Where Did Our Commute Time Go?

The jury is still out on whether the pandemic has ushered in a new era of remote work but either way a lot of workers have saved a lot of time this year. So you’d think we’d have put it to good use.

Have we?

Pre pandemic, commuting was the bane of many peoples lives. The housing crisis and a lack of spending on infrastructure has led to longer, more onerous, commutes for many workers. The number of people spending more than two hours travelling to and from work every day jumped by 72% over the past decade to more than 3 million. The number of people spending 3 hours or more increased by 75% – with women being disproportionately affected.

A 2006 study from Daniel Kahneman found that respondents ranked commuting as the least enjoyable activity of the day, with a large body of research linking it to marital breakdown, depression and all manner of physical and emotional impacts. Indeed, a 20 minute increase in commute has been likened to getting a 20% pay cut.

The Nine To Five plus a growing commute also locked us into a very rigid formula where we even had to compromise our natural sleeping requirements – ruinous for mental and physical wellbeing. We all sleep differently – and our internal clock shapes our energy levels, ability to focus, and creativity throughout the day. This is known as our circadian rhythm and it has a profound effect on our productivity.

The jury is still out on whether the pandemic has truly ushered in a new era of remote work, or perhaps the shift is merely illusory , but either way many of us have saved a lot of time this year. So you’d think we’d have put it to good use.

You’d think.

In my highly unscientific Twitter poll, nearly 40% of people say they are just working more. The removal of the natural break of a commute has just extended the work day for many, with it now becoming culturally acceptable to host meetings before breakfast or after dinner. Some people say they are actually making or eating meals – during meetings.

Working through these new social etiquettes, how to be effectively heard, how to ensure we stay on top of the meeting, how to speak up without being rude, is exhausting. Combine that with making the kids breakfast and you’re heading for a crisis.

However some people are loving their new found freedom:

So what explains the different choices people are making? A more scientific study from the US indicates they might not even be choices.

The research found that different types of workers used their time savings very differently. Independent employees (i.e. those without managerial responsibilities) reallocated much of it to personal activities like hobbies, exercise, sleeping, whereas managers just worked longer hours and spent more time in meetings.

Importantly , for managers, the increase in work hours more than offset the loss in commuting time. They not only used the previously allocated commute time for working – they added extra time to it.

Let’s remember the virality of meetings is not a new finding. In 2014, a research team from Bain and Company used data mining tools to analyse the Microsoft Outlook schedules in a large company. It concluded that in one calendar year the organisation spent 300,000 hours in meetings.

Given there are only 8,760 hours in a year that’s quite some feat. It’s because of what they termed the Ripple Effect:

  • The weekly Executive Meeting – essentially a status meeting – accounted for 7,000 hours.
  • 11 Unit Heads met with their senior team to prepare for that meeting – another 20,000 hours.
  • The 21 divisions racked up 63,000 hours in the subsequent team briefings.
  • 210,000 hours were “sub-meetings”. Literally – meetings about the other meetings

The findings showed that, unchecked, meetings spread. And it seems that this pandemic has acted as a kind of super-spreader for even more meetings.

Of course, it is possible that many of us are exaggerating the hours we are putting in. There is evidence emerging of blurring, the distinction between work and non-work disappearing so it appears you are at work longer than you actually are. We pad the work day out with household chores, exercise or even entertainment. The Harvard study found that often there was no increase in total time spent working, but an increase in work-day spans.

However, the enlightened (or lucky) ones are embracing the new world of work to explore new hobbies, do more exercise, and spend time with their family. Or doing the one thing pretty much guaranteed to make your life all together better: getting more sleep.

So, some of us are thriving and some of us flailing. The irony is that the ones flailing appear to be those with the power to change things. The managers: the people who set the work day rules for everyone else. We can change this if we truly want to. If we really care about people’s wellbeing we can stop this now.

Covid, clearly, doesn’t kill meetings. But we can.


Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Why Do We Hate Our Offices?

If you are working in an office today you will be interrupted – or you will interrupt yourself – every 3 minutes.

And what’s worse is it will take most of us up to 23 minutes to recover from that distraction.

If your boss lets you, go home. Walking out the office door is likely to be the single most productive decision you’ll make this year.

It’s not hard to see why we dislike our workspaces and what they bring us:

  1. About 11 million meetings are held on average every single day, with employees in the US attending about 62 meetings every month.
  2. British workers spend 492 days of their lives travelling to work, spending over £800 every year.
  3. A survey of British workers, published in June, found that those in a hot-desking office took an average of 18 minutes to find a seat.
  4. The average professional spends a third of each work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis. And 62% of that email is not even important.

On top of this the actual design of our workspaces is mostly poor. Whilst the technology we use is unrecognisable from 15 years ago, the places we work from haven’t really developed.

