Do you trust your team NOT to overwork?

Just over a year ago, as we went into lockdown and organisations had to shift to remote working, several of my conversations with clients were about trust.

‘How will I know that my people are working if I can’t see them?’

My view was that the problem wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, the problem was that managers didn’t trust their teams.

A year later, according to the Blackbaud future of work 2021 report, it would appear that worries about trust were largely unfounded as respondents were almost unanimous (94%) in stating that they felt trusted.

The challenge for many over the past year has been less about lack of trust and more about presenteeism and working harder, over longer hours and being less able to switch off than we did when we were working from an office.  The boundaries between work and home are easily blurred when the office is the kitchen table, (One of my clients told me that Christmas dinner was ruined because she was eating at her desk) many of us feel personally compelled to work all hours and this isn’t helped by emails arriving in our inboxes at all times of day and night.

We are working longer hours than before the pandemic.

According to the future of work report, when asked for more details about their daily working routine, 72% of respondents said they ‘tend to work longer hours either some or most days compared to before the pandemic. Most people clocked up their extra hours later in the day, with nearly a third finishing work later most days than when they were office based’. A third of people work longer hours overall than pre pandemic.

Although the report would indicate that there might be a high degree of trust, and employees may feel trusted, many people still feel personally compelled to work long hours and respond immediately to emails, which over a long period of time is taking its toll on our health and wellbeing.

Overall, despite feeling supported by their employer, people’s wellbeing has deteriorated over the past year. Almost half the respondents to the future of work survey felt their wellbeing has deteriorated in the pandemic.

Blackbaud highlights, ‘Going forward, a conscious focus on the health and wellbeing of our people will remain of paramount importance to the support of our teams and the effective delivery of our visions and missions…’

This doesn’t just apply to non-profits but to all organisations.

It’s a tough challenge to solve and given that according to Blackbaud, flexible working is here to stay (90% of all respondents agree that flexible working will continue even when the pandemic has become a distant memory), it’s a problem that organisations need to tackle if they’re going to maintain a happy and productive workforce.

I’m seeing many organisations taking their employee wellbeing seriously and implementing the HR and workplace wellbeing advice. I’m seeing leaders give permission to their employees to switch off, leading by example and providing training in how to work remotely including looking after their own wellbeing, time management and productivity training. Yet, despite this, employees are still checking and responding to their emails late into the night, still feeling overwhelmed by their working life and still operating with high levels of anxiety.

For example, I was recently working with a team whose senior leaders are actively helping their teams look after themselves. They can work flexibly, they have an open and honest culture and there is a high degree of trust and support between leadership and employees, they are encouraged to work specific hours to not allow work to creep into their home life, they have a generous holiday allowance which they are encouraged to take, people care about their work and have good relationships Yet, despite all the actions that the leadership are taking, the majority of the team work more hours than they are expected to and experience stress and anxiety as a result.

It’s almost the reverse of the problem we thought we had. Our people can’t be trusted not to work too hard!

So what do you do if you’re following the best advice and doing all the right things, yet your team is still overwhelmed and anxious?

If I’m honest I don’t have a blueprint here but my thoughts are;

  • Keep doing all the things you’re doing. Lead by example, don’t send emails in non-working hours, keep checking in with people both via structured one to ones and informally.
  • Consider specific processes for bringing the importance of wellbeing into the spotlight and making it normal for employees to talk about wellbeing and how they’re feeling, for example some organisations have wellbeing buddies (people matched up with colleagues with the objective of checking in on how they’re feeling) and mental health first aiders. 
  • Help your employees with prioritising and time management.
  • Know that saying that people have permission (for example to take some time off if they’re feeling exhausted) doesn’t mean people know that they have permission. Check that the message has got through.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with established patterns of working that were in place long before the pandemic. How might you understand more about the root cause of peoples behaviour? Asking open questions and listening can help understand what is going on for someone, and for example can you explore why they feel they have to answer emails immediately or always be working?
  • Make your one to ones work harder and use them to understand how people are feeling as well as their progress on their tasks.
  • Consider coaching or training – people have missed human interaction and the time and space to spend time together as a team.

