When you challenge yourself every day to give your best, those moments when you are stuck in a rut or unable to move forward in your work can feel horrendous. This happened to me years ago, and at the time I could work from wherever I needed to, so I went to a café to relax instead of staying in my office. Ordering my decaf latte, I decided to work in the café. Everything came together: I went into a total flow and produced in one hour what I had been fighting with for days. From then on, focused work in a busy place (e.g. café, office kitchen area, airport) became my preferred way to meet tight deadlines; I had learned something very valuable about my personal workstyle preferences.
"since birth we are told what to do, where to sit and with who,
what to study, what to eat, when to work, sleep etc."
Speaking with others about their workstyle preferences, I realize that I’m not alone: given the choice, we all have different ways to achieve our best work. In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, workers like you and I need to be resilient to maintain high levels of performance. However, since birth we are told what to do, where to sit and with who, what to study, what to eat, when to work, sleep etc. Yes, this is for the benefit of our socialization, but when you look back did anyone ever teach you how YOU can tune in to learn how YOU work best? How YOU can manage YOUR energy better?
Most workplaces are not designed to flex to their workers’ workstyle and therefore do not best enable the myriads of workplace situations that knowledge workers face every day. Innovative workplace strategies, where activity-based working is often the workspace blueprint, offer diversity and choice, however without an understanding of the range of workstyle preferences – and without individual self-awareness of the best choices to make, the full benefits of the workplace investment cannot be captured.
My proposition is that deliberately helping workers develop a deep awareness of their workstyle and that of their team improves a controllable factor of an organization’s performance. I’ll explain workstyle awareness and why it’s important to the performance of knowledge workers (Part 1), before describing how you can build workstyle awareness in your workforce, through a holistic workplace strategy (Part 2).
1. What is workstyle awareness and why is it important?
Put simply, workstyle awareness is being self-aware of how you work best. It is your very personal way to determine what, when, where and who you need to achieve a task, using minimal energy to reach maximum performance and wellbeing. Workstyle can depend on external factors such as the nature of the task, the need to involve others, or the time of day; and internal factors such as physiological or emotional factors. And these factors are different for each person in your organization.
Workstyle matters at an individual, team and organizational level. At an individual level, becoming aware of one’s workstyle provides finer control over how we do our best work, build flow and minimize unnecessary expenditure of energy. At a team level, team mates aware of their respective workstyles, can better organize to maximize productivity and collective wellbeing. We also become more understanding and empathic when faced with other workstyle preferences and accepting of styles diversity. At a corporate level, if teams maximize productivity and wellbeing, the organization is more capable of peak performance and resilience.
The workplace is a parameter that can be controlled to improve corporate performance and the collective wellbeing of employees. Organizations that fully adopt people led workplace strategy approaches can provide employees with the ability to choose the space and/or technology to undertake a task, or even choose to do the task outside the designated work space (e.g. work from home, café, library). Given the person nature of workstyle, this entails recognizing that not everyone needs a ‘Quiet area’ to focus.
As Caroline Burns, Founder and Managing Director of Workplace Revolution, a workplace strategy expert based in Singapore, explains in an interview I recently conducted with her, “A workplace is a resource like your people, technologies and intellectual property. It can work for you or against you. If you think strategically about the future capabilities and behaviors your organization will need to be successful, the workplace can amplify what you are trying to achieve…”
“For example, when I talk to Clients about how AI may affect their organization, if people are going to do less process work in the future, they are probably going to spend more time problem solving and critical thinking, probably much more time on-the-job learning and less time being “managed”.
“So how do you create an environment, physical and organizational, that enables these behaviors and capabilities, because that’s what your talent will need to do more of in future. You need to think at least 5 years down the track and look over the horizon when you think about the enablers of workstyle choice and high performance…”
“In this regard, educating and empowering people with an understanding of their personal workstyle preferences is an often-overlooked aspect of workplace transformation. Mapping future workforce capabilities against workstyle preferences is a better way to ‘future proof’ your workplace than Taylorist approaches to measuring and optimizing current patterns of utilization and task activity.”
In contrast with a focus on “brightly colored, hip interior spaces featuring artfully-placed collaborative furniture and cozy cafes”, a global financial services provider credits its workplace strategy for improving productivity, retention and its real estate asset management (e.g. scaling down from 3 to 2 buildings in Singapore). Its workplace strategy is deliberately aligned with the company’s culture and structure. When they rolled out the workplace strategy to four countries, HR played a key role to implement the strategy. They surveyed employees to understand how they work and how they utilize spaces. The move into a new office was preceded by extensive communication with employees to guide them through the challenges that might accompany the transition to the new workplace strategy. Employees were walked through the work spaces and explained how they could be used. This assists in building trust and helps employees overcome apprehension about when and who can use spaces.
Helping employees to build an understanding of their workstyle awareness is possibly one of the best levers for engaging a workforce during a workplace transformation. In a recent workplace strategy project, in addition to the types of onboarding efforts described above, employees were helped to develop a better awareness of their workstyle through specific training and workshops which included mindfulness practices. The effort employees invested to better understand their personal workstyle made them active participants in the workplace transformation, rather than passive recipients of an externally imposed solution. Increasing employee engagement into the workplace transformation can:
* increase resilience in the face of change;
* clarify the psychological contract;
* strengthen the internal branding;
* increase trust within teams.
Next time (Part 2) we will look at some ways you can build workstyle awareness in your workforce, through a holistic workplace strategy and without.
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I would like to thank Caroline for her precious time and expertise, you can contact her here www.workplacerevolution.org
And to know more please find sources for this article here, also by Caroline Burns.