How The Open Office Came To Rule The World

In 1958, an art professor named Robert Propst set out to design the office to rule them all. He had researched the habits of office workers, including what made them inefficient, what they liked and disliked, how often they moved from their desks.

He monitored every wasted second—in the hope that he might save us all, not by leadership, but by design.

Typically, he observed the the manager in a corner office and the majority of workers at open desks that were arranged in static lines, with very little consideration for any form of privacy, storage or intrusion.

The ‘action office’ he invented was intended to take us away from the distractions of open environments, and give us a semi private space we could decorate with photographs and other items. It was an ‘office’ for those of us who were not important enough to warrant a real office of our own.

It wasn’t the fault of Propst, but his original designs came to be dumbed down and the mutated into the cubicle, which came to visually represent the office silo, banks of workers not talking to one another.

We needed a solution, an open office that made us collaborate and communicate with our colleagues.

 

chartoftheday_17356_work_distractions_n

The pursuit of increased workplace collaboration led managers to transform cubicle offices into ‘open’, transparency-enhancing spaces with fewer walls, doors and other spatial boundaries. However, research by the Royal Society shows that open plan offices do not build teams or increase collaboration.

The reason why we don’t collaborate is far more complex. If we don’t teach, measure, encourage or reward collaboration it doesn’t tend to happen. Office design is only a miniscule part of that.

Equally, office design has done little to improve our productivity. UK workers are putting in the longest hours in the EU, but this isn’t translating into improved productivity. In fact, the research shows employees in Denmark put in over four hours less than UK workers – whilst productivity in Denmark is 23.5 percent higher than the UK.

It doesn’t look like the innovators can save us either. The latest office disruptor – WeWork – appears to have stalled too. WeWork’s fundamental business idea — to cram people into cool looking spaces and give them snacks — puts lipstick on the problem, but wholly fails to address it.

The cost of all this is measurable, in employee disengagement scores and the costs of our locations. The average annual property cost for a British office worker is £4,800 ($6,000), according to Investment Property Databank.

Can the death of the office come soon enough?

The office is the biggest inefficiency tax that organisations layer over themselves.

They cost huge amounts to procure and maintain, they become an all too convenient base for meetings and managers (the next biggest inefficiency tax), and they set an unhelpful precedent for the expected hours that people are meant to work.

Rising travel costs, advances in technology and the climate crisis are cohering to guarantee that working from home becomes relatively commonplace. And a new form of remote work has emerged: working from anywhere , in which employees can live and work where they choose.

After over a century of trying to solve the productivity problem with physical design we need to ditch the idea of the office as being the answer.

We don’t require new workspaces but new cultures.

There is no unique formula for productivity or creativity. It’s now the role of the leader to work with others to find out what their own unique formula is.

That might mean:

  • Giving teams true autonomy and flexibility, rather than trying to micromanage their  work
  • Providing funding for informal meet-ups to allow people to collaborate in ways that suit them
  • Giving people freedom over the technology they use, allowing them to make use of personal devices not company mandated relics.

Your next conversation with your team could be about how much sleep they are getting, when they feel they are most creative, and what the optimal conditions are to get their full concentration.

When and where we are productive is as individual as our genetic code. That’s why getting people to agree on what workspaces should look like results in them being the average of everyone.

Yes – we need a radical review of the purpose of offices and that means having to think very differently about what it means to “go to work”.

It also means getting to know teams, actually listening to people as individuals, and letting them become the designers of their own unique workday.


 

Featured Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Designing Out Problems Through Networks

img_5010

On Monday I attempted my swiftest ever return to work after a trip.

My plane from Zanzibar via Kilimanjaro and Doha landed at 6am. I was home by 8:30am, online by 9 and in work by 11.30am.

I felt like The Man Who Fell To Earth. I’d had 16 days without any problems. Now – they were back.

  • It started on the M6 – with our taxi driver talking of ‘six months of hell’ as new roadworks attempt to solve a perennially unsolvable problem.
  • It continued in work  as we talked of problems too big to take on at once – and the amount of resource needed to tackle them.
  • The media and the Twitter chat was all about big intractable social problems – health, housing and social care. The same big intractable problems we were talking about 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Here’s the interesting thing. In the 16 days previously I hadn’t encountered a problem – in circumstances where you absolutely might expect to find one.

  • My malaria meds arrived in time from an online retailer – supplied faster and more cheaply than the NHS could manage.
  • I took four flights that all took off on time and arrived ahead of schedule. The baggage, tracked digitally, arrived safely – as it always has with that carrier.
  • I stayed in four places booked online by Booking.com and Airbnb. Each one was expecting me, required no paperwork and I got exactly what I ordered.
  • I used about 10 taxi journeys and all of them arrived early – pre booked online or negotiated with local drivers who confirmed bookings through WhatsApp.

The only problem I had was that I bust my GoPro camera (human error) – but even this has been resolved and I have a new one just four days after I arrived back.

