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The damage caused by long hour cultures where less people are doing more is well known. Employees must now invest time and effort in understanding what environment and conditions they need in order to contribute their best. In many ways the workplace is designed to prevent employees from producing the results that business says it wants.  How many of you have to escape the office in order to get useful work done?

A better way 

If you want to increase your personal productivity forget Time Management -  observe your habits.  How long can you concentrate on one task?  Why do you feel compelled to read non-important emails?  What is the point of being in meetings which achieve little? 

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My colleague Ben Moss recently wrote an article for the Public Servant Magazine’s Management Clinic discussing the latest research findings reported by TUC who have estimated that 5.24 million people in the UK put in extra work worth a staggering £26.9bn during 2008. This equates to each employee missing out on an average of £5000 of pay per year - a lot of money by any standards, especially in these times!

Obviously the amount of overtime worked is at the discretion of each employee and depends both on how much people need the extra money and how committed they are to the business.  But at a time when jobs are on the line and the threat of redundancy hangs in the air, I wonder whether employees are simply putting in more and more face time to look committed and indispensable, rather than working at their full potential.

I think a lot of employees will be tempted to do just that – putting in more hours to show their bosses that they’re working hard in the hope that this extra effort and commitment will be noted and their jobs will remain secure if the company has to reduce the size of its workforce. But paradoxically these extra hours can actually have negative consequences for the business over time, because when a person works over a sensible amount of hours they actually become less productive and the extra input is potentially wasted. That’s ‘Presenteeism’!

Striking the right balance of working extra hours is both the employer’s and the employee’s responsibility. Employees have to think carefully about why they’re staying late – is it because they have an important deadline to meet or because they feel their livelihood is at risk?  And employers also have a responsibility to help their people feel secure by clearly communicating what’s expected from them, while guarding against perennial work overload at the expense of productivity.

It’s great if a company can create a culture where employees, when necessary, are flexible enough to work longer hours to get the job done. It shows employees are committed to the goals and success of the business, but as Ben says in his article employers and their employees must remember that “presence does not equal productivity”.

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I think I saw the future today. Of course, I’ve seen it all before….but that was in an episode of Star Trek. This was the real thing!!

I’d encourage you to visit and take a quick look at this demo of the ‘Cisco On-Stage TelePresence Experience’ where holograms of two executives in California are beamed to a Stage in Bangalore, India and interact seamlessly with the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers. I’m not exaggerating when I say it looks virtually no different to if they were actually on the same stage together.

The two companies have clearly invested a lot of money in this system and they probably stand to make a lot of money too. But my interest is in the potential of this technology to change working lives. Business will be the first market for Telepresence and it has already been sold to companies in 23 different countries. After that it won’t be long before they start appearing in our homes!

There are several positive aspects to this advance – first, I can almost hear the sigh of relief from salesmen who pound out the motorway miles to get to and from customers each year. Imagine how stress levels will fall when you don’t have to get up at 5am to drive to the other end of the country – instead, you go to the office at the normal time and use Telepresence. Second, I can hear an equally large sigh of relief from the environment as cars are taken off the roads (which also benefits those who do have to commute) and less people need to fly for business purposes. Finally, consumers will benefit as the time to market for new products and technologies will be dramatically reduced because of the ease of having ‘face-to-face’ meetings using this system or ones like it.

Of course, it won’t actually be a face-to-face meeting – but you can’t get much closer to having one without actually being in the same room. I’m sure that using this system would take some getting used to, but compared with the stop-start nature of tele-conferencing it seems like this offers a whole new level of remote communication. Anyway, check out the demo and let me know what you think….and remember, this is not science-fiction!

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Diaries of a novice blogger…

Posted by on in Productivity

I’m still just a novice blogger as I’ve only been doing this for a couple of months, but I have to say that it’s been a really interesting experience. I’ve been writing books and articles and commenting in the media for years, but self-publishing has given me a completely new perspective on things.

It’s also left me wondering about the extent to which HR professionals are using social media and web 2.0. This is your cue to write a comment and tell me the answer to this conundrum…..

But seriously, who in the HR community is getting value from reading, writing and contributing to blogs? Based on my own recent experience I have no doubt that there is a great deal of value to be gained from this medium, but I wonder if we did a survey of HR Directors how many would have ever read a blog, let alone written one? Maybe I’d be surprised; maybe someone should run the survey?

Or is it just the younger members of the HR profession who have grown up with the internet who see social networking as a legitimate and valuable tool for delivering their work objectives and developing as individuals? I certainly think they are the easiest group to convert, but do they feel empowered to use the technology during working hours?

If my hunch that social networking only touches a fraction of HR professionals is correct, what are the barriers? Is it time? Is there a skill gap? Somehow I doubt it, but I do suspect that there is a mindset out there that says it’s not real work unless you’re writing a report or a policy. Or maybe it’s really all about marketing and HR blogs are not marketed effectively enough to be widely used? At the end of the day, we would all click on a link if we thought it would deliver information that was valuable to us.

As you can see, there are more questions than answers, but one thing I am sure about is that the more senior HR staff we can get modelling this behaviour, the sooner it will start to become a legitimate use of time and a real source of value for businesses.

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Cary CooperGood Day at Work®

The new wellbeing resources hub founded by @profcarycooper and Roberston Cooper. Join for FREE and access blogs, videos, downloads, podcasts and more.

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MD of Cary Cooper's business psychology firm, Robertson Cooper - for all things wellbeing, engagement and resilience at work.

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Professor Cary Cooper, Director and Founder of Robertson Cooper Ltd, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School.

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