As a leader, your job is to create results through your team. You do that by enabling people to do their best work. For knowledge-based organisations, the Covid-19 crisis provides unprecedented opportunity to rethink the way we work to improve people’s wellbeing, ability to perform and realise the benefits faster than ever before.
The world has changed radically. The chief executives of Barclays and WPP, the world’s biggest employer in the marketing and advertising sector, are predicting an end to crowded London city centre offices and rush hours as flexible working becomes the new normal. Changes that would have taken years to implement in large organisations have already been made. Now is the time to ensure we understand what these changes mean to the way we work and how to build on what we have learned.
The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on a lot of organisations. Entire industries have been shut down without the ability to work at all. As a start-up founder, I deeply sympathise with the business owners and employees in those industries and appreciate that they have far more critical things on their minds than performance improvement.
Factors impacting the ability to perform
The factors affecting the ability perform are the same, but the crisis increased the influence of some factors and reduced the impact of others. You can utilise the change to your advantage and improve your organisation’s ability to perform not just now, but also after the crisis.
Motivation and competency are a prerequisite for high-performance. However, in our work with leaders in knowledge-based organisations, we find that the lack of motivation and competency are not the most prominent issues.
In our experience, the most prominent issues are related to not having clear and actionable priorities or not investing enough energy, time and attention in the most critical objectives.
Prioritisation increases your productivity – if you prioritise the right things. When you prioritise your work, you can better invest your limited resources of energy, time and attention.
Competencies such as complex problem solving, critical thinking and managing relations with other people are some of the most vital competencies for knowledge-work – even more so in the future. Lack of energy limits your brain’s ability to perform these competencies fully.
You need to have the time it takes to get the work done; otherwise, the work will either not get done or lack quality. Most of us have more things to do than there are hours in a day. Being deliberate around how we use our time is, therefore, essential for our performance.
Different types of work need different types of attention. Our most value-adding work often needs our undivided attention. Hence the ability to focus and concentrate without interruptions is critical.
What the Covid-19 crisis has changed
Covid-19 has changed the way we work. Most people are working from home, and for people that do not usually work from home, it has introduced a lot of change. The outcomes are not all bad, though.
The adoption of tools for online meetings and communications has happened faster than even the most optimistic internal IT function could dream of. People have learned new ways of being productive, that saves time. Our clients say that their meetings are shorter and more effective. Meetings end when the outcome has been achieved and not when the scheduled time runs out. Also, some people report that they simply get more work done because they are not as disturbed.
On the negative side, the less social connection can leave people feeling lonely and out of touch with what is going on.
It is important to remember that even though we are all affected by the same crisis, our conditions are very different. For example, being able to focus and concentrate on your work while having to look after young children at the same time is very difficult.
When analysing data from users of the FOCUSWRX application, we can see that people are sleeping better than before the crisis. Better sleep has a significant impact on your overall wellbeing and gives you more energy – a 6% increase when comparing January and April.
The numbers are certainly not statistically representative for people in general. Yet a current UK study shows the same trend. University College London surveyed over 75.000 people and found that wellbeing has improved in the last three weeks.
The factors affecting people’s ability to perform has not changed, but your ability to optimise them has significantly.
Utilising the changes to your advantage
The crisis provides you with unprecedented opportunity to learn how to improve the way we work.
Large organisations are already considering changes that were unheard of before the crisis, as the statement below by Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays, shows, after having had more than 70.000 people working from home.
Flexible working works, and it does not decrease productivity when done right. A recent study by RescueTime that makes time tracking software showed that knowledge workers, software developers, and IT professionals are all more productive when they work from home and save 2–5.5 hours a day compared to office workers. Yet remote work is not for all people and all types of work – even for knowledge workers.
Your organisation has adopted new tools and ways of working faster than ever before. Think about how long it would have taken to implement the change you have already implemented if it had not been for the crisis – years most likely. You have a goldmine of learnings already that you can utilise.
Getting back into the office is the perfect time to introduce a different way of working.
How to get started
So where do you start? When we help organisations focus execution on the most critical business objectives and improve people’s ability to perform, we strive to enable three capabilities:
- Clarify priorities and make them actionable
- Maintain the energy required for sustainable high performance
- Work in a way that utilises time and energy most effectively
To help you get started, we provide our recommendations for what to consider in the context of these three capabilities.
Clarify priorities and make them actionable
In a time where teams are more dispersed, understanding your priorities and how to achieve them becomes even more critical to the ability to perform. Planning isn’t difficult; execution is. It is far easier to be reactive than to deliberately make time for the things that are important but not urgent. It is also far easier as leaders to hand out new priorities than to take priorities away or let people know how the new one ranks relative to the old ones.
Momentum is lost when strategic objectives are not clear enough for people to translate them into actionable work activities that can be prioritised. When people understand how to contribute meaningfully, it increases their sense of purpose, which in turn improves performance. Improving the ability to work more autonomously creates more agility.
Do you have clear and actionable priorities? Does your team? Consider what you can do to make it easier to do the things that matter most.
We like to use the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework. If you need a framework to focus and align your team, you might want to explore OKRs. If you are unfamiliar with OKRs and need a quick read on practical application, I can recommend a newly released book OKRs At The Center, by Natalija Hellesoe and Sonja Mewes.
Maintain the energy required for sustainable high performance
Energy is the fuel for cognitive performance. Your energy level is influenced by the way your needs, such as physical needs (your sleep, rest, move and fuel) and social needs, are satisfied.
Having coached close to a thousand people based on objective physiological data from wearables, we have learned that people are generally unaware of the impact their behaviour and environments has on their energy level.
Our data indicate that in the current environment, our social needs suffer more than our physical needs. We have more energy for cognitively demanding work, but we miss the interaction with real people that happens spontaneously around the coffee machine.
How can you provide the flexibility that enables people to better manage their energy going forward? As awkward as it may be at first, consider putting social events on the calendar during the workday during the crisis.
Work in a way that utilises time and energy most effectively
The ability to perform is not just influenced by prioritising, setting aside time and having enough energy. When and where you work on specific types of work has a considerable impact on your productivity.
We simplify knowledge-work into five work modes: Focus, Collaboration, Reactive, Repetitive and Recharge Mode.
Each work mode places different demands on your energy and attention. You spend less time and energy on your work when you can give it the energy and attention it needs for you to be effective.
As a result of the crisis, you now have the infrastructure, tools and work practices in place to enable working from home and other flexible work arrangements. It may not be perfect yet, but some of the most substantial obstacles have been removed, and the resistance to change lowered significantly.
Determine which type of work is essential to achieve your most critical business objectives and how you can create the best conditions for people to get the job done. Some types of work are better suited for remote work than others. A 2012 study showed that working from home has a negative impact on the productivity of dull tasks, but a positive impact on the productivity of creative tasks.
How can you turn this crisis – that we would all rather have been without – into improved performance for your organisations and improved wellbeing for your employees?
Let us know if we can help.