Now the New Year is upon us it’s a perfect time to re-assess what IS and ISN’T working in your working regime. In 2023 we spent a lot of time working in organisations from all sectors and at all levels, especially with leaders and leadership teams. It gives us a privileged insight into current working practices, especially the impact of hybrid working on people’s working patterns and habits.
During the next six months we will be exploring the themes which have directly come out of the work we have been doing in the articles we write. We want to address the issues in common and, in typical Meta style, bring you some easy-to-use, practical tools that you can use to reduce these issues’ impacts on you.
We’ve all been involved in a global experiment in hybrid working. The pandemic brought forward the need to create a more flexible working model that allowed people to work from home, and there is no doubt that, after the initial challenges, working from home was a rip-roaring success.
Then, as the restrictions eased, working from home became ‘hybrid-working’ and over the last couple of years, every organisation has experimented with their own model for hybrid working – to varying degrees of success and engagement from their staff.
As far as we can tell here at Meta, most organisations have a one-four or two-three day split between office and home. Interestingly, it tends to be the larger corporates, or some bigger public sector organisations (for example the NHS), who got rid of much of their office space and have embraced greater home working percentages.
Having worked in all three sectors in 2023, extensively around collaboration, team-communication, re-building resilience and leadership, it’s fair to say that hybrid working has truly changed the way we work, and how we interact and collaborate with colleagues. It’s not easy to have the same (important) non-work conversations, and social interaction – the informal relationship building – that happens when you’re at the office, if you’re at home.
It’s impacting how teams work together, how they communicate, how they collaborate, and how they build and maintain relationships. It’s also impacting the individual leader or staff team member, as they no longer have that same level of informal support from sitting in an office in amongst their team. And it inevitably affects the efficiency and performance of the teams too.
Now, many of the bigger corporate organisations have done research into productivity in their teams (are they still getting the output they need from their workforce?) and found that productivity in the hybrid working world is higher than it was pre-pandemic. BUT, and this is a big BUT, it comes at a cost to the individual worker. One of those costs is longer work hours – especially when working from home.
Not having enough time in the day to get everything that needs to get done, is one of the most consistent themes we have seen coming out of our work in recent years. Think about it now for yourself – do you have the time and the brain capacity to get everything that you need to get done, at the right quality level (in keeping with your level within the organisation), in your normal (i.e., contracted) working hours?
If the answer is YES to that question, then CONGRATULATIONS you are the first person that I have met in the last few years that thinks they can!
What most people choose to do (because the vast majority of people want to do a good job) is to work through their breaks and work longer hours to try and get everything done. The problem is that there are never enough hours and work is an insatiable beast – it is always hungry for more from you, and the more you give, the more it needs from you. Essentially, you’re on a hiding to nothing.
What’s fascinating to me is that our working patterns are DIFFERENT when we work in the office and when we work at home. When we’re at the office we are more likely to leave on time (or at least we don’t tend to stay as late), because we know we have to commute home, or we have to pick up the kids or take them to a club.
When we work from home, we tend to work beyond our normal office working times and, more often than not, we will also work through the time that would be our commute home. Our own empirical research at Meta also has shown that people are less likely, now than ever, to take a lunch away from their desk – or even take lunch or eat at all! Never mind take any other breaks in the day. This is something that has absolutely changed in the last 22 years that Meta has been in business.
So, with the new year upon us it’s important to reclaim your work-life balance, especially when you are working from home – and re-set your boundaries (what you will and will not do) in 2024. And, by the way, this is not only important for us as individuals, but also, for senior leaders reading this, it’s important for your organisation’s success too!
The obvious benefit is the well-being, mental health, and welfare of your staff, but the less obvious benefit is that, when we are not working so hard or as long, we tend to be more efficient and get more done (yes, even in fewer hours!). The quality of what we do improves too, and the more brain capacity we have, the more innovative and creative we can be. The less stress we feel, the better decisions we make, the more strategic we can be. The less hours we work, the more work-life balance we feel, the less stressed we are – the better we sleep. The better we sleep (and that will be a topic for another article this year, as there is a sleeplessness epidemic going on right now in the UK!) the better our all-round performance and productivity.
Now to the practical part of the article – let’s look at some simple ways to re-claim some work-life balance back.
