Productivity does not automatically translate from the physical world of work to the virtual world. While virtual teaming reaps many benefits, it also presents a higher risk of misalignment and lack of collaboration, which can take a toll on team trust, employee engagement, employee wellbeing–all of which will impact team productivity.
Microsoft, which is at the forefront of innovating workforce collaboration through their products like Teams conducted a study, ‘The work trend index’. Microsoft analyzed trillions of signals from meetings, emails, and chats to identify patterns and trends while safeguarding personal and organizational data. This data, alongside surveys and interviews with workers across the globe, offered insights about how productivity is impacted due to the pandemic and how wellbeing and burnout at work are the major drivers behind deteriorating an employees’ productivity index.
To delve deeper into the changing paradigm of looking at workforce productivity, creating a resilient workplace, and to create an actionable plan on employee wellbeing, People Matters and Microsoft brings to you “The Wellbeing Week”, an attempt to make employees thrive at work; be it a remote workplace, or a hybrid model, or the company headquarters.
Supporting the wellbeing week, we have Amit Das, a thought leader, and a wellbeing advocate who is Director Human Resources and CHRO at Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. Amit have been sharing his views at various forums on how to drive the total wellness quotient through focused and innovative health & well-being practices for employees & all stakeholders. Amit has been at the forefront of designing programs to encourage a balance of the mind, body & soul through innovative and employee-friendly practices. In fact, as an endorsement of these efforts, BCCL has been acknowledged at renowned platforms like UN GCNI awards.
In this exclusive dialogue with Amit, we talk about how the concept of productivity has changed, his take on some of the findings from the Microsoft study, The work trend index, and BCCL efforts in creating a sustainable wellbeing strategy for its employees that helps them thrive at work.
Here is a look at some of the insightful takeaways from the interview:
People being ‘Productive’ to People working in sustainable ways
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the limitations of productivity and according to Amit, the New Normal is no longer new. He says, “It is often said that the “Big” eats the “Small” but in the current Business Ecosystem, it is the “Fast” that eats the “Slow”. The difference between those that have converted this threat into an opportunity & have hence succeeded, and those that are still struggling & waiting for things to go back to as they were, is the difference of 3 A in my opinion – Agility, Adaptability & Anti-fragility.”
The response to the question of moving from People being Productive to People working in a sustainable way is directly correlated to these 3 As.
He further adds that the current business ecosystem is highly dynamic. Multiple forces including uncontrollable external forces such as the current pandemic are directly influencing the business ecosystem today.
“In such a scenario, a myopic focus on only productivity will definitely lead to incremental short-term success & business growth, but not long-term business sustainability which can only be achieved by having a far-sighted transformational focus on business,” said Amit.
Balancing the “X+Y= 24 hrs (where, x=hours to refresh, y= hours of efforts)
Quoting on the Microsoft finding– The advent of remote working has reduced the separation between work and personal life and has negatively impacted employee’s total wellbeing, resulting in increased stress levels, Amit shares:
Our bodies are biologically designed in a way that we need “X hours” to refresh after every “Y hours” of effort. Now since the number of hours in a day is limited to 24, every additional effort reduces the hours we have to refresh. When we do not get that “X hours” to refresh for a prolonged period of time, it leads to Burnout. Now what has happened during the pandemic is that globally, the life of every single individual has been disrupted with no precedence or learning of how to tackle this disruption. The “Y hours” of effort that we were making now has that extra element of “+n hours” where we are adapting to this new way of work which directly gets reduces the “X hours” to refresh, and hence leading to Burnout.
We live in an era of 24x7 connectivity where even if we are not at work, we are still either scrolling through Social Media or watching the latest web series, or doing any other activity with a screen in front of us. The Excess of anything is harmful in the long term, and it is essential that we balance our Mind, Body & Soul to ensure that the “X+Y= 24 hrs” equation does not change. - Amit Das, Director-HR & CHRO, BCCL
Amit’s stresses inculcating ‘X’ hours of refresh within the work. This also resonates with the analysis performed by Microsoft when they found that increased screen timing due to remote meetings has increased burnout. The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with. To reduce the screen fatigue factors, Microsoft added new features in the Teams meeting experience that uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background. The view makes it feel like you’re sitting in the same room, which reduces background distractions, makes it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues, and makes back and forth conversation feel more natural.
Let’s now see how BCCL offering employees a mental space to thrive– free from stress, burnout, and screen fatigue.
Managing burnout the BCCL way
As the conversation progressed, we delved into BCCL’s journey on accelerating the efforts around employees’ wellbeing.
Amit shares, “The current COVID pandemic has further accelerated our pace & reinforced our belief & focus on total health & well-being as not just a nice to do thing, but it gives us a significant competitive advantage over others.”
