The idea of deep work, or working smarter rather than longer, is slowly catching on among corporates and startups, as employers and employees realize that they’re capable only of a few hours of really focused work
When Anuj Vadehra, 38, was doing a stint abroad some years ago, he was struck by how his co-workers largely stuck to routine working hours. “They’d finish all their work but didn’t feel the need to put in extra hours on a regular basis unless a sensitive project demanded it," says Vadehra, a senior strategy and market development professional. One of his peers, who spent hours working in the office regularly, was counselled by seniors for being unable to cope, leading to questions about his efficiency.
“Working consistent long hours doesn’t mean you’re always working hard. But it’s a cultural thing and quite prevalent in India," he says. “We tend to equate hard work with the quantity of time spent in the office."
In India, productivity is often equated with long hours at work, being the “first-in, last-out", and leaving only after the boss. Organizations and companies around the world have experimented with the idea of a shorter workday or workweek with varying success, but the idea of deep work, or working smarter rather than longer, is slowly catching on as employers and employees realize that they’re capable only of a few hours of really focused, concentrated work. The rest of the time is taken up by “shallow work" that requires less focus and creativity, or is spent on distractions.
According to a 2018 survey, The Case for a Four-Day Workweek, by The Workforce Institute at Kronos, a human capital management cloud provider, 45% of full-time workers believe it would take them less than five hours a day to do their jobs if they worked without interruptions, and 72% would switch to a four-day workweek if their pay remained the same. The survey covered 3,000 employees across eight countries. But Indians seem to like spending time in the office—69% of those surveyed in India said they would still work five days a week even if they had the option to work fewer days for the same pay.
Though many in the subcontinent may not be ready for a shorter workweek, there is increased recognition that working more efficiently is key. As work-related stress increases, it’s up to organizations to create an environment that focuses on deep, quality work rather than the number of hours one clocks.
“There’s been a relaxing of policing and micromanagement of employees," says Ayesha Fernandez, describing the shift in management style over the past few years, which has led to more productive work environments. Fernandez, a sales development director at a global technology company, does not believe that a four-day workweek would be practical in her current role, where she is involved in working with businesses across the country.
Nidhi Dubey, senior vice-president, Global Health Strategies, an international health advocacy organization, says, “Allowing employees to work from home does translate into greater productivity. Studies have shown this, and so has our own experience."
Ciena India, a telecom networking equipment, software and services organization, allows fluid work schedules to improve productivity. “We allow employees to work remotely as needed. They can determine when they begin or end their workday. This enables our employees to collaborate across time zones to execute projects while also maintaining work-life balance," says Deepa Kakkar, senior leader, human resources.
Calvin Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World defines deep work as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit."
As opposed to this most of our day tends to be spent on “shallow work", which are tasks Newport defines as “non-cognitive, logistical or minor duties." With distractions from email and social media notifications, meetings and ambient chatter, the capacity for deep work often seems difficult.
To encourage focused work, some firms are creating special spaces, like isolation booths, to eliminate disturbances. “In some of our international offices, we have rooms that can only be used for a fixed time. This forces you to plan your work within the available time," says Vadhera.
Dubey agrees that workspace design helps eliminate distractions and encourage creativity. “In high-pressure situations, these rooms are occupied by individuals or teams, and a lot of great ideas have emerged from these rooms."
Fernandez says hot-desking at her company helps boost productivity and collaboration. Employees can choose where to sit depending on their current assignment and work-group. As no one gets an assigned desk and storage is relegated to a separate locker room, this keeps the work space uncluttered. There are even mindfulness areas with soft lighting, where people are encouraged to meditate.
Cultivating a work environment with more flexibility and less distractions certainly allows for a transition to smarter work cultures, whether that be shorter work hours or alternate models.
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