Bench International

In the digital workplace, where did the time go?

In the digital workplace, where did the time go?

Insight by: Tracy Donegan

Prior to the pandemic, a two-hour commute plus a ten-hour workday seemed easily manageable with time to spare for dinner and a movie. In today’s hybrid work environment, I anxiously wait for the end of the workday, not to eat, but to begin to get my work done. Home is no longer “where the heart is,” it’s in the room where you last left your laptop.

Arguably, I should have more time than I did before, because I commute less often, and I haven’t had the need to run an errand since March 2020. So why do I feel like I’ve lost productive time? This question occurred to me while reading a Gartner piece on “Myths that impede workforce digital dexterity”. Gartner noted that the pandemic helped us quickly adopt new digital workplace technology, but organizations may not have realized the full benefit of their investments because they layered them on top of old ways of working.

But how to unsnarl this jerrybuilt work structure? It reminds me of the time when I didn’t properly assemble my new office chair because I didn’t see the need to read the instructions. I learned that “some assembly required” translates into a more vexing undertaking for “disassembly required”, assuming you want a functional office chair. Similarly, the challenge with new digital technology is not implementing the tools, it’s disassembling the old work culture and reassembling it in a way that reclaims productive time.

One day, as I opened my Outlook calendar, I found myself in a state of shock as I was confronted by the handiwork of meeting-makers who had me double or tripled booked nearly every half hour. In that moment, as the quiet panic feeling set in, came the epiphany: This is where the time has gone! The virtual workplace has created the expectation, and the digital technology has made it altogether too easy.

Meetings rob staff of having hearty blocks of focused and productive time, yet their work must still be completed. This intensifies pressure on staff because they know that multitasking during meetings makes them ineffective in the meeting and ineffective at the task they are simultaneously performing. Staff are left with the choices of engaging in a meeting they may deem unnecessary, multi-tasking while knowing they are being ineffective, or extending their workday. The Great Resignation has added to this challenge because there may be less of a team to share the workload burden.

Organizationally, meetings are expensive, may be inefficient, and prolong progress. For example, if a meeting is arranged for a critical attendee but then canceled because the attendee is out sick, the team is worse off because valuable time is lost waiting for everyone’s calendars to realign.

HBR surveyed companies who reduced their meetings over the course of 14 months and found that employees rated themselves 35% more productive when they were given one meeting-free day each week. Adding a second meeting-free day doubled the employees’ rating of productivity, from 35% to 71%. Adding a third and fourth day also improved the rating, but not to the same degree.

Although meetings may play a key role in the modern workplace, there may be a benefit from restructuring some meetings as “asynchronous” meetings. Asynchronous meetings are not conducted in real-time; rather, invitees participate at a time that works for them. An agenda, meeting content, and a call to action is posted; discussion occurs asynchronously; the comments are read and digested; a conclusion is drawn; and next steps are posted.

Digital workplace technologies, such as collaboration platforms, video presentations, and podcasts allow communication and sharing of information without the burden of synching calendars. Meeting discussion, decisions, and intellectual capital are captured and memorialized as artifacts without the rework of tidying and validating meeting minutes. Attendees can engage on their own time, which gives them more time to process the meeting material, thereby resulting in more thoughtful engagement and less impulsivity. Collaboration occurring in this manner may add tangible value more quickly than real-time meetings. Importantly, it returns meaningful, productive time to staff who desperately need it.

In the current hybrid workplace, the “Twains” of office to virtual didn’t get the “never shall they meet memo”. It seems all the “Twains” do is meet!

In the future state of the modern workplace, endless meetings will be remembered with the same disdain as a cassette recording from the eighties. We stopped watching live-TV by utilizing the technology of live streaming and podcasting. People are taking control of their entertainment on their own time. Let’s do the same by using asynchronous meetings.