What are your ideas and experiences? All comments welcome.

Lucidity and Vivid Leadership are running our next resilience, confidence and creativity one day online training that will help you unpick some of these challenges. Our next open course is on 18 May. Here’s the link to join us.

We also run this resilience, confidence and creativity day for whole teams of up to 16 people. If you’d like to have a chat about your whole team doing this course book a time to chat here.

For the full Blackbaud future of work 2021 report – go here.

Is lockdown making your creativity nosedive?

Do you feel like your creativity has taken a nosedive in the last year? Are you struggling to focus or getting ‘brain fog?’ Do you struggle to find inspiration or motivation?

I was thinking about this. If you’ve nodded to the above, it’s no wonder really. And don’t give yourself a hard time about it. Here’s why.

For the majority of people, we’re in the flow with our creative thinking when we’re relaxed. For example, I’ve asked 1,000s of people to tell me where they do their best creative thinking. They answer that it’s when they’re relaxed and not thinking about work, when they’re walking the dog, running, driving or in the shower.  Whilst a deadline might help some people focus, the majority of people think more creatively when stress and anxiety are low and when they’re doing something non work related.

Now lets think about our stress and anxiety levels over the last year. Broadly speaking would it be fair to say that they have been heightened these last few pandemic months?

Many of us are feeling isolated, and at the same time finding it difficult to disconnect work time from home time. Many employees and managers are fighting feelings of presenteeism as they adjust to flexible working. Working flexibly doesn’t mean being available from 9-5 yet many people feel they should be at their desk and available that whole time which can cause a huge amount of stress.

In addition to this, human beings crave certainty. It’s a basic survival instinct. When we don’t feel safe (like when we’re under stress) it triggers a threat response and our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and we get ready to fight, flight or freeze. Our blood thickens and moves away from our prefrontal cortex (where we do our thinking which explains brain fog) to our vital organs. This was helpful when survival looked like running away from or fighting a wild animal, but less helpful in today’s working environment. It’s also exhausting.

It’s no wonder that our creativity is impacted by living in a higher than ‘normal’ state of stress and anxiety.

Where do good ideas come from?

According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore, to be creative, we must expand our portfolio of knowledge so we have more old ideas that we can put together when needed.

In order to have concepts to bring together we need a portfolio of resource, we need experiences, we need inspiration. Over the last year of lockdown and social distancing we’ve become increasingly more isolated more insular and as a result lacking new experiences and inspiration.

Consider the difference between working from home and working from an office. At home we get up we’re in the same space and we’ve got the same things around us.  We might doom scroll social media or watch TV or look at the news but the amount of new stimulus for our thinking is massively reduced than if we were leaving the building on a regular basis.

Remember back to the days of commuting. You leave your home and walk down the street, consciously and subconsciously you are taking in information.  You notice a new shop window display, read the headlines on the newspaper stand, notice somebody in a colourful hat that reminds you of the time you played ‘Guess Who?’. Your brain is gathering material to turn into connections for creativity.

It’s not just what you see either, you’re experiencing sensory overload, different smells, sounds and textures. Even by the time you arrive at work the amount of stimulus that you’ve opened your brain to is way more than perhaps the stimulus that some of us have had in the last year of working at home. If ideas are connections put together in different ways and the premise is that we need to have a portfolio of ideas and connections to go to for our creative thinking the pandemic has significantly inhibited our creative thinking portfolio.

How to give your creativity a boost

If stress and lack of variety are having an impact on your creativity then test out my tips below.