The first step is to do your own analysis of your working patterns. How many hours do you actually work in a week?
It’s really important that you are honest with yourself. More and more people are now re-visiting work in the evenings, more and more people are checking emails on the weekend – every time you look at an email or reply to a text on your work phone you are WORKING, it counts towards your working hours tally.
Is there a difference between the days you work at home? To when you work at the office?
Do you take a lunch break? Do you eat your lunch away from your desk? Do you have any other breaks in your work-day? (We will talk another time about just how important it is to be taking your breaks!)
Once you’ve done the analysis, it’s a case of re-setting your boundaries.
As I have said earlier in the article, work is an insatiable beast, it always wants more from you, so it is inevitable, having been through the pandemic, that you have ended up doing things you probably wouldn’t have pre-pandemic. Perhaps it was leaving your work phone on in the evening, perhaps it was working through your previous commute-time when you were working from home. Perhaps it was checking your emails or picking up work again after the kids had gone to bed. Maybe it was agreeing to do that evening meeting or accepting meetings that stop you taking lunch. Whatever it is, now is the time, at the beginning of the year, to re-assess and re-set your boundaries.
Be sensible, if you’re currently working an extra two hours when you work from home, then cut it back by 30minutes or an hour at most at first. If you’re working from home in the evenings now, reclaim a few days off first. If you’ve started checking emails on the weekend or on holidays, make an agreement not to from now on. When you’ve re-set your boundaries, make sure your manager is aware of them too – and your teammates! Then they can support you and you can support them to set and keep their boundaries too!
Then let’s address the working from home, longer working hours issue. It’s time to re-visit your working from home regime. Does it really work for you?
Only you can decide how best to work from home in a way that works for you, however, here are some tips from META’s smarter working research that could help.
- Make sure you have set working times and keep to them.
- Make sure you take regular breaks and cook/prepare your lunches in advance, so you definitely get to eat! Take a walk in the garden with a cuppa, take the dog for a walk around the block – get fresh air and morning light if you can (it’ll help you sleep later!).
- Do question any meeting that you are invited to over lunchtimes – we know you can’t stop everyone, but you can at least have an agreement with your team/directorate colleagues that you don’t do meetings over lunch.
- At the end of your work-day spend the last 30minutes or so tying up loose ends, doing admin, preparing your priority list or to-do list for tomorrow, and downloading/writing down anything that’s playing on your mind.
- Re-claim your commute-home time – the commute home is actually an important part of your day, it’s an opportunity to start unwinding and de-stressing from your working day. It may sound odd but DO leave your house at the end of your working day and then, as a minimum, walk around the block and come back HOME. This will at least give you the feeling that you’ve left work. This is a good time to take your daily exercise, walk the dog, or go to the gym.
- Make a clear distinction between ‘work you’ and ‘home you’ – the lines have blurred now, as work has come into our home. So, at the end of your working day, change out of your work clothes (and make sure you actually have different work clothes) and have an end of workday routine – shower, freshen up, change, sit and have a cuppa.
- Create a restorative place to unwind at home – make sure when you’ve finished your workday and come back home, that you take 20minutes at least to download and unwind from your day. Such as a particular chair or outside seating area where you are not bothered by the kids and can escape and unwind properly. Listen to a podcast, have a glass of wine, read a book.
Follow some of these simple tips, do you own analysis, and re-set your own boundaries, and 2024 should be a more balanced work year for you. Remember, there is much more in your control than you think. If you create a working regime that works for you, then it WILL work for your team and your organisation too. If you’re happier and less-stressed, and you feel your life-work balance is more well balanced, then you will be your natural productive, creative, brilliant best more often during the day!
We hope this article has been useful, and we intend to create more of these articles in 2024. We at Meta are genuinely committed to making this experiment in hybrid-working work for all. Be that you an individual, a leader, a team, or an organisational CEO. We truly believe now is the time to change the way we work for good – to create smarter working organisations and high-performing cultures that enable everyone to thrive and excel.
For more info on the work we can do with your people, your team, your department, your organisation – then just get in touch. We love helping organisations to get the most from their people – we’d love to help you to make your hybrid-working experiment work too!
Have a great month and we’ll see you here again very soon!
In peace and with love