How leaders can reset their working patterns this summer

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Written by Zoe Amar, FCIM, Founder and Director, Zoe Amar Digital.

I was lucky enough to take a holiday this summer. Two weeks of family time, plenty of seafood and fresh air definitely helped. Yet when I sat down at my desk again I realised that I still felt tired, despite being lucky enough to do a job I love. 

From speaking to others I know I’m not alone. So many people I know are feeling exhausted, even if they are getting enough rest or have taken a break. This is inevitable after the way in which we’ve all been working over the last 18 months. In our latest Charity Digital Skills Report with Skills Platform just under a third of charities (31%) reported their staff are burned out from the demands of intense remote working. 

Looking at a calendar full of Zoom calls on my first day back made me stop and think.  We all know that the way in which we’ve worked during the pandemic isn’t sustainable in the long term. However much you  adore your job, energy and motivation are finite resources. More organisations are making time for wellbeing initiatives, such as check ins and meeting free lunchtimes. Yet if we all return from holiday back to the same relentless, screen heavy schedules is that good for our health? It’s like going back to eating junk food on the sofa after a fortnight of exercise and healthy eating. 

This summer is a chance for us all to reset our working patterns for the better, and make changes for the long term. I’ve been speaking to leaders about how you can do this. 

 

Plan how you’ll use your time before your holiday.

We’ve all had frantic weeks at our desks before a holiday, working late into the evening. Whilst this can be great for productivity, starting your break exhausted is counter productive. 

Naomi Phillips, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the British Red Cross, recommends making a to-do list which includes what people really need from you before you go, rather than everything you haven’t got round to doing. She suggests working with colleagues to plan ahead for busy periods after the holidays so you can focus on enjoying yourself whilst away. 

Phillips prioritises her work ruthlessly before holidays, asking herself, ‘Is the work urgent, important? Is it really the best use of my time right now?’ Similarly, behavioural change coach Gemma Perlin recommends that leaders ask themselves questions which empower them and focus on the choices they can make, such as ‘What is the best possible state for you to be in? What is the most useful way for you to achieve what you want work wise before a holiday?’  

 

Commit to making changes once you’re back

One of the best things about a holiday is the clarity you have on your return. Stuart Pearson,  Chief Digital Officer at Citizens Advice Manchester, uses this time to review his workload and reprioritise his goals. Pearson feels there is an opportunity to learn from his colleagues, as, ‘I often find the team have also come at some things very differently without my interference!’  He advises leaders to use a post holiday productivity tip: ‘I am a big fan of the Pomodoro technique and also find after a break it’s a great way to get back in the groove.’ 

Phillips counsels leaders to hold themselves accountable for making changes and creating firmer boundaries between work and home, which is a skill in itself when working remotely. She will be putting in place, ‘a hard stop in the evenings. I’m also doing much better about not working on weekends unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.’ 

These may sound like small changes but the long term impact is good for leaders’ wellbeing and impact. As Phillips says, ‘Creating that space means I’m a nicer person to be around, happier, and ultimately more effective.’

 

Make changes for the long term

From September onwards we may see more people heading back to offices, even if it’s only for 2-3 days a week. There will be lots of testing and learning from these new ways of working and leaders can support their teams by adopting principles that will make them a success. Phillips intends to keep listening to her team so she can, ‘make sure I’m leading in a way that enables them to work in ways to be successful, and also that they are able to maintain those critical boundaries between work and home life.’ She’s also mindful that leaders like her can set the tone for expectations around meetings and she will be , ‘making sure meetings I hold are purposeful and not just for sharing information that could be done in other ways.’

Pearson will be managing the digital demands on his team by giving them a chance to disconnect outside of working hours. He says: ‘I heard a great analogy about how inappropriate it would be for a manager to burst into someone’s house at night while they are having dinner with their family, yet we don’t think twice about pinging them on chat or email at silly o’clock. So I will learn to use scheduled send.’ 

All the tips that leaders have shared in this piece are simple, manageable and will have an incremental but invaluable effect on our health and productivity. The road to recovery phase of the pandemic is a huge opportunity for us all to change our ways of working for the better, if we make wellbeing the cornerstone.


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