As shared by Amit, proactively, from March onwards, the company re-imagined, re-engineered, and re-hauled the Work, Workplace, and Workforce to adapt to this “New Normal”. Hew is a glimpse into the LEAP program in Amit’s words:
Our LEAP (Learn, Engage, Aware, Praise) framework has been designed with a holistic focus on the Mind, Body, and Soul of all our stakeholders. We have moved seamlessly to a remote hybrid workplace arrangement through a “plug & play” model. Our organization-wide guidelines on Recharge Days, Happy Hours and Radio Silence Days have ensured a healthy screen-off screen balance for our employees. We have made extensive investment in Collaborative technology tools, which helped employees to stay “Socially Connected” in a “Social Distancing” era which has led to a mindset shift from ”We should do this in person” to “Do we need to do this in person”.
Here are some of the initiatives under the LEAP program:
- Constant communication– Internal and external
- Upskilling on technology, tools, and navigation assistance for remote working
- Benefits at no cost to the individual– Counselling by clinical psychologists, renowned doctors, and emergency services on call/click of a button
- Integrated health & safety awareness
- Ergonomics and resilience training
- Consistent health and yoga sessions live, etc.
Live yoga and meditation sessions have been able to be fruitful in an attempt to avoid burnout at work. According to the Microsoft study, of those we surveyed, 7 in 10 people (70%) said meditation could help decrease their work-related stress. This number increased to 83% for those managing childcare or homeschooling. Research backs this up – consistent meditation with Headspace can decrease stress and burnout and improve your ability to react to negative feedback.
Integrating these services into your collaboration tools, or digital tools can be a great way to increase the “refresh hours” in your employees’ schedule. For example, Microsoft Teams has added curated meditation and mindfulness experiences with Headspace into our virtual commute experience. It will offer the ability to schedule ad hoc or recurring time for mindfulness breaks anytime—before a big meeting, say, or when you need to focus on an important project.
Creating boundaries at work
Through the journey from Computers to Laptops to Handheld devices, technology has made 3C’s prominent – Convenience, Choice & Change thereby increasing Workforce Mobility. This essentially means that you have the convenience to work from anywhere & anytime in a “Plug & Play” model.
“The adoption of collaborative technology in the workplace will continue to lay the foundation of the future of work. Artificial Intelligence-based smart tools have improved Workplace automation & led to the rise of Smart Virtual Assistants & Chatbots that improve productivity, efficiency & engagement. Having said this, it is important that organizations understand that use of technology is not the goal but the means of reaching the goal which should lead to Value Creation for all Stakeholders,” says Amit.
In fact, according to a study by Microsoft, it was found that 6 in 10 people (61 percent) globally felt they were more productive when the digital assistant helped them ramp up to and down from work. On average, productivity increased between 12 and 15 percent. However, when we are talking about controlling screen time and virtual meeting fatigue, organizations need to carefully think about adopting the right technology. The technology should help workers have a productive start in the morning and mindfully disconnect in the evening. Further, the tech should empower users to customize their experiences from a set of suggested tasks such as meditation reflecting on the day, or helping workers close out on outstanding tasks.
Focus on transparent, authentic & credible communication, invest in collaborative technology tools
The journey of empowerment to promote individual well-being and organizational resilience is an enterprise-wide transformation exercise that organizations need to take up on priority. An enterprise-wide transformation works effectively in an organization only when leaders focus first on the fundamentals. This would entail changing the mindset of the stakeholders, which has a direct bearing on the organizational culture and processes, before focusing purely on the transformation agenda. It is also critical for leaders to recognize the fears & anxieties of the Workforce when taking up any such transformation agenda.
While this is a period of resilience & recovery for organizations, this is also a period of anxiety for the employees. Research shows that anxiety makes people more risk-averse in a crisis; as a result, they are less likely to seek out differing perspectives. They tend to fall back on actions and solutions that have worked in the past — what is called “threat rigidity.” The desire to try bringing things under control can also lead to a go-it-alone mentality. And as resources dry up during a crisis, people often focus on self-preservation. As a result, the collaborative thread across an organization can get snapped.
As we closed the discussion Amit left us with the following food for thought:
Organizations need to proactively build communication channels that focus on transparent, authentic & credible communication, invest in collaborative technology tools, and inculcate learning agility with a growth mindset in the organization, to ensure that we future-proof the organization against any potential black swan event in the future.
We would like to extend our gratitude to Amit for such wonderful insights and takeaways that will help the community to build more sustainable workplaces and help employees thrive at work. Thanks, Amit for taking the time to talk to us about your experience, learnings, and your exceptional efforts in creating BCCL a resilient organization.