It’s Time to Reset: The Future of Work Means Moving from Surviving to Thriving

Nathan Allen

by Nathan Allen

5 min read
It’s Time to Reset: The Future of Work Means Moving from Surviving to Thriving
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Whether you’re a remote-first company or you had to rapidly pivot to a work-from-home system in 2020, you may be rethinking how your business will move forward. Without a doubt, recent times have thrust managers and company leaders into survival mode.

Truth: It’s time to move away from reactive mode and set your strategic plans in place if you want to take your company from surviving the pandemic to thriving beyond it. Check out the proven strategies below to help you begin to rethink and reset.

Before You Do Anything Else, Connect Work to a Purpose

In their book, The Progress Principle, Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile and independent researcher-writer Steven Kramer looked into how a sense of progress impacts employees’ emotional and intellectual well-being.

Sahar Yousef, cognitive neuroscientist and coresearcher of Asana’s 2021 Anatomy of Work, cites Amabile and Kramer in that report: “They found that of all the factors that drive creativity, productivity, and collegiality among employees, the single most important one is a sense of making progress on meaningful work.”

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Yousef continues, “Even small signs of forward progress and celebrations of success induce huge positive effects on teams’ psyches. The takeaway? It’s critical to give people the freedom to carve out time for their most important work every day and to help employees see the meaningful impact their work is having.”

But wait—aren’t you and your employees already spending most of your time on your most important work?

Answer: No.

More Work, Less “Work About Work”

Simply put, work about work is any task that detracts from the skilled work people are hired to do. As the Asana report notes, nearly two-thirds of work time is spent on work coordination, instead of the specific duties and projects listed in job descriptions. The report analyzed attitudes and behaviors of more than 13,000 “knowledge workers” in eight different countries, including the United States.

Why does that matter? For one, despite the fact that people worked longer hours in 2020, compared with 2019, the rate of missed deadlines increased. Second, only one-third of work effort is actually building an organization’s bottom line.

The solution? “To tackle these issues in the year ahead, we need clear processes to plan, organize, and prioritize workloads and tasks, whether in the office or at home. This will enable busy leaders and their teams to be crystal clear on their most important daily, weekly, and long-term priorities,” the Asana report states. “By fostering a culture of clarity—and implementing one system to manage work—teams can align on who is doing what and avoid scenarios where individuals are spending precious hours on work that’s already been completed.”

Rethink Work Meetings

One way to pare down work about work is simply to pare down meetings. However, that’s obviously much easier said than done.

“Having video conferences all day long is totally the wrong direction.” That’s how Basecamp CEO and cofounder Jason Fried put it in a Medium post on how to rework remote work. “The beauty of remote working is the opportunity to improve the way you work, to cut way back on meetings, to cut back on the number of people that need to be involved in any decision, to cut back on the need to FaceTime constantly.”

Before planning a meeting, ask yourself—and your coworkers or employees—if that meeting is absolutely necessary. If it isn’t, cut it. Another strategy is to reserve one or two days a week as “designated meeting days” and leave the other days meeting-free to increase productivity. If meetings simply must happen, consider adopting a video-optional culture. Like many things, Zoom and video meetings work best in moderation.

If you’re on the receiving end of an invite to a meeting that you know will waste your time and interrupt your productivity, practice your TSNTY (tactful, strategic “no thank you”) skills. If you have trouble crafting the right words, try one of the 50 examples that Indeed.com’s career guide offers.

Curb Employee Burnout Through the Job-Demand-Control-Support Model

Burnout is real, as are increased quit rates across industries. As you refresh your hybrid or remote work approach from surviving to thriving, consider implementing concepts from the job-demand-control-support model.

The general idea is that lower job demands, coupled with increased control over your job and support from supervisors and coworkers, will improve your psychological well-being and, in turn, your productivity.

As you approach this reset, investigate if work demands are indeed too high. A lot of subtle (and not so subtle) mission creep happened during the pandemic. Are roles among team members clear? If you or your employees could change any roles or tasks, what would those be?

Next comes the hard part: actually making those changes. How? Increase your employees’ control over their work tasks by continually evolving flexible remote work and working hours policies. Include your employees in open and respectful discussions about job responsibility.

Lastly, boost the support you provide. This can come from increasing meaningful social interactions like one-on-one meetings, making sure everyone has the tools they need to succeed, and empowering people to say yes and no as appropriate.

Do It Right from the Start: New Hire Onboarding

Optimizing the onboarding of new hires is another way to continually improve an organization’s trajectory and culture. Darleen DeRosa and James M. Citrin, coauthors of Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, suggest these basic strategies for onboarding in a remote setting:

  • Get new employees off to a fast start
  • Establish strong relationships across the organization
  • Build new employees’ understanding of company culture
  • Set clear work expectations
  • Connect new employees’ work tasks to the organization’s broader mission, vision, and goals

“It turns out that the biggest barrier to creating an intentional, differentiated onboarding experience is often mindset,” DeRosa and Citrin write. “In the same way it took television time to find the best ways to exploit the new medium (and grow beyond the earliest TV shows, which were really just radio shows filmed with cameras), so too will companies need to develop onboarding programs that are tailored to the times and the technology.”

Help Your Organization Evolve Into What It Wants to Be

A McKinsey report looking at how companies can move from surviving to thriving after the pandemic advises asking some fundamental and philosophical questions about your role, your company you’re your unit and the way these things work.

Knowing your and your organization’s identity is a commonality among highly adaptable companies, according to the McKinsey report: “Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for, beyond shareholder value, and how to get things done right.”

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But Be Realistic

All organizations want to do more than survive, but your company might not be able to rethink or reboot at the levels discussed here. So where can you start?

Consider moving in that direction just by enhancing what you’re already doing.

Do you send out employee pulse surveys? Take the time to sit down and address them honestly and genuinely. Do you encourage employees to nurture their teams? Schedule a half day of paid time for specific team-building activities (no work allowed!)? Do you value transparency? If so, how can you show that? Keep digging deeper with questions like these to move your company toward thriving—and make sure to ask your employees for their suggestions to do so.

Taking these steps will help you lead your organization strategically, rather than just reacting to the changes forced by the pandemic.

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Matthew Confer is the VP of Strategy at Abilitie based in Austin, TX. Abilitie offers a 12-week part-time mini-MBA and leadership development programs that teach management skills with practice simulations. He is the host of the Learn To Lead Podcast and produced the TEDx Talk, Before You Decide: 3 Steps
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