Who knew? I guess people didn’t see this one coming. Apparently, ever since the pandemic started, we seem to be working longer hours. To the point of exhaustion. At least, that’s what we are being told consistently through different research studies, articles, publications and what not. But does it hold? I mean, for those of us who have been working either remotely or distributedly for more than a decade, at least, were we working longer hours before? No, we weren’t. We adjusted a long time ago to this brave new-normal of work from anywhere. Yet, nowadays, we all got trapped. How? Why? Well, basically, due to inertia and our collective inability to adapt to new ways of working. We still pretty much think we are at the office and, as such, continue to behave accordingly. Even online.
Over the course of the last 2.5 years we have read, heard or seen, plenty of helpful and savvy advice about how we can juggle with it all though. You know, the endless digital workday. How we can take just one more hour, or two!, of virtual meetings to sneak in that extra piece of work. How can we balance it all with that triple peak day so that we can respond to the plethora of incoming emails, as well as instant messages, that, you know, they can’t wait till the morning. Who needs that work / life balance anyway when certain people keep asking you to work harder, not necessarily smarter, because they just can’t see you anymore from their fancy office?
Oh my! We already know we are bound to fail, once more, because we have been here before many many times and we don’t seem to have learned much about it, apparently. Indeed, the Cult of Busyness is rather strong and it looks like, if you are working away from the office, it reaches levels of toxic obsession. The immediate result? We are all burning out like crazy, exhausted, overworked, extremely fatigued and without much energy left to carry on other than buying into another pernicious false narrative we’ve been told to embrace, so that we can justify our misbehaviours: quiet quitting!
“Quiet quitting” isn’t laziness. Doing the bare minimum is a common response to bullshit jobs, abusive bosses, and low pay.
When they don’t feel cared about, people eventually stop caring.
If you want them to go the extra mile, start with meaningful work, respect, and fair pay.
— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant)
We will definitely talk more about this particular subject in an upcoming blog post, specially, about how we all have bought into its false and rather toxic narrative, while being inflicted upon all employees alike, and why we should stop doing that. Anyway, let’s carry on … You see? Not only are knowledge workers feeling overworked, burned out and pretty much exhausted, while adjusting / adapting to working distributedly, but also managers are burning out at a faster, more rampant, pace than ever before!
Here is an example of what I mean:
In my observation, burnout in tech is (finally) starting to hit managers, their managers, and their managers, hard. Quote from a VP Eng:
“After 1.5 years of 15-20 Zoom meetings per day, I hit my limit and can’t do it anymore. I’m taking the rest of the year to recover.” (cont’d) pic.twitter.com/nEOTs66PL2
— Gergely Orosz (@GergelyOrosz)
Ouch! So what can we all do about it then?
Well, as a starter, we can try fixing the overload problem. But, at the same time, we can also be a bit more ambitious and aim higher. The business value is right there for everyone to grasp. We could definitely ditch (for good!) the typical mindset inherited from the Industrial Revolution about clocking a certain number of hours per week in order to get our work done. And, instead, we should starting focusing more on the outcomes, deliverables and outputs we can produce, regardless of the time it may well take for us to achieve our business goals and objectives.
That means we probably need to work fewer hours, while embracing leisure plenty more, as an effective manner to trigger our creative and productive selves and do what we know best: work smarter, not necessarily harder. Remember?
However, I would also aim even higher than that. As I have mentioned over here a couple of times already, I have been working as a remote / distributed knowledge worker for over 21 years and I never felt I had been working longer hours. Not even since the pandemic broke out nearly 3 years ago. Quite the opposite, frankly!
I know, how do you manage to do just that, you may be wondering yourselves, right? Here is the trick then. You may need to be a bit more stubborn and persevere a great deal; perhaps become even more patient than ever with your colleagues, customers and business partners, but you eventually need to influence a shift of how work happens and transition into not only #DigitalFirst but also into #AsyncFirst.
Indeed, real-time, always on, glued to the screen 24x7x365, readily available to jump into that next Web meeting at ungodly hours using whatever the device you have within your reach, can only take you up to so far, before you eventually exhaust yourself and call it quits. Both physical and mentally. Instead, like I said, persevere, be patient, and show your peers what it is like doing vast majority of your work in asynchronous mode to then relay to them the massive amount of time you will be able to free up to carry on with your life and do other (much more interesting, or, even better, fascinating!) things. Intact.
You see? To me, the transformational ah-ha moment(s) when one can truly start to comprehend how we can work fewer hours, much more effectively and productively, without unnecessarily burdening ourselves with a place, nor a time, is when we all stop being always-on and instead decide to shift to working from anywhere, offline, in async mode.
How do we do that? Well, next time one your colleagues, customers, business partners, or perhaps even your own manager!, asks you to quickly hop on that short Web meeting for something real quick, ask them this simple question:
‘Can we please work asynchronously instead, through [their most preferred / favourite] social, digital tool(s)?’
Then, wait for the magic to happen … And start savouring the delicious breaking free, at long last, from the busyness yoke!