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Permission to Let the Mouse Sleep



How many of us are managing productivity by presence? Early in the pandemic I was consulting with a Chief of Staff in a mid-size financial services company. It was a wild time and like many, she was grappling with new challenges that were popping up by the hour. While chatting she asked what metrics I recommend following to know if her teams were performing at home. My quick response, “What do you use now?”

If you really think about it, you likely didn’t come across your greatest thinking or your new idea while staring blankly at one more email or doomscrolling on your social feeds. But often our people don’t feel the permission to be where they need to be to do their best work. This gets to the root of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined this time of complete abandonment to a challenging task; a sense of loss of time and self-consciousness while exhibiting great competence and control over the work. Work becomes effortless and we actually work more efficiently and, wait for it, productively! Amazing, right?


So how do we support greater productivity of our employees when we can’t see them? Let’s look at a few foundational elements:


1. Discuss performance success.

Have an intentional discussion about what you measure and what success looks like. Make sure it’s tied to outcomes and not just activity. This can be as formal as goal setting or informal in setting weekly top priorities. But it must be a two-way, clear discussion that happens regularly and much more often than once a year. If your team member gets the work done within the agreed-to parameters of success, does it matter if they were at their desk at 8 AM sharp or on a sailboat at 6 AM?


2. Communicate appropriately.

We rely on recreating the office environment through our technologies of chat, email, and collaborative tools. Some find calls on their cell phones intrusive while others don’t want to email after 5:00. If you are on a team and you work together, you should feel comfortable reaching out. It’s called connection and it’s critical to team success. Many intuitively understand that we sometimes have to nuance how we speak with others but we don't look at these preferences when it comes to communication tools. Talk with your people about different communication tools and when they are most appropriate for them. It seems basic but it’s respecting the boundaries and preferences of everyone. Being “on call” through chat or tied to email may be your way of monitoring presence but killing your team’s ability to stay in flow. As we once again change workspaces and move to in-person and hybrid work environments, this is a great team exercise to engage in now.


3. Share your intentions.

Actions speak louder than words but sometimes you have to tell people what they are seeing. If you log off to focus on strategic work, tell your people what you are doing and why. Or perhaps it’s something personal like taking a run and you will be delayed in responding, let your people know why your availability is spotty. If it’s modeled, it is more likely to happen and transparency builds trust. Just like children observing parents, your people are looking to see where the boundaries lie. Show them through your actions. If you want your people to live a well life, you have to model well behaviors yourself.


4. Wish them well.

Is an employee taking a vacation day? Wish them fun on their adventure. Is someone taking a couple hours to go see the doctor? Wish them good health. Is your right-hand going off-line for two hours to put together a presentation? Commend them for taking time to focus. Permission is powerful. And at all levels in the organization. Don’t assume your people know you’re okay with them flexing. How often have we felt guilt for taking a vacation day that is part of our compensation package? We surely don’t hesitate in taking the paycheck or using benefits.


As we make a shift to hybrid work environments, we will have to get comfortable knowing not all things are urgent and answerable within the 9-5 local time zone and seeing someone doesn’t guarantee performance.


Global companies have been dealing with time zones and asynchronous work for decades. Technologies like recorded video and collaborative platforms allow for work to happen whenever. Partnered with clear expectation-setting around communication preferences and performance outcomes, along with the permission and autonomy to manage time and work, allow your people to focus energy on the right tasks when needed. Maybe instead of shaking the mouse, we let the mice sleep for a bit and trust our people to put their hands to work on something truly meaningful and value-add at the right time.


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