We can’t compare the problems of the UK and the social sector to a frivolous trip but there are lessons to learn.

  • New entrants are using the opportunities afforded by digital to step into the gaps and solve problems that have plagued people for years.
  • Smart organisations are reimagining their customer experience for a digital era rather than digitising existing services.
  • Platforms are replacing intermediaries – focussing on specialisms and performing the functions that organisations have traditionally found difficult.
  • Savvy entrepreneurs are spotting services ripe for disruption – introducing simple work arounds to turn distrusted services into trusted ones.
  • Communities are using technology to leapfrog the natural adoption cycle. In a village I stayed in most homes had no electricity or running water – and yet WhatsApp and mobile payments were common.
  • Additionally I observed the power of letting people solve their own problems – and shifting from the mindset of institutions as the default.

This is not a post about digital technology.  Although – everything that can be automated will be automated.

This is about networks. 

All of the things I have highlighted above have been improved by bringing in new entrants, building new relationships, forgetting the past and flexing business models.

Our organisations are not best placed to solve their own problems. They need help from a variety of sources – communities, entrepreneurs, technologists.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption. And right now multiple people are working on the biggest problems your organisation faces.

Organisations who fail to seize the opportunities will see someone else step into the gap and solve the problems for them.

Most of these people don’t work for you – and never want to.

The challenge is to bring these players into our  networks – reshaping our organisations with them.

Sitting around and waiting to see what they come up with is about the riskiest strategy we could adopt right now.

Two things you can’t say on Twitter…..

There are two opinions that are definite no-go zones amongst the liberal left twitterati.

Opinions that , if you were to express them openly , could see you banished to the most remote, uninhabited and hostile parts of the social media planet.(Linkedin…..or even worse, Google+)

What are they?

1 – Saying you think the NHS is a bit wasteful really and maybe reform isn’t a totally bad idea

And

2 – Saying that despite the economy being tough –  you think that there are jobs out there

Well , I feel like starting the week with a bang. So I’m going to say that , I , Paul Taylor , believe that there are jobs out there.

OK – before you press “unfollow” let me explain:

  • There are millions of jobs that have yet to be invented. I’m not going to expand that point here. You can read my previous blog on this. In fact if anyone knows a window cleaner who also cleans the house/irons clothes/and cuts hair please pass on my details.I’m recruiting.
  • There are jobs – but often people don’t feel they have any skills , or feel terrified at the prospect of even applying.
  • There are jobs – but people get fed up of applying when they get zero feedback and never hear anything about their application.
  • And even in the area’s where jobs are very few -there are loads of volunteering and training opportunities that provide people with confidence , and improve their skills.

Very very few people don’t want to work – just sometimes it looks like it’s too much of a challenge. It feels like they will never make it.

Today see’s the launch of a new project that I am proud to be part of.

Connect , as we call it , opens it doors today as a private beta site. It’s a Social Network for Jobs, Skills and Opportunities. A virtual marketplace for the user to share their skills and develop their confidence , and get access to priority work opportunities. And it will also offer loads of volunteering positions, and give access to innovators who might just help people develop the next big idea. The jobs of the future.

We want it to be a supportive community which is about hope rather than despair. It’s about helping everyone be the very best they can be.

Initially all new Bromford tenants and their families will be given access to Connect. Additionally they can access a Skills Coach, whose job it is to inspire them to do the things that they thought they couldn’t. Whether its getting online for the first time , or preparing for an interview – we are hoping we can remove some of the many barriers that people face as they enter or return to work.

We’ll be letting you know how its going here and on the Connect Blog.

If you haven’t unfollowed me, of course.

On this work experience thing……..

 
Designing The Experience of Work
I hated my work experience. Two weeks spent making cup’s of tea and doing the filing for embittered old men. It instilled in me a fear of offices, old men and filing that took 6 years to get over.
 
Then I found a manager who helped me find what I liked doing.
 
There is surely nothing wrong with the concept of “work experience”. The concept of giving people a chance – any chance – to prove what they can do has to be applauded.
 
But there is a problem with work experience. And it’s not just that businesses may be using unpaid help to subsitute the work of establishment posts. ( I’ve not seen any evidence to be fair)
 
The problem is the concept of work experience hasn’t changed fundamentally since the late 1980’s. It’s still about herding people into experiences that they might hate rather than unlocking potential.
 
Bromford have gone some way to re-designing this. Over 200 people applied for our last Opportunities 4 Employment placements. Paid placements that give 6 months work experience in a variety of roles and experiences. Giving the young person the opportunity to try us out as much as we are trying them. And if they like it they can have an Apprenticeship in the area of the business they are most interested in.
 
There is room for further innovation. Work Experience needs re-designing for the 21st Century.
 
It needs to be about helping people find out what they love doing and how they can get paid for it.
 
 
 
 
 
%d bloggers like this: