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Wherever You Work, You Must Have This

By Curt Steinhorst –  Speaker on Strategic Communications & Digital Distractions

Communication Speaker Curt Steinhorst at The Sweeney Agency Speakers BureauEach week, businesses announce their policies and plans to return workers to offices, with no clear consensus.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said people are tired of working from home and want to get back to work, but added at an annual customer event that “the future of work is hybrid.”

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of both Twitter and Square, said he will allow employees to work remotely “forever,” and leaders like Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon commented in Bloomberg that work from home is an aberration, and not “the new normal.”  A Microsoft-Wharton study found that almost nine out of ten leaders (88%) expect a more hybrid way of working in the longer-term.

But no matter what model of work a company chooses, there is one thing it must supply to workers: the conditions that allow for focused attention. 

Why? Because when you are working home alone, or working at the office in teams, the single most important factor to achieving greater productivity and collaboration — and even human thriving — is the time and space to finish quality work that matters.

Digital Productivity: The Hidden Costs

One of the most significant and surprising outcomes of the past year was the growth in digitally-enabled productivity while working from home. Even though we battled fatigue working in isolation, or overwhelm working in a crowded household, many companies and sectors saw serious gains in productivity. We eliminated commuting, office socializing, and extended travel, and did make up some of this ground in productivity. As a result, businesses have had to consider how to keep some of those gains in place.

As noted by Mckinsey & Company, because of the adoption of new technology tools, “U.S. productivity in the third quarter of 2020 rose 4.6 percent, following a 10.6 percent increase in the second quarter, which is the largest six-month improvement since 1965.” While that sounds like good news, contextually, it’s more complicated: the number is actually a rebound from one of the biggest declines in productivity since 1947.

So, while there has been growth in productivity, largely due to adaptation to ubiquitous remote work adoption and the technology tools that enable it, there are hidden costs. As noted in the Harvard Business Review: distraction, overwhelm, stress, and lack of focus have skyrocketed due to other work-from-home side-effects. Research from Microsoft and Wharton noted that while gains were made in productivity, some people lost their sense of purpose.

Leaders know there is a balance to strike with economic gains and human capacity.  Companies are increasingly heeding the advice of global workforce experts like Deloitte who are calling for a shift in operations to a more human-focused design of work. From survive to thrive.

Executives I’ve spoken with say that mitigating the hidden costs of achieving greater productivity within a remote or hybrid digital workforce is one of the most critical challenges they face in this moment.

Attention requires discipline

The human brain natively manages attention. Apart from sleep, our attention is always in play. While your attention is always on, it has a lot of work to do to select the most important input, which means that when distractions abound, attention shifts. A lot.

While attention functions in a balance between the subconscious and your conscious, individuals have more control over it than we think. So do leaders of teams, who have the power to redirect focus to important matters. It just takes discipline. This discipline is what I call becoming “FocusFit.”

Below are three ways that you as a leader can grow your attention discipline, and work with your teams to help productivity rise, while managing the hidden costs and distractions of the digital workplace: