After over a year of mostly remote work, many are considering digital-first and hybrid models for the long term. Amidst this massive shift, we know people struggled to maintain their sense of belonging at work, all while staying productive, implementing new methods of working, and navigating ongoing changes in their teams.
As someone whose job it is to lead research and analytics efforts to understand how people work so we can improve their working lives, I am extremely passionate about testing out the changes I preach.
Through our research and my own experience, there’s so much I’ve learned over the last 15 months of working from home. Here are three key takeaways that can make all the difference in maximizing your potential in a digital-first future.
Prioritize “focus time”
Over the last year, we’ve discovered what’s truly urgent and what isn’t. The old perception of urgency at work likely stemmed from long-standing processes, but now many are able to more easily identify the few things that are truly urgent and important. Once you achieve clarity on what actually matters, it’s also important to acknowledge that there’s value in doing things your own way, as our individual systems and routines enable us to be more creative.
My team has found evidence that the key to being productive lies in collaborating with teammates, finding time to focus, and improving processes. This balance between collaboration and focus time is key! That’s why at Slack, we give people flexibility and autonomy by implementing “sync” hours, in which people are available for meetings and brainstorms, and “maker” hours dedicated to focus time.
By giving yourself the space for deep, focused work, you’ll be able to work better when and how it works for you, freeing you up for life’s other priorities.
Cancel (or rethink) your meetings
Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack to help companies reimagine work in the new digital-first world, found that too many meetings leads to burnout. Additionally, a recent survey from Slack found that users think 40% of their meetings could be replaced by an asynchronous Slack thread, and 95% percent of users would rather connect with their teams via Slack than a video call.
At the onset of the pandemic, all my meetings stayed the same as before, but instead they were held over video conference. Since then, I’ve worked to fundamentally change my approach to meetings. Here are a few new ways of thinking that have worked for me:
- Use digital check-ins: Sharing status updates asynchronously in Slack channels makes it easy to see what everyone is working on, while eliminating the need to actually meet.
- Make ad-hoc syncs audio only: This removes pressure when you just need a quick sync. It also helps avoid video fatigue and enables you to walk and talk, so you can get outside!
- Consider cancelling meetings: Take stock of your ongoing meetings. Are they unproductive or often unfocused? Consider cutting them altogether to give people more room for “focus time.” You can always bring them back if it turns out it was needed.
Invest in tools that deepen connection and foster belonging
At the beginning of the pandemic, Future Forum found that people working remotely struggled with their sense of belonging. Without knowing how to replicate the experience of togetherness while working apart, it was difficult for people to feel accepted and valued by their teams.
Months later, however, we found that peoples’ sense of belonging has since recovered. This tells us that implementing technology tools has been critical in enabling people to build connections from anywhere. While it may be tough to grab a coffee in person, you can still coordinate the “feel” of the office in a digital-first setting.
Data also shows us that collaboration tools are key in helping create better workplace relationships. 96% of Slack users believe it helps forge better connections with their superiors, and 95% say they have channels devoted to non-work topics for building team camaraderie by talking about interests beyond work with your colleagues.
Home goods retailer Wayfair has had huge success in relying on channels to maintain culture throughout the shift to remote work. Their #Wellness-at-wayfair channel promotes health and fitness tips for maintaining a healthy mind and body while working from home, while parents and caregivers have also created channels to post about the ups and downs of working from home with a full house.
Emoji can also be a useful tool in helping to illustrate how you’re feeling and to celebrate team wins. Adding a smiley, thumbs up or heart can really help reduce miscommunication and build connection. Customer experience platform Zendesk relies on emoji to help provide faster support for its customers — a quick check mark emoji signals the support issue has been handled — while building camaraderie and trust amongst teams.
The time to reinvent work is now
The future of work is digital-first and hybrid – people don’t want to return to the traditional 5-day work week. We’re never going back to the old way, so it’s time to reimagine work and management for a more flexible, productive and balanced future.