Working smarter, not harder

The way we work needs to change to reflect what employees want and what motivates them to be more productive, a webinar this week heard.

A smiling woman working at a laptop and drinking a coffee


The Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to review whether the way of working associated with the industrial era is outdated and not in keeping with what employees want and with what motivates them to be more productive, a webinar heard this week.

Charlotte Lockhart told the ‘Bring Your Own Sandwiches’ webinar hosted by 4-Day Week Global, Sapience and FintechNZ that the norm for measuring productivity has been to measure time rather than output when this was no longer what industry needed.

She added that the four-day week is assumed by employers to be more costly because they think they will have to hire more staff. However, that is not necessarily the case. She said employers should have a discussion with their employees about different ways of working and ask them if they could do their work in fewer days. The benefits in terms of work life balance are such, she said, that employees would look at every way to make it work, for instance,  reviewing how they waste time during the working day on meetings, emails and the like. She added that it was not operationally complex to make a four-day week work.

Organisational psychologist Jane Piper said the world had changed and work was no longer about managing bodies, but managing brains and enabling them to come up with new ideas. “We need to shift our thinking about how we do that,” she said, adding that that means reducing time wasted on meetings, answering and sending emails and searching for information.

Laura Giurge, Postdoctoral Research Associate at London Business School, spoke about the links between mental well being and productivity. Her research shows people who work from home often put a lot of pressure on themselves due to a blurring of work life barriers and managers sending emails at all times. During the Covid pandemic this may be increased due to worries about losing their job. Yet people are happier if they don’t feel under pressure to work around the clock and if they stick to the same hours they normally do in the office. “We underestimate the value of structure for adults,” she said, even though we recognise it as important for children. Realistic working hours expectations should be set by managers in emails, she added.


Technology could help support employees to work smarter rather than harder. Steen Rasmussen, founder of IIH Nordic, said his company had hired two students out of high school who had written a book about how they had changed the way they studied, reducing their hours, to study smarter and get the same results. Rasmussen said it was about optimising people’s time.

When it came to homeworking, he stated, there was a danger of losing social relations and a common culture, but there were ways around this using technology, for instance, focusing on joint activities that build a culture, such as lunches shared on social platforms and one to ones. Technology could also enable people to book time for undisturbed work sprints which colleagues could see. Being able to see that colleagues are working and what they are working on helps to build a relationship, said Rasmussen.

Bradley Killinger, Chief Executive Officer at Sapience Analytics, also spoke about the role of technology in supporting different ways of working and improving employee well being. Sapience analytics helps employers understand the capacity of their organisation, people’s workloads and potential for burnout. Killinger described their cloud-based solution as “a fitbit for work for employees”.

Many employers were unprepared for Covid-19, he stated, meaning many employees were being forced into a position where they were blurring the boundaries between work and family, were on Zoom calls all day and generally overworking. The mental health implications were vast. What was required, said Killinger, was a social contract for working from home based on output rather than hours worked.

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