  • Pay more attention to and be more deliberate about lowering your stress levels. Look after yourself, eat healthily, get exercise and take regular breaks. When you are stressed or anxious it’s very difficult to think creatively.
  • Start to notice. For example, go for a walk and focus on noticing. I’m a big fan of the fake commute so when you’re going for your walk round the block notice your surroundings. Look for details. Are there plants growing out of cracks in the pavement, what is distinctive about the buildings you pass, or the cars that are parked on the street?
  • Decide to be curious. Play and experiment. Take the course that interests you, learn the instrument you’ve always wanted to play, read the book you never have time for. Can you ask more questions and set yourself a challenge to learn one new thing every day?
  • Talk to other people. Replace the water cooler chat where ideas are exchanged that’s missing when we work from home. Allocate time at the beginning and end of phone calls or Zoom chats for those random conversations about anything.  (That’s one of the reasons we organise random connections over at the Lucidity Network)

If you feel your creativity has taken a nosedive then come and join us over at the Lucidity Network. With regular training topics, group coaching and random connections it’s the place to get your creative mojo back.

Testimonial for the Lucidity Network

Thank you to Kate Sanders-Wilde and Tammy Palmer for your chat that inspired this blog.

Don’t feel guilty about taking an afternoon nap on a Tuesday

I love a nap in my working day. It’s not always possible. (for example when I’m running a training course or a strategy day!) However, now so many of us are working from home it does provide more opportunities for napping. And napping can help our focus and productivity.

When I first left a ‘proper job’ and started working for myself, I was thrown sideways by how hard I found it. I completely underestimated how much I’d miss my colleagues and having people to bounce ideas around with. I also found it really hard to focus and get the work done. That’s why I put in a lot of effort into testing different ways of working until I found the things that worked for me. My important findings were:

It doesn’t matter when you do the work as long as you deliver what has been agreed, on time and to a high standard. Humans are not designed to work from 9am to 5pm. This is a leftover from when a large number of the workforce worked on production lines when everyone had to be there at the same time in order for the thing to get made. Today, especially now so many of us are working from home there is flexibility to work the hours that better suit us. That might be working around childcare and family commitments as well as daylight hours and when we do our best work.

The time of day that you do different tasks can help your productivity. We all have cycles; times of day when we’re more alert and decisive, times when we’re more creative and times of day when stringing a sentence together feels like a struggle.

I’m definitely more productive and have better attention to detail early in the morning. That’s when I need to do the difficult stuff that I need to think about. By 2pm my brain is getting foggy and I shouldn’t be trusted to do or remember anything important. Later in the afternoon I perk up again and can often have a really productive few hours. There’s no point working late at night. I’d rather get some sleep and get up at 5am. The same piece of work that will take me 3 hours at 10pm, will take me an hour (and will be better quality) if I do it at 5am.

Naps help my productivity. I love a nap. My body clock is definitely geared to wake up early, get stuff done, have a mid afternoon nap, wake up do more stuff and then bed at a reasonable hour. I was pleased to discover that there is much research showing the health benefits of naps. They can improve cognitive performance as well as boost mental and physical health. Naps help us to stay alert, can reduce stress, and we’re more productive as a result. There’s even such a thing as a nappuccino. (Coffee before a nap. For full details download the step-by-step guide to the perfect nap here)

Often when I’m running sessions with teams about establishing habits for happy and productive flexible working, including naps and working different hours, the topic of guilt emerges.

I hear things like ‘If I’m not at my desk from 9-5 I feel guilty.’ or ‘I’d feel too guilty to nap’ or ‘I feel guilty if I don’t answer my email straight away’

Is guilt healthy or unhealthy?

Guilt can be healthy. Feelings of guilt can motivate you to live according to your values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you’re more likely to treat them as you would wish to be treated. However, unnecessary feelings of guilt can be unhelpful or even harmful to your quality of working life.

If the thought of working different hours or taking naps in your working day sparks feelings of guilt keep reading. Below are some tips to help you tackle these feelings. It will take practice and deliberate re-thinking to change entrenched patterns of guilt. Be patient with yourself and your team. Remember flexible working is here to stay and for it to be a happy and productive experience the best time to tackle any guilt about working flexibly is now.

