different countries around the world. We operated in multiple time zones, making it logistically impossible to work simultaneously. This presented challenges on many fronts, but the first challenge we overcame was shifting our mindset. We couldn’t rely on in-person meetings to get work done. We had to ask ourselves the best method for each individual task.
Oftentimes, leaders will schedule long in-person meetings because they feel that is the most productive way to work. But employees often gripe that many meetings could be taken care of in an email. A recent study even suggests that 32% of respondents feel that most meetings could be covered via remote communication tools, like email. This same survey indicates that only 56% of employees leave meetings with a clear sense of direction. In these situations, leaders are more committed to the form of communication (in-person meetings) than the desired outcome or results.
Avoid Over-communication and Burnout
Communication for its own sake does not equal productivity. Increasing the amount of communication in order to “feel” like you are accomplishing something is often a distraction and a waste of time. During my time at Argo, we heavily relied on remote communication tools like Slack and video conferencing calls (which fortunately work a lot better today than they did a few years ago) to discuss day-to-day tasks. We evaluated what each project needed to achieve the desired results, instead of applying one format to all of our projects. This allowed us to be project-specific, saving precious time that could be better spent on other efforts.
But despite these efforts, certain things still need in-person attention. We found time to work together either monthly, quarterly, annually, or semi-annually, depending upon the goal of each project. This allowed us to save things that required synchronous communication for the times we were physically together.
Over the years, I found that synchronous communication was best reserved for things that required the irreplaceable energy of an in-person meeting. Whether that was reviewing the performance of a business unit, strategic planning, or having product/client innovation sessions, we found different ways to work together that could be accomplished either synchronously through video (performance reviews) or in-person (strategic planning and innovation, where people could react to each other’s ideas in real-time). Depending on what we were trying to accomplish, we found the way that worked best.
Adaptability across projects helps employees avoid burnout. They don’t need to clock time sitting at their desks for eight hours every day. The priority must be serving the desired outcome over the process. Leaders must know what will work best for specific projects and set their employees up for success to work accordingly.
Taking “Fallow Time”
In my recent LinkedIn article, I discussed why fallow time is important for leaders and employees alike. “Fallow time” is regular downtime as a necessary component of the creative life. Rest is important, and reconnecting with ourselves is necessary in order to serve our companies well. Taking time to create is not exclusively reserved for artists. Leaders utilize creativity every day when solving real-world problems.
The best leaders at my companies developed passions and hobbies outside of work. People who have interests outside of their day job are more dynamic individuals, and dynamic individuals make good employees. I like to go sailing—in fact, I’m about to embark on a race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Your employees may run marathons or take up fly fishing. Whatever hobby you choose, leaders should encourage their employees to rest and rejuvenate outside of the office to avoid burnout. All of these things require huge amounts of effort, training, and dedication but that is what keeps our minds sharp because we are passionate about things outside of work as well.
Developing a dynamic, adaptable workforce is a vital tool as we move further into the future of work. Whether it’s encouraging productive downtime, developing a hybrid workforce, or re-evaluating your company’s communication tools, make it a regular practice to figure out what works best for you and your employees. This is an ongoing process—what works now will inevitably require change and adjustment. Thinking critically about these aspects of work-life will enable you to pivot when old strategies turn stale.