Do you ever take pause to marvel at how technology has increased our workplace productivity? Every day, every hour, my team uses smart phones, cloud computing apps and video conferencing to deliver exceptional service to our clients and employees. Our devices allow us to take a conference call with colleagues several time zones away after we tuck our kids into bed. We can finish a crucial payroll report while participating in a marketing call and eating lunch. Even with a lean organizational structure, we can access information and accomplish exponentially more in a workweek than a considerably larger team could have just 5-10 years ago.
But is there a hidden “cost” to this uber-productivity? Recent analysis shows that on average, most employees spend six hours of their workday sending and receiving emails, attending conference calls and meetings, and retrieving information online. That leaves about two hours to accomplish the work you’re held accountable for. To get it all done, we use our mobile devices to extend our workday into our personal lives. Many of us sleep next to our phones, checking emails before we go to sleep and as soon as we wake up. Long hours and constant access to work is depleting us of crucial downtime needed to recharge our brains. How can we tap the creative juices from an over-stimulated, burned-out workforce?
Forward-thinking organizations are shaping a culture that supports creativity and innovation over the sheer number of hours logged. They understand that the best and brightest want to contribute mindshare that positively impacts the bottom line. To offer this type of collaborative environment, companies know that they need to provide both time and space that encourages meaningful interaction and creative process.
The Investment of Time
Our general state of information overload gives us little time for problem solving and meaningful thought processes. Managers of late (thanks to the economy) are seeking to squeeze the most productivity out of their best employees, but experts say that after prolonged periods of intense effort, our brains and bodies need short periods of deep recovery to continue performing optimally.
Initiatives like “No Meeting Wednesdays” give employees unscheduled days to think through obstacles and tackle new projects. Some employers are encouraging “off the grid periods” so individuals don’t feel undue pressure to check emails during evenings and weekends. Others offer tenured employees paid sabbaticals and mandated vacations to explore outside interests and recharge their right brain. Unstructured time is an investment in future productivity for the broader organization.
When technology allows us to truly work anywhere, it’s important to carve out specific spaces for focused thinking and ideation. Employees need a regular break from their task-oriented environment to reflect, collaborate and expand ideas. This is especially important for virtual workers who may feel more isolated from teammates, missing some of that contact and collaboration. Many employers are creating a variety of “thinking zones” for employees, including quiet libraries for reflection and stimulating co-working space for group meetings and brainstorming sessions. Some conference rooms have been stripped of their hi-tech projection screens and laptop ports in favor of rolls of brown paper and colored markers. Companies are “mixing it up” and seeing positive results.
Of course technology has enabled us to accomplish so much with less restriction on how and where we do work. But as with any positive trend, there can be long-term repercussions. Organizations that value ingenuity are balancing the use of technology with environments and initiatives that foster well-rounded thinkers.
How do you balance productivity with creative thinking in your organization?
Maria Goldsholl is COO of Mom Corps
Tags: Flexible Cultures