Be direct and get more information. Ask your colleagues and manager whether it matters when you work. If you’re part of a team it’s important to agree and communicate when your working hours are. Good use of an out of office responder or a line in your email signature to let people know when you’re there and when you’re not can help manage expectations too.

Napping has been proven to increase productivity. Rather than pushing yourself through the brain fog, a better use of your time is to take a nap and return refreshed and more alert. It will make you more productive. Have a go at reframing a nap as a productivity hack.

Challenge your expectations of yourself Consider whether you have a tendency to expect too much from yourself. Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. What would an outsider say?

Think how you’d see things if the roles were reversed. What would you think if your colleague said they were going to nap between 2 and 3 each day and work an hour more at the start or the end of the day? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light.

Look for the evidence. If you feel guilty not working the conventional 9-5 because you’re feeling that you’re ‘not doing enough’ or feel that others will think you’re not doing enough, list all the things that you’ve delivered on at work. Will working different hours make any impact on your ability to deliver?

Give yourself permission. Or if you manage a team, explicitly give your team permission (or you could even set it as a task) to figure out when they are most productive, when they are least productive and when a nap would be beneficial. Experiment to find the working patterns that work best for you. Agree them with your team and ensure everyone knows. This manages expectations and reduces feelings of guilt.

Working flexibly is here to stay. It’s a big shift in mind-set for everyone. It’s important that we look after ourselves and each other. Rest when we’re tired, work when we’re at our best and nap when we need to.

If you’d like help to ensure that your team is happy, productive and guilt free in their flexible working life, drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

Quick tips on how to be successful at working from home

Working from home

In 2012 I left a full time permanent job to go freelance, and I started working from home. I believed (and still do) that I could make more of a difference working with lots of different individuals, teams and organisations than being on the inside of a big, slow-moving establishment.

I remember how it felt when I first decided to work at home permanently.

Great in theory. Terrible in practice.

Working from home as your main way of operating is very different from having a permanent job and working from home occasionally to get a report, application or strategy paper done without interruption. The days span out ahead of you with so much to do, so many intentions, a million movable deadlines. You’re accountable to you. Who will find out if you don’t get dressed, if you eat all the Hobnobs or catch up on Netflix? I’ve learned that to successfully work at home, be productive and remain sane there’s some things that you need to put in place.

We’re all different and the first lesson is to find your own systems, routines and tactics that work for you. You might be choosing to work from home, or it might be something that is necessity because of the coronavirus situation. Either way, you have a choice. You can choose to make the most of the opportunity and do your best. Whether you’re a seasoned pro at working from home, or if you’re new to it, here’s some tips that I hope will help.

Have a routine

Get up at the same time each day. Get washed and dressed. Wear clothes, that if you had an unplanned video conference or if a client or colleague popped in for coffee would be acceptable. I don’t mean that you have to wear a suit, but you do have to wear something.

Start work at the same time each day. Sit at a desk. Give yourself breaks. The worst thing is to potter about putting off work doing ‘important’ tasks like washing, cleaning up, and sorting out your sock drawer. It’s fine to do these ‘important’ things as long as you start work on time. For me, I always feel like I’ve achieved if I’ve put a load of washing on – and my rule is that it must go on before I go on my fake commute (see below).

Focus

I’m a list lover. I write a list at the end of the previous working day of the most important tasks to do the following day. I re-assess the list first thing in the morning and then I force myself to do the priority tasks first. Don’t write a list of everything. It works best for me when I have three clear priority tasks. I mean tasks that are manageable. For example if you have to write a marketing plan, don’t write ‘Do marketing plan’ on your list. Break it down into smaller chunks. For example, you might start by 1. Get email response rates and web analytics 2. Analyse the email response rates 3. What can you learn from the results and how might that influence your email marketing going forward? The days when I don’t do this are not as productive as the days that I do. It’s that simple. However not always that easy.

