Why we need to ban “occupied” in a post-pandemic world


If you ask someone how their week has been, the answer is usually “busy.” In fact, superficially, we’ve never been so busy. Recent research shows that 52% of UK workers said they worked more hours in a week when working from home[i].

It is a badge of honor to say that you are busy. It’s an abbreviated term used to say, “My work matters – don’t question the value I bring. This view is compounded by a culture where, unless you are busy and unhappy at work, you are not successful. If you don’t live up to LinkedIn influencer claim that you get up at 4 a.m., spend an hour in the gym, take the kids to school, and then work 14 hours a day, you’re useless.

Yet being busy offers no value. We all know the phrase “being a busy jerk”. Many more will have heard of Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Plus, when people say they are busy, they think it will be applauded by coworkers and managers. But what others hear is that the busy person isn’t very good at prioritizing their time. In short, being busy has no correlation with productivity and it has become a tyranny. We need to stop focusing on how busy we are and more on our productivity.

Productivity has fallen
It has never been more important for the UK as it recovers from the pandemic. Efficiency has always been a huge challenge for our nation. Just before the first lockdown, the UK productivity slowdown was found to be the worst it has been since the Industrial Revolution[ii]. To make this worse, the ONS says output per worker in the second quarter of 2021 was 2.7% lower than pre-pandemic levels[iii]. All of that overtime that we worked is probably to blame.

Yet the adoption of new technologies to improve productivity has exploded over the past 18 months. Thanks to remote working, more and more people are using software such as Microsoft 365, Asana, Monday and Slack. Less than a month after the first lockdown, 2.7 billion minutes of team meetings were recorded in one day[iv].

Become efficient
This raises the question of how HR teams and leaders can increase efficiency, help people become less busy and using the tools we all know now.

First of all, pay attention to the weather. Employees need to understand how to prioritize it, through training, and leaders need to collect and study data on how people use it. Staff can use software such as To Do, which allows them to manage their tasks from a smartphone, tablet and computer.

Meanwhile, team leaders may want to consider Planner, which enables team management, file sharing, and organization. There are also tools that provide data-driven insight into how people work and give them personalized recommendations to improve the way they do it.

With time in mind, always take breaks. If people don’t have time to clear their minds, recuperate, and refocus, they will become tired. This has been shown to reduce the productivity of 66 percent of workers[v]. While an hour for lunch may be the goal, several small breaks have been proven to work just as well.[vi].

No one should be forced to quit their job, but creating a culture where breaks are applauded is important. Maybe you tie those breaks to natural deadlines throughout the day and use scheduling tools to set deadlines with break rewards at the end.

Leaders must also discourage a culture of endless meetings, be it face-to-face, on Zoom, Google, teams of any other platform. They might even want to set limits and come up with polite ways to refuse. For meetings that do take place, encourage them to be shorter and with fewer people. There is also technology available to provide workers and managers with insights from their meetings. Perhaps one of the positive results of the lockdown is the ability to see how much time is wasted, which can be reduced.

Once these steps are taken, consider starting off some tasks with robotic process automation (RPA). This is when software robots can be trained to perform monotonous and repetitive tasks that save time. These virtual assistants don’t wobble around an office, they’re snippets of code that work like little assistants on your screen. They can be trained to take control of the mouse, keyboard, and software to lighten the workload. They are great for processing invoices, sorting emails, and entering data. This allows people to focus on the work that offers greater value.

Finally, don’t miss the ride, just because you’re not commuting. With people operating from home, many now miss the natural decompression and thinking time that these moments of sitting in a car, bus, train, or subway provide. Some of the collaboration tools we’ve become accustomed to have built-in virtual commuting features that inspire people to finish tasks, plan for the next day, and even engage in mindfulness activity.

Forbid word b
The next time someone asks you how your week went, take a deep breath and remember to tell them what you accomplished, not how busy you were. Or better yet, tell them you had a great week and everything was under control. Let them see how effortless success can be when you take the right steps.

There are hundreds of technological ways to increase efficiency individually and between organizations. Many of us have only scratched the surface of our power. But now that we are using all of these platforms, let’s explore what they can offer and ban the b word forever.

[i] HR Magazine, Employees continue to overwork during third confinement

[ii] The Guardian, UK productivity slowdown worst since industrial revolution – study

[iii] ONS UK productivity flash estimate: April to June 2021

[iv] Remote Work Trend Report: Meetings

[v] Smallbusiness.co.uk, Fatigue affects the productivity of UK businesses

[vi] BBC, Little Breaks That Relieve Your Body and Reboot Your Brain

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