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Happiness + Productivity Rethinking the Way We Work In Light of COVID-19

Mark Emond, Founder & President, Demand Spring

There has certainly never been a better opportunity for organizations and individuals to rethink the way we work. COVID-19 has forced most organizations to adapt their workplace practices and processes in an instant. While the discussion is now turning to go back to work, the chorus is getting louder for going forward to work(Rethinking).

To make the most of this inflection point, there are five key questions that I think business leaders should consider:

  1. Location: Given what we have observed over the past few months, can our organization improve productivity and employee retention with a more flexible work from office and work from anywhere model?
  2. Leadership Style: Are we displaying the type of compassionate, positive leadership that we aspire to on a consistent basis?
  3. Wellness: Do we need to recalibrate our employee wellness programs for a more virtual organization, and in light of the stress many employees have experienced?
  4. Travel: We have been running our business without travel for a few months. How do we rethink our relationship with business travel and reduce our carbon footprint?
  5. Work Hours: The 5 day/ 9 to 5 work week was invented by labor unions in the 1800’s and popularized by Henry Ford in the 1920’s. Are we running a modern organization on an outdated employment model?

Let’s dive in and explore each of these in more detail in the hopes of continuing to spark positive change in rethinking the way we work.

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Work from anywhere is a key engine for growth and talent

Many CEOs’ have long feared that work from home employees would be more focused on Netflix, the food pantry, and laundry. Research, however, has shown the opposite—remote employees are both happier AND more productive.

I started working from home in 2008 while at IBM. At the time, Big Blue made all of their marketing and sales employees home-office workers.

Fast forward 12 years and I continue to work from home the majority of the time. I left IBM in 2012 to found Demand Spring, a B2B marketing consulting firm. While we do have small offices in Boston and Ottawa, as a boutique firm with employees located across North America, we encourage work from anywhere.

Work from anywhere means that you can live and work for Demand Spring from any location that best suits your lifestyle. We have had employees move to London and Lyon. We have had a skier pursue her passion of moving near the famed Whistler ski resort. And we have had a Boston-based employee move with her fiancé to live in a tiny house in Asheville, N.C. All of these individuals have continued on in their roles with us. They were inspired and we retained great talent.

Our employees in Boston and Ottawa can choose to work from our office or from home (or elsewhere) whenever they like. Work from home is the clear preference.

Has it hurt our productivity? Not in the least. Our firm has grown fast and in a profitable manner (thanks in part to low fixed costs like office space). We work with some of the world’s biggest B2B brands. Our client net promoter score is a very high 94/100. And our employee promoter score is 87/100. Enabling people to work from a place of their choosing has consistently enabled us to hire, inspire, and retain great talent.

Work from anywhere is a concept that I encourage all CEOs of knowledge workers to strongly consider. If we trust an individual enough to hire them then we should trust them to do their job—from anywhere. The employee satisfaction that comes from ditching a drone-like commute every day and enabling people to be home for dinner with their family has a huge impact on a job’s ability to enrich a life.

Compassionate, positive leadership

COVID-19 has required leaders to respond with a more compassionate, empathetic, and positive approach than ever before. Homeschooling, caring for toddlers, isolationism, and concern over elderly loved ones are very real issues that have required us to be flexible and supportive.

This leadership style needs to be the one that lasts. We know that people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Here are some ways to assess how compassionate you are as a leader:

  • Do you enable flexibility so employees can balance their personal and professional responsibilities?
  • Are you guided by a belief that a job should enrich someone’s life, rather than diminish it?
  • Do you say no to business when it is going to stretch your team to work significant overtime on a consistent or sustained basis?
  • Do you resign clients when the relationship is harming the well-being of your employees?

Modifying Wellness Programs

Like work from anywhere and compassionate leadership, corporate wellness programs are good for both employees and business performance. A 2017 study found that employees who exercise 150 minutes per week only missed 5 hours per week on average over a 24-week period. By contrast, those that exercised less than 70 minutes per week missed 19 hours.

But what do corporate wellness programs look like in a work from anywhere model and in light of the heightened stress we are going through?

To me it can involve a combination of virtual fitness classes (at Demand Spring we have been running virtual yoga classes for years over Zoom), a comprehensive health benefits plan, social and team building activities, compassionate leadership that values the holistic health of employees, virtual guest speakers on health and wellness, and virtual fitness challenges.

Travel

Business travel will remain important post-COVID-19. In many cases, there is no replacement for meeting face-to-face to close business deals, strengthen partnerships, and enable geographically dispersed employees to build connections and develop strategic and operational plans.

All that said, we have been doing without travel for several months now. Can we all set a goal of reducing travel by 20%?

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review has shown that business travel has a detrimental impact on our physical and emotional well-being. It is associated with increased levels of obesity, anxiety, depression, and increased consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.

Reducing business travel by 20% would also really help us fight the other crisis in front of us—climate change. For essential travel, we should also consider how encouraging transportation by train, electric car rentals, and tracking our corporate carbon footprint can help our planet.

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Rethinking the Work Week

Why do we spend so much of our time working? This may be a sacrilegious question for some of my fellow CEOs.

Several studies, including one from Stanford University, have concluded that we are more productive the less we work. In 2019, Microsoft conducted a 4-day work week trial and saw productivity increase by 40%.

Most businesses have enabled more flexibility during COVID-19 to accommodate home schooling and child care. Continuing to increase our flexibility in offering shorter work weeks and job sharing should be part of how we rethink the way we work.

Going Forward to Work

Most organizations have made tremendous progress in the past 20 years in moving from a more rigid command and control leadership model to a more employee-centered approach. And we have made incredibly rapid progress in this area in the past few months.

Let’s not waste this great opportunity to rethink how we work. The choices we make now will lead to more inspired, healthier, and more productive employees. Maybe we’ll look back on COVID-19 not just as a pandemic, but a turning point for a new model in how we lead our organizations to better fit the 21st century.

Mark Emond, Founder & President of Demand Spring, has a passion for marketing, as well as for helping marketers to stand taller and be the best they can be. Mark happily resides in the coldest capital city in the world (Ottawa, Canada), and in his spare time is an aging hockey goalie and golfer.

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