Work in chunks of time

The Pomodoro Technique suggests breaking your time into 20 minute chunks. I know my concentration span is about 45 minutes. What’s yours? Start to experiment. Start a piece of work that you need to focus on. Set your timer for 20 minutes. Then gradually set the timer for longer. How long can you focus for? Find your optimum and then set a timer and break your work into chunks of your optimum size.

Turn off distractions

When you work from home there are, at any given moment about 17,000 distractions that take you away from the tasks you need to get done. Turn off all distractions. Turn off notifications on the million apps you have on your phone. Put your phone out of arms reach. Turn off your email. Get a task done on your list.. Then, and only then check your email, WhatsApp and your dogs Instagram. (Yes, Gary has his own page – check him out here!)

Work when you’re at your best

We’re all different. I know I do my best work first thing in the morning. I often get more done between 6am and 9am than the whole of the rest of the day. Think about how you work and make sure you schedule the hard work at the time of day you’re most productive. Then in those slump times, when you’re less productive, go for a walk, have a power nap or do some of the admin that you can do on autopilot.

Do a fake commute

I’m a big fan of the fake commute. Whether that’s a walk round the block via the local coffee shop or a stroll round the park or even for some the walk from the front door to the spot where you’re working – fake a commute. I think this is helpful for two reasons. Firstly, it signals the start of serious work, which, if you’re working from home can be tricky (especially if you’re not choosing to work from home, but it’s happened because of a necessity of the current coronavirus situation). Second, if you have a walk it gives you time to get your thoughts in order for the day and it’s a transition from non-work world to work world.

I don’t do a fake commute home. I’ve only just thought of it now as I’m writing this blog. Maybe I’ll give it a go.

Sit at a desk

It’s a lovely thought, loafing about on your sofa getting work done. However, in my experience it’s better to sit at a desk. Better for your posture. And also better for concentration. There’s advice about cordoning off a part of the house for ‘work’. I have an office in the spare bedroom, but I tend to work on the dining room table. Maybe because it’s nearer the kitchen, or maybe the light is better. I honestly don’t know. My tip is to work at a desk and work in the spot in the house that you feel most like working in.

Don’t have food that you can graze on in the cupboards

This is a very tricky one right now with people stockpiling food in preparation for self isolating and panic stories about supermarkets selling out of pasta, tomatoes and toilet rolls. (I’m not suggesting you eat toilet rolls) For me, if I have any food in the cupboard that I can pick at, snack at or in the case of cake ‘neaten up’ then its so distracting that I can’t concentrate until I’ve eaten it. And I can’t just eat one biscuit in the pack. The whole pack has to go. So, if this resonates with you, simply don’t have food that you can graze, pick or neaten in the cupboards.

Connect to other people every day

This is the most important tip. If you do nothing else take note of this one. Humans are social animals. We need connection. I’m an introvert. I like my own company. I’m happy alone. I’ve travelled on my own a lot and had a marvellous time. In fact, some of the worst experiences travelling alone involved being adopted by well meaning families who didn’t want to see me having dinner on my own.

However, extrovert or introvert, we’re fundamentally all social animals and need connection. I remember when I was new to working from home having a chat with a client on the phone. They were the first person I’d spoken to all day. They needed to get on with their work. I was asking them what their plans were for the weekend because I didn’t want to get off the phone! This was a problem!

If you’re working from home ensure that you have connection. Not on email or messenger. Have a conversation with another human being. Schedule at least one phone or video conference call with a colleague, friend or client each day. Talking to the dog/cat/guinea pig doesn’t count here. You need a two-way conversation.

Connect today

I’ve got two things that will help you work from home. First join the Lucidity Community Facebook group. A place to connect, ask for help and get support on anything work related.

And then watch this free webinar on being happy and productive when working from home.  Here’s your link to sign up.

Free webinar - be happier and more productive working from home

 

And if you’d like to connect, please drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk and we can book a time for a chat.

Take care x