There is no one ‘right’ way of being productive
Allow your people to work in a way that works for them
By Anetta Pizag
Photo: Martin Metelko
Employees and candidates are increasingly seeking autonomy and choice in the way they work and its not just millennials who want to do things their own way in the workplace. Especially in knowledge-based industries, members of all generations are eager to understand and improve their personal work styles, and to work in ways that allow them to contribute to the best of their ability.
The desire to work effectively and thus to make a significant difference in this world can be so strong that many employees are willing to choose lower-paid jobs and even take the risk of venturing out on their own in order to feel that their time and effort translates to real value. As Steve Jobs famously said, It doesnt make sense to hire smart people and then tell them
what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. I believe its time to expand on this, and to allow our smart people not only to decide what to do, but also how they do it. Because different people often need vastly different environments and work practices in order to be able to excel.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
We all know that the 9 to 5 model is flawed, and that forcing people to sit still all day in front of a screen will not make them more productive rather the contrary. For example, some employees are morning people, perhaps even ready to start working before sunrise, while others are more productive late at night. Some people work best if they can retreat to a quiet bubble and focus on a single task for hours, while others prefer to move around a lot, change tasks often, and chat with others at every opportunity. Still, we can be quite judgmental when our team members work differently from what we perceive as the right way of working.
When clean desk fanatics those who actually agree the age-old slogan a messy desk is a messy head see a cluttered desk, they often draw the conclusion that the owner of that desk cant be on top of their work. On the other hand, when members of the messy desk league see a perfectly organized workspace, they might think that the people who work there must be overly meticulous, inflexible and uncreative.
As another example, when a team member goes for an extensive walk or bike ride during a busy day in the office, it might look like that person is way too relaxed about work, slack even. In contrast, when you see someone being constantly busy, you might assume that this person is in a hamster wheel, working fast but taking no time to look at the big picture and innovate. These conclusions may or may not be valid. However, my point is that the types of work activities that happen in todays organizations, along with peoples personalities, skills and backgrounds, are extremely diverse, and so we cant describe what productive work must look like in a simple formula
Some people need clean desks, while others are more in tune with their work in a messier (and consequently more personalized and stimulating) environment. Some people tend to come up with their best ideas through quiet contemplation, while others are more likely to have epiphanies when they focus outward, rather than inward chatting with others, and watching and listening to whats happening around them.
NURTURE THE DIVERSITY OF YOUR TEAM
Having a diverse team is key for an organization to stay competitive. But the more different our team members are, the more differences we see in the way they approach their work. Instead of suppressing these differences, we need to give our people the freedom to work in ways that work for them.
If your people produce excellent results, I encourage you to respect the fact that they may work very differently from you. And if their performance is less than impressive, I suggest that you take the time to work with them and look for the root cause of the issue. It could well have something to do with their work habits, or it might be something completely different of course. Either way, you can best support your people if you understand their work styles really well.
- In what sort of places do they work most effectively on various tasks?
- Which tools and communication channels do they use most naturally?
- Which part of the day are they most productive?
- How long can they pay attention without taking a break?
- Do they work best alone or in a team?
- How do they recharge their mental and emotional batteries?
- Where do their best ideas come from?
PERHAPS IT’S TIME TO ALSO LEARN ABOUT YOUR OWN WORK STYLE?
And while youre at it, you might also want to ask yourself these questions, and review how you could improve your own work habits. Most people believe that they know themselves really well in regards to how they work most effectively. But do your work habits really serve you? Have you perhaps inherited or copied some work patterns from others that dont feel quite Right?
Once you start exploring different ways of working, you might be surprised. Find ways you havent worked before, and test them out. Work in new places. With an unusual schedule. Use new tools. Collaborate with new people. And so on.
Not only will you improve your own effectiveness at work, but youll also grow your appreciation of the differences in the way we all work, and will be better able to support your team members to develop their own personalized strategies to make the most of their talent.
Anetta Pizag has a role of chief workplace consultant on Kragelj’s Advisory Board. She is dedicated to creating thriving work environments. Her workplace design consultancy Pizag, based in Melbourne, helps business owners improve their workspaces and make work a rewarding experience. You can connect with Anetta at firstname.lastname@example.org.